Plum Island’s century-old Pink House is legendary. It’s also likely to be demolished.

Local News

After years of debate, this could be the end for the beloved structure — but its advocates haven’t given up hope.

An image of a pink house with the moon in the background.
The Pink House, an iconic century-old single-family home on Plum Island near Newburyport, could be demolished. Courtesy of Sandy Tilton

A word that some in the North Shore community of Newburyport and surrounding towns would use to describe the Pink House — a century-old, slightly shabby single-family home painted a blush pink that sits on unobstructed marshland — is “iconic.” 

Known for its mystique, beauty, and disputed town lore over its origin, the Pink House has attracted hundreds of artists, photographers, and curious visitors looking to capture views of the home, surrounded by nothing but a wetland ecosystem protected by the federal government. 

“It’s one of those markers, like seeing the same Christmas ornaments on the tree that you grew up with,” Rochelle Joseph said. “People will say ‘I got driven here to go to the beach when I was a kid, and now I drive my kids and their kids past the Pink House.’”

Joseph is the president of Support the Pink House, a nonprofit dedicated to the historic home’s survival. Her group and the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, the land where the house is located, had been working together for several years after demolition was threatened by the federal agency in 2015. The news that the Pink House might be torn down is the reason the nonprofit was created. 

Now, the possibility of demolition once again swirls around Newburyport.

“Right now, it’s come to a point where after eight years, we have to accept the reality, and we have accepted the reality that this might be the final option,” said Matt Hillman, refuge manager. “It’s not the preferred option by any means.” 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the refuge’s governing body, has been the owner of the vacant home since 2011, after a family who lived in the home sold it to them. Since its construction in 1925, it has been used as a residential house by several families before the government purchased it for, reportedly, $375,000.

It was a difficult house to maintain. Water is frequently found in the basement, and the agency said it floods around the property — a problem that is expected to worsen in the coming decades on Plum Island due to human-caused climate change, according to a 2021 report. Right now, Hillman said managing the building involves fixing constant roof leaks, broken windows, and damage from vandals. 

The myth of the home is that it was built on a marsh on purpose — constructed by a man going through a divorce as a spiteful farewell gift to his wife.

When the refuge took over the keys, they had hoped to turn the home into housing for its seasonal staff.

“There’s a lot of asbestos material in that structure, given that it was built in 1925,” Hillman said. “There’s lead paint issues, there’s a whole host of environmental contaminants, which when we tested for them, we realized this was probably not the best place for housing.” 

The Fish and Wildlife Service also doesn’t have the money in its budget to remediate the house, he noted. 

The people involved with Support the Pink House said the news of tearing the home down came as a shock. 

“We attended a Zoom meeting, which we thought was going to be to discuss possible new plans to move forward,” said Sandy Tilton, director of Support the Pink House. “After the introductions, we were informed that this proposal to demolish the house is what their plan was.”

Tilton said the agency then announced the demolition plans to the public less than 24 hours after Support the Pink House received the news. 

The nonprofit doesn’t believe demolition is the only option left. Tilton said Support the Pink House and the refuge have discussed other ways around a complete tear down in meetings for years. 

The nonprofit is aware of the fact that the agency cannot sell the house on the market because the federal government can’t sell land and buildings. 

Instead, they needed to find someone who was willing to exchange land with the agency that is of equal appraised value and higher ecological value.

Several potential deals were discussed, and even a few seemed as though they would be finalized. But each deal fell through, according to both parties.

Support the Pink House also presented a restoration partner to the refuge more than four years ago — a resident who was willing to pay to rehabilitate the home. The nonprofit blamed the agency for letting the home fall into disrepair, but said it’s salvageable.

Demolition isn’t firm just yet. The proposal is in a public comment period to allow residents to voice their opinions and concerns on the Pink House’s removal. Public comment submissions close at the end of the month, and the refuge will gather those notes before forming a final plan. 

The current proposal also suggests an idea for the property after the Pink House is removed — opening the marsh to the public. The land surrounding the Pink House is closed off.

But Support the Pink House members, who plan to do what they can to take demolition off the table, want to see the home refurbished to its former glory, to become someone’s home. 

“It is an integral part of the New England landscape,” Joseph said. “We tear stuff down, and then it’s not special anymore.”