Historically Speaking: The saga of Sawyer Mansion, Part 2

·5 min read
Tony McManus
Tony McManus

DOVER - The date of the New Hampshire Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. Dover, overturning the variance granted by the Zoning Board of Adjustment, was May 13, 1980. In the meantime, however, presumably relying on the earlier Superior Court approval, McQuade Realty had gone ahead with the renovation of the Governor Sawyer mansion at 90 Stark Ave. into four individual apartments.

In September of 1978, while Mrs. Fisher's appeal was still in the works, the property was sold to Eileen and Thomas J. Murphy, Jr. But then … following the high court ruling …the city issued a Cease and Desist order to the Murphys, alleging that the property was in violation of the Zoning Ordinance. The Murphys then filed for a variance, which was denied, and they filed an appeal of that decision to the Superior Court.

Several months later they also filed a brand new suit against McQuade Realty asking that the sale of the property be rescinded and for money damages based on a claim that McQuade Realty "had intentionally failed to advise them of the pending appeal in the Fisher case regarding the granting of the original variance." At the same time, the Murphys stopped making payments on a mortgage they owed to McQuade Realty. In response, McQuade filed for foreclosure. In May of 1981, the Superior Court issued an order, requested by the Murphys, that put the foreclosure on hold, and McQuade Realty appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. (Still with me here?)

Almost a year later, in April of 1982, the Supreme Court decided to send the whole thing back to the Superior Court. It was, in a sense, a technical decision; nobody won on the merits of any of the competing claims. The ruling was that since the Murphys were only asking for recession and damages, the decision should be made at the Superior Court level, and foreclosure would not affect their standing one way or the other. The case was sent back to the lower court.

There are no further reported appeals, but somehow the case was resolved. Within a few years, the Murphys had moved to Florida, the apartments remained, and at some later date they were turned into condos. One was recently on the market for a fairly healthy sum.

As mentioned in the previous article, one of the Supreme Court justices at the time of both cases - B.C.P. Realty and McQuade - was William Grimes of Dover. He was the son of Frank J. Grimes, who was Dover's Street Commissioner for a number of years and who was involved in a turf war with the city over who was to run his department, resulting in yet another N.H. Supreme Court case, Grimes v. Keenan (James P. Keenan was Mayor), decided in 1936. The court's ruling was that, under the terms of our City Charter, the Council had the authority to schedule major projects (similar to today's Capital Improvement Plan), and to designate the contractors for each job; it was Grimes' job to supervise the day-to-day operation of the department without interference from the Council.

William Grimes was born in 1911, educated in Dover schools, and attended UNH where, while still a senior, he was elected to the New Hampshire House for the 1933-35 term. After graduating from Boston University Law School in 1937, he was again elected to a term in the House. He practiced law in the Cooper firm in Rochester, but during WW II he served in the Naval Reserve. Returning to Dover, he was City Attorney for a year, and was appointed to the Superior Court (at age 36) by then Governor Chester M. Dale of Portsmouth. In 1966, he was appointed to the Supreme Court, and served as Chief Justice for two years prior to the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Judge Grimes was a moving force in the organization of the National Judicial College, created in 1963, now located in Reno, Nevada, which has provided valuable training for newly appointed trial judges from across the U.S. Upon his retirement from the N.H. Court, he continued to teach at that institution and also accepted a faculty position at the University of Oklahoma Law School. He died in 1999.

The Grimes family lived in the large brick home, built around 1812, at 60 Portland Avenue.

During part of the time Judge Grimes was carrying out his duties in Concord, Mrs. Grimes - Barbara - filled a very important role here in Dover. For a number of years, she was the Saturday morning "Story Lady" in the Children's Room at the Dover Library.

But more than that, she was a published poet with work appearing in the Ladies Home Journal, Christian Science Monitor, and other magazines and journals. She gave poetry workshops in Dover and Portsmouth schools; was [resident of the Dover Woman's Club, Community Concert Association, Wentworth Hospital Auxiliary, and other organizations; a Trustee of the Dover Library and served as Chair in the 1970s. She also directed and acted in local community theater productions. She was an active member of the Dover Girl Scout Council and a volunteer at the Great Bay School. While her husband was engaged in training newly appointed judges at the Judicial College, she helped create educational programs for the wives who may have accompanied them, generating recognition from the American Bar Association for her accomplishments.

Tony McManus is a Dover native. He is a former trustee of the Woodman Institute and an amateur student of Dover’s past. He can be reached at mcaidan73@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared on Fosters Daily Democrat: Historically Speaking: The saga of Sawyer Mansion, Part 2

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