Newport landmark protected with preservation easement

Aug 21, 2023

Historic New England adds the Lucas-Johnston-Hurley-Scheetz House to its Preservation Easement Program. Thanks to the donation of the easement, the rich legacy of this 300-year-old home in Newport’s Historic Hill neighborhood will be safeguarded.

The owner Diana Pearson secured the permanent protection of the historic home to preserve its diverse history and the important restoration work and legacy of her late husband, Nicholas Scheetz. Pearson worked closely with Historic New England to ensure that the preservation easement safeguards the physical features that tell the history of the property, while also allowing flexibility for future owners to adapt the house to modern living standards.

“Historic New England was great to work with. Their staff made the process easy. They understand historic architecture and respected the details of Nick’s award-winning restoration,” said Pearson. The easement protects the full exterior, the modern garden designed by esteemed landscape architect Diana Balmori, and significant interior features from historic timber framing and eighteenth-century hand-carved woodwork to modern canvas murals and lacquer-painted doors. As part of the process to create the preservation easement, the property was carefully documented in photos and drawings and Historic New England added materials about its history to their extensive archive of New England architectural history.

Pearson hopes preserving the house will be an inspiration to other property owners. She noted, “Sometimes new homeowners don’t realize the value of historic fabric. They think they have to update everything right away.” At the Lucas-Johnston-Hurley-Scheetz House, Scheetz worked with a team of expert craftspeople, such as master carpenter Jon Heon, led by architect Outerbridge Horsey to remove insensitive updates from the 1960s and restore historic details.

Caring for historic homes takes time, commitment, and investment. “Preservation is an investment not just in the property right now, but for the future,” says Shantia Anderheggen, a preservation consultant who worked with Pearson at the Lucas-Johnston-Hurley-Scheetz House. “By protecting that investment with a preservation easement, it ensures that the features that make the property unique and desirable are not removed by an unknowing future owner. It preserves the historic value of the property forever.”

Protection goes beyond just the historic fabric – it also saves places that represent diverse social histories over the centuries. Knowing the story of the people who built, maintained, and lived in a structure over time adds important value and dimension to its significance. Pearson’s house was traditionally recognized for its first owners, sea captain, and slave trader Augustus Lucas who built the house in 1720, and his grandson, prominent Rhode Island attorney Augustus Johnston, who substantially enlarged the property in the Georgian style in the 1750s.

Historic New England and Pearson made a conscious effort to include Armestad Hurley in the official property name. In the late nineteenth century, the house became an investment rental property owned by Hurley. Hurley was born into slavery in Virginia in 1854 and moved to Newport in 1886. He developed one of the most successful painting businesses in Newport and was a founding partner of the Black-owned Rhode Island Loan and Investment Company. Understanding Hurley’s importance to Newport’s history allows for more thoughtful preservation of future decisions at the property.

Ultimately, the donation of a preservation easement is a gift to both the community and future generations. “The preservation efforts of so many private individuals across New England, like Nicholas and Diana, is what gives New England’s streetscapes their vitality. Ensuring properties like this remain for future generations to discover is essential for both community livability and sustainability,” says Historic New England President and CEO Vin Cipolla.

The Lucas-Johnston-Hurley-Scheetz House is the latest addition to Historic New England’s Preservation Easement Program, which protects more than 120 properties across New England with legal restrictions preventing demolition and insensitive alterations. “It’s a program built on partnership. Our goal is to ensure property owners can enjoy their homes and update them to modern living standards as needed, while also having access to technical expertise to preserve the historic character and authenticity of irreplaceable New England landmarks,” says Carissa Demore, Team Leader for Preservation Services at Historic New England.