The rundown brown building in Post Mills that was once Hatch’s Store is in new ownership. John Freeman, who divides his time between Post Mills and San Diego, CA, officially purchased the building on August 31st.
John Freeman is no developer. He grew up in Norwich in a dwelling that now houses the post office and spent a few summers at Camp Billings on Lake Fairlee. In fact, he remembers walking to Hatch’s store when it was still open. He attended UVM before moving on to graduate school at U. Michigan, in Ann Arbor, to study mathematical economics. Since 1996 he and his wife, Jeanette, have lived in San Diego, but family friends who still live on Quinibeck Road lobbied John and Jeanette to return to Vermont. Thus they purchased, sight unseen, a place near Route 244 and Lakeshore Rd.
He hadn’t intended to buy Hatch’s Store, but he hated the way the derelict structure cast a “bad vibe” over the south end of Post Mills. It ran counter to his sense of community pride, where “If you see a piece of trash on the ground you pick it up, not because it’s your trash but because it’s your community.” He frequently imagined what it would feel like to drive through Post Mills and see the village looking nice.
John gives a lot of credit to local realtor Sue Ricker, who worked tirelessly to put together the complex deal which allowed the owner of Hatch’s Store, who also owned the old Lake House Inn and associated land, to sell everything to John and Jeanette. Hatch’s Store in particular was problematic. John is purchasing it with the intent to demolish. However, an inspection by an environmental engineer turned up asbestos and lead. It raised the cost of the teardown to over $70,000. By law, any debris containing asbestos must be separated out and sealed in impermeable bags or, if too big, in “closed, impermeable containers.” Asbestos sealed in approved containers may then be hauled to the landfill in Coventry, Vermont. Other complications for the demolition include overhead power lines and the building’s location at the very edge of Rt 113, a major through road.
To be fair, the seller understood and assisted the transaction by giving leeway in the deal. In addition John, always the optimist, launched a Go Fund Me campaign to help defray part of the demolition cost. But time is short. He doesn’t wish to own this liability of a building for any longer than necessary and aims to have it demolished by the time he heads back to San Diego for the winter — early October at the latest. He already has a demolition company lined up.
The old Hatch’s Store is, in fact, quite a historic building. A photo of Post Mills in the book “Images of America - Thetford” by resident Susanna French, shows "Rollin Hatch’s general store and post office” in a row with “Schoolhouse no. 6”, a building that was demolished in 1885. The Historical Society has a photo of Rollin Hatch outside the store circa 1930-40. Another, possibly older photo, shows a sign outside for Sinclair Gasoline and a car of that era.
Later the store changed hands. Rollin passed away in 1968 at age 92 and is buried in Post Mills.
The store’s foundation will be the only thing to remain after demolition. The barn and the outbuilding behind will all be gone, victims of failed roofs, while the cellar hole will be filled in for safety reasons. Retaining the foundation itself should allow John to be “grandfathered” so he could rebuild something on the footprint of the building even though it intrudes into the road setback. Under zoning regulations a new structure would not be allowed in the setback. To soften the site’s appearance, he plans to plant a few trees. He would also like the community to benefit in some way from the good and plentiful water that flows from the side of Mount Tug, directly behind the building, and fills the well belonging to Hatch’s Store..
John hopes to hold a kick-off celebration for the community at the start of demolition and only wishes that Brian Boland were still with us to officiate as master of ceremonies, because Brian was the unquestioned master of good vibes.
Photo credits: John D. Freeman and the Thetford Historical Society