GROTON — After winning approval for the use of town funds, the Historical Society is ready to give its headquarters at the Boutwell House a much-needed face-lift.
The news was revealed by clerk of the works and Historical Commission member Al Collins when he appeared before the Historic District Commission (HDC) Tuesday night to describe the work to be done at the 160-year-old Main Street landmark.
According to Collins, elements of the main building and accompanying carriage house have not received attention for at least 10 years and are in need of maintenance.
Work he expected to see done to the buildings over the next few weeks include repair of the leaky roof on the carriage house, inspecting the roof on the main building, and restoring a porch on the Boutwell House by removing a glass enclosure placed around it at some point in the past.
In fact, said Collins, the overall aim of the work planned was to restore the Boutwell House to as close a resemblance to the way it appeared in the 1890s as possible.
Collins said what restorations that will be done are being made in conformance to an original design plan in the Historical Society’s possession showing the house as it was in 1894.
“The intention is to bring the house back to the condition it originally was in,” Collins told commissioners.
Located on Main Street directly across from Town Hall, the Boutwell House is named after George S. Boutwell, who served Massachusetts first as governor and then in Congress before being appointed secretary of the Treasury by President Ulysses S. Grant.
Built in 1851 by Boutwell, the Victorian manse was the scene of much entertaining, including that of President Grant himself upon a visit to Groton, Ownership of the house eventually passed on to the governor’s daughter, Georgiana Boutwell, who upon her death in 1933, left the building to the town’s Historical Society that she founded.
Today, the house serves as headquarters for the Historical Society, which also maintains a modest museum on the site.
The latest round of work on the historic home is to be covered by a $176,000 appropriation from the town’s CPC fund (Community Preservation Commission) with the possibility of an additional state grant in the offing.
Using the 1894 plan as a guide, other work on the historic home will include reconstruction of a back chimney, the topmost portion of which at some point had been removed to the level of the roof and blocked up.
Collins said the chimney would be rebuilt using bricks of the same color and style as the originals with Society members hopeful that they could then find and install a period wood burning stove in the building’s kitchen.
Other work around the main building will likely include repointing the stone foundation, placing gutters around the roof, and making the house as handicapped accessible as possible within the restrictions of historical preservation.
Inside the house, Collins said that upgrading of electrical and plumbing systems is likely along with some repainting.
Although the HDC has no jurisdiction on common maintenance work in and around the property, it does have an interest in seeing that the overall look of an historical building within the district is not disfigured in any way.
Thus, with much of the work planned for the Boutwell House coming under the description of maintenance, some, like the roof repairs on the carriage house, could begin immediately even without the approval of the commission.
Such could be the case, said Collins, pending his formal submission of an application with the commission. But with Tuesday’s friendly reception, it seemed unlikely that the Historical Society’s application would meet with anything but an affirmative vote.
Not wasting any time however, Collins said he intended to begin planning the project this week with some work not needing approval by the HDC to start soon after.
Also Tuesday night, commissioners voted to approve a plan by the town to install a wooden guardrail around a portion of the parking lot at the rear of Town Hall.
The lot had been the site of major improvements over the summer including being paved by a new kind of permeable asphalt that allows rainwater to sift through instead of running off to the street.
As a result of the improvements, said planning administrator Michelle Collette, who represented the town at the public hearing, water quality in the nearby James Brook has improved markedly.
With new landscaping being planned for the edge of the parking lot where the land had been stripped and recontoured as part of the improvement effort, some protection was needed for tree plantings at the street end of the lot.
The new barrier will be constructed with standard wooden pilings and a single rail designed to withstand a low impact from a rolling vehicle. A few feet high, the fence will extend for about 15 feet around the end of the parking lot.
With last Tuesday’s approval by the HDC, Collette said it was hoped that the fence, as well as the landscaping, could be completed by the end of the month.
Finally, commissioners were given a presentation by the developer of the Boynton Meadows subdivision project planned for 134 Main St., covering landscaping and historical features.
In particular, time was spent on an existing building on the property that faces Main Street and how developer Robert France intends on preserving its historic look in conformance to other properties along the town’s central thoroughfare.