The historic Dover Mansion was demolished to expand the hospital’s car park

Fifty years after it was added to the National Register of Historic Places, Dover’s Skull Mansion is being demolished to make way for an expanded parking lot for BayHealth Hospital’s Kent campus.

The mansion on South State Street across from the hospital was built in 1863 by Manlove Hayes, a civil engineer who was a director of the Delaware Railroad, founder of the Dover Library and a state representative. For the next 36 years, he and his family lived in the house until they sold it to Carl and Sarah Scull in 1946.

Carl Scull served as chief of staff at Kent General Hospital in the 1930s and opened a medical practice on South State Street in 1946. He died in 1950.

His wife applied to have the mansion listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the application was approved in 1973.

In 1982, she sold the house to Bayhealth, which used it as offices until about 12 years ago.

Bayhealth stopped using the offices because of the high cost of heating and cooling the building, a company spokesperson told Delaware Online/The News Journal. In 2021, the cost of renovating the building for commercial or residential use is estimated at $2 million.

When the hospital announced plans to demolish the mansion, the group Friends of Historic Preservation of Old Dover began discussions with the hospital and the city to try to save it.

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As talks continued in April 2021, Bayhealth offered the group of friends 18 months to find a solution.

Friends asked house movers about moving the mansion, but they all said it wouldn’t work because of the age and condition of the structure.

City Manager Dave Hoge said the process included discussions with the Historic Review Board.

“Bayhealth took the appropriate steps and worked with us and the Friends of Old Dover,” Hogue said. “They were willing to delay it and allow friends and others the opportunity to find a replacement. They talked about working around the building and moving it, but in the end they got a demolition permit.”

City staff took into consideration the building’s history and condition as well.

“It looked pretty good from the road, but there were a lot of areas that were deteriorating, and I don’t know how practical it would be to move it,” Hough said. “it’s a pity.”

Although the mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this does not protect it from demolition.

“It’s a red flag for any local government that this building is important and needs serious consideration before a demolition permit is granted, but that doesn’t mean the building can’t be demolished,” Haag said. “You have to go through a process, but being on the national registry cannot stop the process by itself.”

Hospital site plans

Bayhealth plans to increase parking spaces from 227 to 680 on the property for employee parking, which is in short supply.

Since opening in 1927, the hospital has expanded “to meet the demands of our growing community in a responsible manner within a small footprint of Dover,” said John Van Gorp, Bayhealth’s senior vice president and chief strategy officer.

“Bayhealth made the decision to demolish the Scull Mansion as part of efforts to improve the underground sewer infrastructure and make room for employee parking,” he said. “While Bayhealth worked with community stakeholders to try to save the building, we were unable to find a solution but will continue to work to save portions of the house and identify ways to commemorate the house. When the structure is removed, Bayhealth will work to save as many trees on the site as possible and will work to improve Landscaping to enhance the look and feel of the area.

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Comments from Friends of Old Dover

Nathan Attard, president of preservation for the Friends of Old Dover, emailed a statement about the process that led to the demolition of the Skull Mansion.

“Bayhealth took the position that the only acceptable option was to move the house. This option, although technically possible, would have been prohibitively expensive. The Dover Historic District is maintained through the individual oversight of property owners of limited means.” To keep their historic buildings standing. “Not only would moving the Skull Mansion be an insult to them as they look for money to maintain historic buildings, they would be taking away much-needed government and philanthropic support to maintain buildings that don’t need to be moved.”

He said the Friends group suggested alternatives including taking advantage of historic preservation tax credits available to nonprofits to renovate the building for offices or workforce housing.

“Bayhealth’s decision to serve as a nonprofit entity serving the community is unfortunate when so many Dover residents take pride in preserving our community’s history,” Attard wrote.

Reporter Ben Mays covers real estate and development news. Reach him at rmace@gannett.com.

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