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Historic Belmont home saved from demolition

Residents line up to watch as house moved

The Historic Thomas Clark House in Belmont was moved to a location about a mile from its previous site, where it had been since 1760.

Essdras M. Suarez/Globe Staff

The Historic Thomas Clark House in Belmont was moved to a location about a mile from its previous site, where it had been since 1760.

BELMONT - Early risers in Belmont woke up to an unusual sight yesterday: a 250-year-old house sitting on a trailer in the middle of well-traveled Common Street.

The Thomas Clark House, built circa 1760, faced demolition at the hands of a developer who wants to build two new houses on the lot. But the structure got a reprieve after complaints from town residents and former occupants of the house, who wanted to preserve the historic home.

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Those residents, along with the family that once owned the house, backed up their words with dollars, donating more than $80,000 to help hire a New Hampshire-based company that specializes in moving homes. The company, Admiral Building Movers, towed the Clark house about a mile yesterday to a temporary site on Concord Avenue near Belmont High School.

The move clears the way for development and gives advocates more time to find a suitable permanent location for the house.

The Colonial-era structure was originally a small farmhouse built by members of the Clark family, who lived in a larger house atop a nearby hill, according to a document provided by a member of a family that once owned it. But when the large house burned down, the family renovated the farmhouse and moved in.

The Clarks would later become well-known in town lore when Peter Clark, age 90, cast the first vote at Belmont’s first Town Meeting, which opened March 28, 1859, just days after the town’s incorporation.

The house, which had been taken off its foundation and placed on steel supports, began to move off the lot on a trailer around 6 a.m. yesterday.

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Onlookers held their breaths as truck driver Brian Lagasse carefully inched the precious payload down a gentle slope, which seemed more perilous with each passing second. There was a brief scare when the corner of the house seemed about to graze a nearby stone wall, but it cleared the obstacle with millimeters to spare.

The crowd of spectators grew as the morning wore on, with many local families bringing their children to see the spectacle.

Belmont resident Dana Long was awed not only by the challenge of moving the house, but by the building’s history.

“Think about those guys who built this house 250 years ago. How proud would they be to know it’s still there and worth enough to move?’’

Lorrie Honarchian brought her daughters, Sarah, 6, and Emily, 7, to watch.

“That guy must have nerves of steel,’’ she said, watching Lagasse.

With public works crews clearing the way of overhanging branches, the house slowly rolled along Common Street toward its temporary site. It arrived unharmed late in the morning.

The future of the house has yet to be determined.

Local architect Erik Rhodin and Belmont’s Historic District Commission led the charge to save the house. They lobbied the developer, Mark Barons, to hold off on demolition.

Advocates scrambled to find a temporary site and secure funding for the move.

Yesterday was Barons’s final deadline for moving the house.

Rhodin and the commission enlisted the help of the Architectural Heritage Foundation, a Boston-based nonprofit that partners with developers and towns to help preserve historic buildings. The foundation purchased the Clark house for a token $10, and will act as a custodian until a permanent site is found.

Members of the Sifneos family, which had long owned the house, accounted for a majority of the more than $80,000 in donations received by the foundation, according to Peter Sifneos. But concerned community members also contributed. The foundation said it will pay the town to defray the costs of police and fire details that were on hand for the move yesterday.

Sifneos grew up in the house, which his father owned. He traveled from Florida to watch the move yesterday.

“I was really a nervous wreck,’’ Sifneos said. “It was really emotional for me, because I just adore that house. I’ve done a lot of work on it over the years.’’

Seeing the house reminded Sifneos of youthful escapades.

“My window led to the garage roof, so I would put a ladder up and I could sneak in and out,’’ he recalled.

Sean McDonnell, president of the Architectural Heritage Foundation, said the house was notable not just for its age, but how well-preserved it is.

“What makes this house special is that the interiors are largely original,’’ McDonnell said. “It hasn’t been renovated or modernized or screwed up, which is an unusual thing to find.’’

McDonnell was optimistic that the town would find land and save the house. He said the parade-like atmosphere for the house’s slow roll down Common Street was evidence that Belmont residents were invested in the project.

“This is a really exemplary project of a community coming together around a precious historic building,’’ he said. “People seemed thrilled the house was saved.’’

Dan Adams can be reached at dadams@globe.com. Globe Correspondent Evan Allen contributed to this report.

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