A $1.3 million renovation of the historic Butler-McCook Homestead on Main Street in Hartford had just been finished when, on Aug. 4, 2002, a vehicle driven by Wilfredo Sanchez of Hartford crashed through a wall causing more than $700,000 in damage to the home, which is among Hartford's oldest, and its contents. Less than a year later, on Sept. 14, 2003, Sanchez was speeding along Wethersfield Avenue in Hartford in a stolen car when he hit and killed 39-year-old Donald Foss of Hartford. Sanchez was was sentenced to16 years in prison.
When Beverly Lucas welcomes visitors into the parlor room of Hartford's oldest house, the Butler-McCook Homestead, she's surrounded by priceless family heirlooms and 18th- and 19th-century artifacts.
Many people touring the house, however, want to discuss an episode in its more painful recent history.
Six years ago, a 21-year-old Hartford man, Wilfredo Sanchez, drove an uninsured, unregistered Kia SUV through the outer wall of the 1782 homestead at 396 Main St. The vehicle stopped well inside the wood frame building.
"This is the wall he crashed through, and this is where the piano ended up," Lucas, curator at Connecticut Landmarks, said.
Connecticut Landmarks is a not-for-profit organization that owns the Butler-McCook homestead, along with many other historic properties across the state.
"Basically, [Sanchez] was driving down Capitol Avenue," which ends at Main Street directly in front of the homestead, Lucas said, "and he didn't stop."
Sanchez, who had a suspended license and marijuana in his bloodstream at the time of the crash, caused more than $700,000 in damage.
The incident came just two months after the house, which operates as a museum, had reopened to the public following a $1.3 million renovation.
The structural damage to the building was more severe than what was initially suspected, accounting for the greatest portion of reconstruction costs.
"We were fortunate the second floor didn't come through the first," Lucas said.
After both the outer wall and a second, interior wall were repaired, the society sprung to have reproduction wallpaper made up to match that seen in period photographs.
Many of the Butler-McCook furnishings, including a 225-year-old chest of drawers and the 165-year-old sofa where the Rev. John McCook had proposed to his wife, Eliza, needed to be restored.
Insurance covered most of the repair costs, but the group held fundraisers to pay for expenses beyond the coverage.
Unfortunately, said Cynthia Riccio, site administrator at the homestead, not everything could be restored. Among other items, the family piano, which had stood against the interior wall Sanchez broke through, has been replaced.
Riccio said the society was lucky to receive a replacement with ties to the house — an upright Steinway donated by the family of the McCooks' piano tuner.
While there is little inside the homestead today to bear witness to the crash, Riccio said that visitors are still eager to discuss the incident.
"People are curious. They want to know what we lost and what we were able to save," she said. "They ask, 'Aren't you the house that was hit by the car?'"
Lucas said Connecticut Landmarks, which changed its name last year from the Antiquarian & Landmarks Society, doesn't hold any grudges against the man responsible for the damage.
"We're just glad there weren't any injuries," Lucas said. Besides, she adds, "this is part of the house's history now."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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