Web Sites, Documents and Articles >> Hartford Courant News Articles >

Peeling Back Layers Of History

Preservationists Learn About House's 300-Plus Years While Preparing To Move It

March 14, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

The pre-Revolutionary War house on Broad Street was moved there a century ago, and now, in an effort to save it, preservationists are trying to move it again.

Over the weekend, volunteers joined preservationist Steven A. Bielitz to rip, beat and tear off years of accumulated home improvements to expose the original timber frame form of what Bielitz and others think is the oldest remaining house in Hartford. Bielitz dates it to the 1740s.

Their goal is to deconstruct it, put it in a trailer, find it a new home and put it back together again - not as a residence, but as resource for tourism, pre-Revolutionary Hartford history, and African American Hartford history, they said. And as they work, there's architectural detective work to be done, Bielitz said.

"You're always looking for clues," he said, standing high atop a dumpster filled with the demolition debris that came soaring through the building's window frames. "It's almost like above-ground archaeology."

Trinity College needs the land on which the building sits to build its new $8 million community sports complex, and it has offered to give the building to anyone who wants to remove it. Bielitz, of Glastonbury Restoration Co., and William Gould of William Gould Architectural Preservation LLC of Pomfret, decided to take on the challenge.

The two men are supported in their effort by the Hartford Preservation Alliance, which mustered many of the volunteers, and Trinity College, which provided dumpsters, portable toilets and other essentials, Bielitz said.

Before the target date of Sunday, the house will have to be taken apart, floorboard by historic floorboard, beam by beam, until it can be neatly packed away.

"We document everything," Bielitz said. "We have architectural drawings; we mark the roof sheathing; we mark every post and beam. Everything's color-coded so we know exactly where it goes."

On Saturday, he had hoped to start taking off the roof sheathing, but the snow and warming temperatures made that impractical.

So, inside, a team of a dozen volunteers worked to rid the structure of its plaster walls and non-original floors. Beneath they found original posts and beams, original wood sheathing and wide pine floors.

Tomas Nenortas, a volunteer and board member of the alliance, was proud to have uncovered an original post, roughly finished, with its original bark.

"That's my find!" he said.

Old television wires, a portrait of Donald Duck on an interior wall, a corner of an old building permit and electrical wires were testaments to the building's evolution and endurance.

So are the bricks, or "nogging," that fill the walls, either as possible fire retardant or a way to keep rodents from roaming freely. There is the second-floor cutout that Bielitz thinks may have been for an upper fireplace.

Then there are "ghostlines" - the color and texture differences on floors and walls that show where closets, shelving and partitions once were, but no longer are.

The attic is the structure's most intact reminder of the 18th century, Bielitz said. Some of the wood used to hold up the roof looks coarse and knotted, not like the smoothly cut lumber of today. Above, wooden pegs hold together much of the structure, providing the vital staying power for the mortise-and-tenon construction, he said.

Removing those pegs is among the hardest task in such a project, he said.

They can be brittle, they can be stuck, they can be in uneven places - because they weren't put in to be taken out.

Once the building is packed away and in storage, the next stage begins.

"My hope is that we can get the word out there, to the point where, maybe, we get someone who comes and is willing to take it on as a project," said Matt Blood, president of the preservation alliance.

"It's just a matter of having the right use for it and the right location to make it economically viable."

In an interview from his home, Gould said that what distinguishes the building is its age, its form, and its evolving uses over time.

"Hartford has a core of people who care, and if you have that sort of commitment, then you can actually save the building and leave it within its city," he said.

Not all municipalities are as fortunate.

For many, he said, "progress is not saving something old, it's putting up something new."

"This is definitely a triumph," Gould said.

"For Trinity, for the Hartford Preservation Alliance, and for we, as preservationists, who do this on a daily basis."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
Powered by Hartford Public Library  

Includes option to search related Hartford sites.

Advanced Search
Search Tips

Can't Find It? Have a Question?