As the town wrestled with what to do with the historic Watson House, residents stayed relatively quiet until the last town council meeting when former mayor Billy Wilder tried to convince the town how important it is to protect the town’s history.
Wilder spoke during the meeting’s public comment section to tell councilors the Watson House is a symbol of Knightdale’s early history and worth the cost of repairs the council discussed at previous meetings.
According to Wilder, who co-authored a book about Knightdale to be released on March 31, the house is a representation of Knightdale’s past farming community.
“If it hadn’t been for the farmers, the town would’ve never existed,” Wilder said.
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He mentioned the town’s commitment to honoring and preserving other parts of the Knightdale’s history, like railroads, and said the house fits in with that effort.
But the council’s discussion has been focused on the financial implications of restoring the house for public use, which was estimated to cost $226,462. Because of the house’s designation of being historic, some of those repairs are not neccesary, but Mayor Russell Killen still guessed it would cost the town $100,000.
In addition to structural repairs, the house showed indications of environmental hazards, like mold and asbestos. If council decides to tear the house down, it would still cost a significant amount of money to safely dispose of materials that are affected by mold or asbestos.
And leaving the house up would cost the town money too, although council members figured it wouldn’t be as much to handle the minor repairs like patching the roof or fixing the drainage system to remove water from under the house.
Wilder also suggested the house could become a useful tool for Knightdale’s younger generation.
A town committee discussed options for using the house in 2011, when they first acquired it, but no decisions were made. Wilder made the suggestion then for some sort of museum or historical site.
He alluded to the same idea if the Council decides to restore the home.
“(I have) enough artifacts to fill the inside wall,” Wilder told Council. “Younger people will forget if (the artifacts) can’t be displayed.”
Councilor Mike Chalk was vocally supportive of spending the money to restore the home and make it a useful public space. At the previous council meeting discussing the house, he suggested that if the town repaired the home, it could be used for meeting space.
“The house is not going anywhere (even) if you don’t do anything to it,” Wilder reminded council.
The town is planning to get a more thorough report of the house’s asbestos, mold and other environmental factors by the first council meeting in April before making a final decision on possible use.