By Dyke Hendrickson
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The Oliver House, considered the last of the “old hotels” on Plum Island, has joined other historic structures in the afterlife of seaside retreats.
The century-old wood building, located at 245 Northern Blvd. at the island’s northernmost end, was demolished in recent days and its remains were removed.
Officials in the office of the building inspector issued a permit for the demolition, which was approved with reluctance by the local Historical Commission in July.
City officials say they have not received building permits from the owners, Kevin and Deborah Raftery of Newburyport, to replace the structure.
The Rafterys purchased it in 2008, according to the municipal assessor’s office. They did not returns calls requesting comment yesterday on whether they plan to build on the parcel.
Shortly after buying it, they had commissioned an architectural plan for a thorough renovation into a residence, but nothing now appears to be in the works. The proposed renovation stayed true in appearance to the Oliver House, at least from the street. However, it also greatly expanded the footprint. In the rear the plan showed a large ell with an open two-car port beneath a deck and a second-story room.
Local historians say Oliver House was originally built in the late 1800s at Black Rocks in Salisbury — directly across the Merrimack River from Plum Island. It was later transported by barge across the river to Plum Island Point.
The Oliver House opened on Plum Island in the 1890s as a guesthouse and hotel, at a time when the island buzzed with summer visitors and small cottages were beginning to pop up on beachfront lots. The island offered a host of amusements for visitors, such as a dance hall, roller skating and plentiful “shore dinners.” Trolley lines connected the island to Newburyport and cities beyond, and ferries were available to take visitors to the island.
The Oliver was one of three hotels on the island at the turn of the century, according to historian Nancy Weare’s book, “Plum Island — The Way It Was.” Among its notable visitors was Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion (1908-1915).
The age of the hotels dimmed quickly. A massive fire in 1914 destroyed the largest of the hotels, the Plum Island Hotel. It was not rebuilt. The habits of summer visitors were also changing. The year 1920 marked the start of a massive development of the island. It was subdivided into the hundreds of small lots that are familiar today, and hundreds of inexpensive cottages sprang up within a matter of time.
The Oliver House had not been occupied in the past few decades, and the lack of occupancy and care had taken its toll. The building had a distinct sag, and those who had been inside described it as a warren of small rooms that needed a tremendous amount of work to restore.
Owners until recently were trying to sell the property. Indeed, a “for sale” sign still stands in the front yard. Square footage of the 13-room hotel was 3,298.
Asking price for the total package (dilapidated hotel and a new home behind it) was $999,000, according to the website of the listing agency, but no buyers came forth to acquire the property.