Strong-Howard House: The Restoration Begins
This article was originally written by Christina Vida, curator, for the WHS Newsletter Vol. 31, No. 1, March, 2013.
Preservation has been an important community priority in Windsor – Connecticut’s first town – for many years. Our historic homes and barns, factories and office buildings, rivers and meadowlands all tell the story of an ancient New England settlement which has evolved, adapted, and flourished for almost four centuries. In 1925, the fledgling Windsor Historical Society mobilized to save an historic home on the Palisado Green from being razed to make way for a gasoline station. Since then, the home has served as an anchor for Windsor’s historic district, as a backdrop for Windsor’s anniversary celebrations, and as a gallery for the Society’s growing antiques and archival collections. The Strong-Howard House on the Palisado Green is one of Windsor’s most recognizable and best-loved landmarks, making it imperative for the Society to preserve and restore our red clapboard house.
After years of planning, November 23, 2012 was a momentous day at the Windsor Historical Society. Fog hung in the air as a team from Ironwood Landscaping began the initial work (Figure 1, top). Why would a house restoration begin with landscaping? Well, moisture aggressively attacks old wooden structures, and the Strong-Howard House basement has extremely high humidity due to the water penetrating the stone foundation. With winter and frozen ground looming, Ironwood Landscaping started correcting the drainage issues to prevent another spring thaw from further harming the home’s foundation and wooden sills. In Figure 2, you can see the trench accommodating new drainage pipes laid in the courtyard.
As Ironwood continued their work on the drainage, our general contractor, John Armstrong of New Harmony Builders, began restoring the porch. We want our visitors to be able to use the home’s main entrance and see the carved Connecticut Valley doorway. To that end, New Harmony Builders and Ironwood Landscaping removed the stones, confirmed that the porch posts were on firm foundations, and replaced portions of rotten posts. Then they reconstructed the porch decking using thick cedar boards that will last for generations to come (Figure 3).
Next on the list was a new brick walkway leading to the replaced porch. Not only did we want a smooth path for our guests, we also wanted to eliminate the need for a step up onto the porch. This will allow our visitors with restricted movement to easily approach the house. Figure 4 shows how the ground has been tapered to the walkway making it appear as if it has always been there. Once on the porch, our handicapped visitors will be able to access the house using a removable ramp. Although wheelchairs will still have limited mobility inside the house, we are thrilled to finally give all our guests the opportunity to visit the interior of the Strong-Howard House.
With winter’s cold temperatures and frozen ground, the restoration turned to the house interior. Frequent blown fuses have plagued the home for a while now – alluding to major electrical issues enclosed in wooden walls. To correct this major fire hazard, the electricians ran new wires from the Mills Building to the Strong-Howard House basement and installed a circuit breaker panel. They did not stop there. They rewired most of the outlets in the home (Figure 5), making it a safer building and a safe worksite for the rest of the restoration. As the phases of the restoration progress, the lighting will be upgraded – making the house accessible for evening tours and programming.
Springtime will bring a new wave of projects, some interior and some exterior. The most visible will be the restoration of the deteriorated siding on the north façade, which is rotting and buckling away from the frame. Other tasks include laying a vapor barrier in the basement, refinishing the ceilings and walls of the parlor and store, and stabilizing the floors in those two rooms. The store floor will temporarily be lifted out completely, allowing Nick Bellantoni, Connecticut State Archaeologist, and the Friends of the Office of State Archaeology the opportunity to dig in the ground underneath the store.