When Sharon and John Dumont took on the restoration of the 1892 Hughes House in Clifton, Tennessee in 2016, they also began the process of listing the handsome structure on the National Register of Historic Places. Restoring the Queen Anne-Stick Style building took about three years; the National Register listing took two years of effort.
They do not regret a moment of either process and now operate the house as a bed and breakfast inn newly christened the Commodore Inn.
“It’s been a dream for Sharon and me to serve as innkeepers at this gorgeous property,” says John Dumont. “Our guests come from as far away as Stockholm, Sweden, and as near as Savannah, Tennessee, to stay with us and experience this special place. We are thrilled to now be among some of the most prestigious homes in America, as part of the National Register of Historic Places.”
His brother, Michael Dumont, purchased the house at auction in 2015.
“My wife and I have spent much of our careers restoring historic properties,” he said, recalling that he first became enamored of historic architecture when he lived in Providence, Rhode Island. “We saw the potential of Hughes House the first time we stepped through the doors. Restoring the house to its original grandeur is enough of a reward. Seeing the property placed on the National Historic Registry is the best kind of affirmation about our vision and the completed work.”
The National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. It is part of a nationwide program that coordinates and supports efforts to identify, evaluate and protect historic resources. Of the more than one million properties on the National Register, 90,000 are individual listings.
A listing on the National Register is strictly an honorary designation, carrying no restrictions or requirements. Yet misinformation abounds. Real estate professionals, in particular, often warn their clients away from houses with historic designations, falsely believing that their hands will be tied if they try to alter the building in any way.
“This is usually because of misunderstandings about the various kinds of historic designations,” says Rebecca Schmitt, Historic Preservation Specialist at the National Register Program of the Tennessee Historical Commission. “National Register listing is an honorary federal designation that does not place any restrictions on property owners. It does not require owners maintain their property or preserve it. It does not govern the appearance of a property. Property owners may significantly alter their property, including demolition, as allowed within their local zoning laws. Listed properties that have been demolished will simply be removed from the National Register.
“Some communities have local historic zoning, which may or may not place restrictions on properties. The amount and type of restrictions vary, but is always decided at the local level. The local historic designation process is independent of National Register listing. One process does not bring the other.”
“In fact, a National Register listing won’t matter at all in the day to day of living in your home,” says Carissa Demore, Team Leader for Preservation Services at Historic New England. “It is useful for homeowners who want to apply for tax credits or potential grants programs.”
“Owners of income-producing listed properties have the opportunity to apply for a federal tax credit that is equal to 20% of certified rehabilitation expenses,” explains Rebecca Schmitt.
Demore points out that one of the primary advantages of the designation is in the application process itself.
“The process of being placed on the National Register requires the homeowner to pull together the different pieces of how the building came to be: its history, materials used in construction, the house style, alterations, its place in the community and other elements of its story.”
The invaluable information assembled gives the homeowner an incomparably detailed picture and serves as a guide for future work, she says. When John and Sharon Dumont made their way through the process, they got assistance fromSarah Elizabeth McLeod, Historic Preservation Planner at the South Central Tennessee Development District.
“A homeowner can get help from their state preservation office,” Demore says. “It can also be useful to hire a consultant.”
She points out that, in Massachusetts, the process usually takes about two years, which is how long it took for the Dumonts.
“Each state has its own way of going through this, so the length of time varies.”
The one drawback of a National Register listing is that some insurance companies do not like to underwrite historic structures of any kind.
“But there are plenty of other insurance companies who will,” says Demore.
“In our experience, private home owners are always so happy to achieve listing of their homes,” says Schmitt. “They regard the National Register listing as a significant achievement that sets their property apart from others and proves that their property is historically significant and worthy of preservation.”
Sharon Dumont is a case in point.
“If you could see the reaction of the local community, you would see such expressions of gratitude,” she says.
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