Preservationists Learn About House's 300-Plus Years While Preparing
To Move It
March 14, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
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
"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
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
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,
Removing those pegs is among the hardest task in such a project,
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
"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
"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
"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.
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