A volunteer group that is looking to preserve the historic Rocks Village Hand Tub House is moving closer to its goal of making much-needed repairs to the building.
The Rocks Village Memorial Association will use a $20,000 preservation grant it was awarded last year to make emergency repairs to the building's foundation. But to get the money, the group needed help from the city, which had to promise it would not sell the land the building sits on.
The City Council and Mayor James Fiorentini recently did that by signing a preservation restriction — a type of deed restriction that is required by the state in order to qualify for the grant. The document will be officially recorded at the Southern Essex Registry of Deeds.
"In order (for us) to get the grant, the state wants to be sure we're not going to sell off the land, and we're not," Fiorentini said.
The city owns the land and the historic building.
The grant comes from the Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund and required a matching amount from the association.
Members said that without the grant, they fear the building will fall into further disrepair.
The Hand Tub House, which is being used as a neighborhood meeting house, stands on the Haverhill side of the Rocks Village Bridge, which crosses the Merrimack River into West Newbury. The building is in the heart of this historic area, located in the eastern section of Haverhill.
The grant will allow the group to hire a preservation contractor to repair the building, which they say has substantial instability with its masonry foundation wall, including a hole in the foundation, bowing and general disintegration. And because of water run-off, the building's basement fills with mud that dislodges existing brick pier lally columns.
Over the last few years, donations and fundraisers have helped pay to paint the exterior of the building, while volunteers have undertaken landscaping and small carpentry projects.
"If we did not approve the preservation restriction the city would lose the grant money," said City Councilor Sven Amirian.
He said the council voted unanimously to sign the document.
"Our historic buildings are a unique asset to the city and must be preserved," Amirian said.
Built in 1840, the two-story wooden building has two fire doors, a gable roof and a bell tower. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, which makes it eligible for grants. When the building operated as a fire station, it housed a hand tub — a type of old-fashioned manually operated pump that was used to fight fires.
Several years ago, the city appointed the Rocks Village Memorial Association to watch over the Hand Tub House. The 104-year-old group, which originally formed for the betterment of the Rocks Village neighborhood, has custody over the building and its day-to-day upkeep. The partnership with the city allowed the group to raise money and apply for grants to help preserve the building.
"We have some unique sections of Haverhill and it's all part of our culture and history," Fiorentini said. "We certainly don't have the money to fix some of these historic buildings."
Fiorentini said he credits the Rocks Village group for its effort to preserve a piece of Haverhill's history.