GROTON — When Gov. George S. Boutwell built his home in 1851, a second floor window looked out past the unpaved Main Street to the Worcester and Nashua Railroad.
Over the next few years, the town changed. A public library opened in 1854. Boutwell was on the committee.
The town kept modernizing, adding schools, municipal buildings, electricity, natural gas, water, pavement.
The Boutwell House remained in the family until 1933. As all homes do, it changed with the times. The family added electrical service and plumbing. The paint, floor covering and wallpaper choices likely changed.
A heating system was added and the woodshed turned into closets.
That woodshed allowed the second owner, the Groton Historical Society, to install a handicap-accessible bathroom recently.
Restoring old homes is a “balance between conservation and what we need to live with,” said Al Collins. The board member and licensed general contractor was the project manager of a years-long restoration.
The first improvements, while expensive and necessary to preserve the building, are not visible to the casual eye. Two grants awarded in 2011 allowed work to begin.
Town Meeting approved $179,000 from the Community Preservation Act funds. The Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund provided another $79,000.
The society did all the work that bedevils owners of homes old and not-so-new. Roof work, including soffits and sheathing, came first. Leaks had damaged the interior.
Fire suppression, a sprinkler system, kept the subcontractors going back to the drawing board time and again. The required pipes should not intrude in the period rooms, Collins said.
Getting it done was “really was a balance of subcontractors and myself,” he said. Pipes went through walls and closets, even into the attic to remain out of sight.
“It did work out fairly well,” he said, a thought that could be regarded as an understatement. A visitor would have to look hard for the new infrastructure.
Sprinkler pipes are in the entry hall, but heating pipes were already there. The heads blend in with wall coverings and paint.
A ramp to the side porch also helped bring the building into the future, he said.
The rest of the house was brought back to other times in the past. When restoring a building that has been in use for over 150 years, there are many time periods to include, said Kara Fossey, Groton History Center consultant.
Much of the restoration revolves around renovations the Boutwell family did around the turn of the century, Collins said. That was about the time the town got water and electricity.
Period carpet, paint and wallpaper provide a background for the society’s collection. One original gas chandelier was retrofitted for electricity and other light fixtures from the same period were installed.
While cleaning the rear chimney, Collins found bits and pieces of a Hub wood cooking stove. He tracked a Hub down in a farmhouse in New Hampshire and, restored, it takes the central place in the kitchen.
A set kettle for washing clothes was donated by homeowners in town. There was a space for it in the kitchen, but the original from the Boutwell House was no longer there.
Money for the second phase of the work, re-doing the interior and painting the outside, was given by an anonymous donor.
Collins planned carefully, coming in just under budget.
The town got about $5,000 back from the CPA grant it made to the society.
He waited until most of the work was done before ordering new storm windows that will be paid for by the donation. If the project had ran out of money, those could be installed later, he said.
A free open house will be held Saturday, Aug. 19 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Boutwell House at 172 Main St., Groton. In addition to seeing the house, visitors can enjoy a display about the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson and Boutwell’s role in the process.
Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.