This old home: Beloved Amherst farmhouse to be torn down

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AMHERST – Betty Ann Sipple learned to knit, crochet and hook rugs in the house under the loving eyes of her grandmother.

With her brothers and cousins, she would play red light-green light and hide and seek, and during thunder storms, they would sit by the front door and watch lightning come over the pasture.

There was a chair next to the wood stove where her grandfather sat to change his shoes or boots to slippers when his work was done.

In the dining room was a small pot-bellied stove and a closet with games, books and the little salt and pepper shakers her grandmother collected.

Sipple remembers the slap of the screen door in the summer and the warmth of the woodstove in the winter and the worn spot on the floor of the wooden porch, worn from the passage of so many children over so many years.

All those vivid half-
century-old memories have a center: The home of her grandparents, Earl and Ina Mae “Duncan” Stickney, on Hollis Road in Amherst.

Sipple and her husband now live in Acworth, and one frigid day in January, they drove to Amherst and parked their car in the driveway of the old farmhouse and wandered outside as Betty Ann pointed where the chicken coops had been and looked through windows. She remembers the smallest details, because they are all invested with love.

It was a sad time because she had recently learned the house would be demolished.

“It’s a crying shame,” she said. “Such a beautiful house … I never thought this would happen to my grandparents’ place.

“I am 67 years old and remember this house as well as the house I grew up in down the road,” Sipple said, referring to a house her father built with oxen and horses when she was a baby.

“I wish people would understand” the importance of restoring an old house, Sipple said.

But demolition was not the original intent, said new owner Stacy Clark, who bought the property at 131 Hollis Road (Route 122) a year ago after it went into foreclosure.

Clark said she wanted to restore the house, but that plan had to change after the Amherst Zoning Board denied a variance for a combined residence/office for herself, with her residence upstairs and the office downstairs.

“It broke my heart,” Clark said in a phone interview. “I wanted with all my heart to stay there.”

Quite a few neighbors attended the meetings to object to the plans, she said, though “I did my best to try and show I’d be a good neighbor,” and accepted a limit on the size of trucks on the property.

The property is in the Rural-Residential zone, she said, but only about one-third of a mile from a zone that allows offices, and the town Master Plan calls for mixed use in the future.

Clark said she is ”extremely sympathetic to the family, and what the house means to them.”

She is a stockholder in a Milford construction management firm called Turnstone Corp., but, she said, the development of the property has nothing to do with the company.

With the original plans dashed, Clark went to Plan B, affordable housing, which did not need a variance, and last October, the Planning Board decided the 8.5-acre property is suitable for up to 16 units, although it has not yet approved a site plan.

Town Planner Sarah Marchant said much of the land is wetland and won’t be developed.

Sipple did some research and found that the farmhouse was built in 1853.

“I believe the first owner was a J.C. Philbrick,” and her grandfather bought it from a Franklin E. Barker in 1942.

“This place was not just a house. It was a home with heart and soul, love, caring, laughter, sadness, and a lot of teaching in it,” Sipple said in an email. “It was not just boards and nails. A home is what happens inside it.”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@