New Life, New Lives At Old House
Suffragist's home to serve as women's halfway residence

October 22, 2002

By Frank Brieaddy, Staff writer

The final - and largest - piece of financing has been secured to turn the historic Harriet May Mills house at 1074 W. Genesee St. into an 11-bed halfway house for women in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction.

Robert V. Shear, president of Syracuse Brick House, said his nonprofit group recently received confirmation of up to $341,500 for the project from the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance through its Homeless Housing and Assistance Program.

The renovation, which will result in the first new licensed halfway house in the city for recovering addicts since 1969, has financing commitments totaling $731,500 from the state, the city of Syracuse and private foundations.

Mills, a prominent women's suffragist and the first woman to run for statewide office in New York, lived most of her life in the house that was built for her parents about 1857. The home was later a hardware store.

It was slated for destruction to make way for a carwash when Syracuse Brick House teamed with local historic preservationists to save the building.

"It's the only remaining home of a prominent 19th-century reformer left in the city of Syracuse," Shear said.

He said the renovated house will become a stop on the new National Women's Rights National History Trail.

Historic preservation will have to be blended with existing local housing codes and state requirements for halfway houses.

"We're going to restore the outer portion so that it looks pretty much the way it looked 100 years ago," Shear said. He

said most of the interior will be gutted to provide modern utilities, bedrooms, laundry and recreational space suitable for 11 women.

Some interior details will be preserved, among them an ornate staircase and original fireplaces.

"It's going to be a challenging integration of all the regulations that apply," said project architect Randy Crawford of Crawford & Stearns, specialists in historic preservation.

Shear said he foresees significant negotiations over the renovation plans with historic-preservation experts and state officials concerned about safety and health issues.

Crawford said he was optimistic that everything could be worked out.

"Preservation doesn't have to be that big a deal, if you approach it in the right way," he said.

The goal is to have the design completed by early next year, the review phase done in the spring and construction under way by summer, Shear said. The house will be finished by the end of 2003 at the earliest.

The women who stay in the halfway house for an average of six months will be leaving inpatient treatment for their addictions, but continuing outpatient counseling while they work on job skills and seek their own housing.

Syracuse Brick House, which operates two men's halfway houses and another women's halfway house, is a program of Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare, which offers state-licensed inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment and transitional housing for about 300 clients a year.