HUDSON — For decades, it has been hidden in plain sight on the Hudson Village Green.
At one time, it was considered to be one of the most beautiful homes in the Western Reserve. Now, a newly formed charitable foundation, the Baldwin Buss House Foundation, seeks to raise the funds necessary to purchase, rehabilitate and return to productive use the house that many Hudsonites call the "Merino House."
It has stood on the northwest corner of what are now routes 91 and 303 since 1825. Remarkably, only three families have owned the house. Augustus Baldwin was the original owner. Merchant, banker and justice of the peace John C. Buss purchased it from Baldwin’s widow in 1856. In 1907, Italian immigrant Charles Merino acquired it from Buss’ son, Charles.
Today, although for sale, a member of the Merino family still owns it. Rich Merino, legendary Hudson athlete and beverage store owner, lived his entire life in that house until he moved to Connecticut shortly before his death in 2016.
The goal of the Baldwin-Buss House Foundation is to preserve and stabilize the house, which, while structurally sound, is in a state of deterioration, according to foundation co-presidents Inga Walker and Donovan Husat. Walker, Husat and foundation vice president and treasurer Kathy Russell, all long-time Hudson residents, envision the house as a community asset, and the focal point of the southwest portion of the Village Green.
Pictures of the house from its early years reveal that many of the home’s significant architectural details have been obscured by what architects call "unsympathetic" additions.
"Most notably," Walker says, "the beautiful front entrance and windows are hidden by a porch added perhaps in the 1920s." Other additions on the back further detract from the classic high-style Federal architecture. The house was designed by master builder and architect Lemuel Porter (1780-1829), who also designed and built the historic First Congregational Church on Tallmadge Circle.
He was in the process of designing the 1830 Presidents House on the Western Reserve Academy campus in Hudson when he died. His son Simeon completed that task and went on to build the school’s Chapel in 1836.
To purchase the house and stabilize it, the foundation seeks to raise $1.7 million. In addition to the house, the purchase also would include the adjacent brick office building on Route 303 and the former Merino beverage store. If purchased, the foundation would then raise additional funds to restore the house to its original footprint and make it a productive community asset, according to Russell.
"Its prominence on the Village Green adds to its stature and increases its value as an historic asset," Russell says.
In addition to private donations, the foundation will seek grants from other foundations, corporations and from state and federal sources that promote historic preservation and education.
"Inga, Kathy and I know this is going to be a challenge," Husat says. "But we also know that the residents of Hudson are proud of their unique and beautiful community. The efforts that so many make to properly preserve their historic and architecturally significant homes demonstrate that. We have to believe that Hudsonites would likewise be supportive of restoring this gem. It truly is the cornerstone of Hudson’s Village Green."
Walker also points out another interesting detail about the house. She, Husat and Russell originally thought that the south wing of the house was an addition, perhaps from more modern times. But close inspection by two preservation architects and a bit of research reveal that the "addition" may actually have been the original structure.
There is evidence that it was used as a commercial building dating back to 1808. The house was subsequently added. In spite of the many exterior modifications, the ornate interior details are largely in tact. It is one of only two Hudson buildings originally listed by the Historic American Building Survey conducted in 1934. The survey specifically calls out the builder’s "unusual craftsmanship and understanding of design."
In addition to concerns about the condition of the property, Husat adds that the Baldwin-Buss house has also been threatened by commercial development. In 2015 a plan proposed moving the house south and east from its original foundation to make room for a new commercial building and parking.
"Fortunately, that plan never materialized," he said. "Nevertheless, the possibility of commercial development still exists, adding urgency to our mission of acquiring, preserving and restoring this historic structure."
While fundraising is now underway, Russell says that no actual donations are being accepted at this time. Rather, commitments of support are being solicited to be payable at a later date. When sufficient funds have been promised, the money will be due and payable, and the property will be purchased. The owner has agreed to hold the property from the market through Aug. 10 of this year to enable the funds to be raised. All donations will be tax-deductible and made through the Hudson Community Foundation for the benefit of the Baldwin-Buss House Foundation.
Letters of commitment may be sent to The Baldwin-Buss House Foundation, P.O. Box 1401, Hudson 44236. To download a commitment form or learn more, visit www.bbhfoundation.org or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.