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Hartford's Past Gets A Hand From Its Future

Isham-Terry House Reopening With Help From Public Safety Complex


June 28, 2012

HARTFORD A house from Hartford's past, which formerly sat closed and largely unnoticed while the area around it decayed, is poised to make a comeback along with the neighborhood.

The Isham-Terry House, a stone's throw north of I-84 on High Street, will reopen to the public Saturday for tours for the first time since 2006.

Built in 1854, the house is a reminder that wealthy captains of industry once chose Hartford as the place to build luxury homes, with high-ceilinged parlors for entertaining, gas-lit chandeliers, wood-paneled libraries and stained-glass windows.

"This was the very edge of Hartford. You could see down to the Connecticut River from here," said Jackie McKinney, as she conducted an informal tour Wednesday. "High society lived here."

McKinney, the site administrator for the Isham-Terry House and the Butler-McCook Homestead on Main Street, said that by the time Dr. Oscar Isham bought the 15-room mansion in 1896 from Ebenezer Roberts, many of the city's richest and most famous residents had moved west, to the area near the Mark Twain House.

But Oscar Isham, who bought the home to house both his medical practice, himself, his parents and three sisters, lived there until his death in the 1940s. Sisters Julia and Charlotte were the last family members to live there. Each died at the age of 98, in 1977 and 1979 respectively.

But although they stayed, the neighborhood began to decline, to the point that legend has it the sisters began placing mannequins in front of windows to ward off would-be burglars.

When the sisters died, they left the house and all its contents to Connecticut Landmarks, which opened it for public tours in 2000. McKinney said that even as the neighborhood continued to deteriorate around the house, it still attracted visitors before it was closed due to plumbing and heating problems.

The reopening of the house coincides with the building of the new public safety complex next door. Its construction removed many of the abandoned buildings and businesses and along with the demolition of the "Butt-Ugly Building" just to the east has made area more inviting to visitors.

"It's tremendous," McKinney said of the importance of having the public safety complex as a neighbor. "You can park your car in the police parking lot. It can't get any safer than that."

The city, through the public safety complex project, gave Connecticut Landmarks a $30,500 grant, which enabled the organization to hire contractors to replace the house's heat delivery system and clean and repair its Oriental carpets, window treatments and other items.

The house which formerly needed four furnaces to heat it will now draw its heat from the public safety complex's excess fuel cell capacity.

Sheryl Hack, executive director of Connecticut Landmarks, said she appreciated former Mayor Eddie A. Perez's and current Mayor Pedro Segarra's efforts to include the Isham-Terry House in the public safety complex project.

"It's important to have someone who understands that heritage preservation, quality of life and tourism go hand in hand," Hack said Wednesday.

Segarra said: "The Isham-Terry House is one of the most historical landmarks in our great city and its reopening marks a special moment during my tenure as mayor. Coupled with the new public safety complex, we are primed for a major renaissance in the High Street and Ann Street corridor. and I look forward to continued collaboration with CT Landmarks to ensure that our most wonderful treasures are protected and preserved."

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held Thursday, and free tours of the house will be held Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free parking will be available in the public safety complex lot adjacent to the house.

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 |
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