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Townsend Historical Society hoping to preserve, restore Spaulding Cooperage

The Spaulding Cooperage in Townsend. Built over 200 years ago, the historic structure has served locals in a variety of ways, including as a mill, a cooperage (a place where barrels and casks are made and repaired), a training area for soldiers and as a storefront for local business. (Photo Courtesy of the Townsend Historical Society)
The Spaulding Cooperage in Townsend. Built over 200 years ago, the historic structure has served locals in a variety of ways, including as a mill, a cooperage (a place where barrels and casks are made and repaired), a training area for soldiers and as a storefront for local business. (Photo Courtesy of the Townsend Historical Society)
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TOWNSEND — As it has slowly crept into the Squannacook River, the Townsend Historical Society has once again renewed its effort to preserve the Spaulding Cooperage.

A significant portion of the historic structure, which is used today as an antique store, has gradually come to hang over the Squannacook Riverbank, making any restorative work extremely difficult. Built over 200 years ago, the building served as a mill and was later converted to a cooperage, a place where casks and barrels are made or repaired, after the Civil War.

The rest of the building is also in need of significant restoration, according to THS President Ryan Hayward and Site Administrator Taber Morrell, without which it could fall into disrepair.

“There’s a lot of exterior work — the (Spaulding Cooperage) is going to need complete restoration top-to-bottom,” Hayward said. “Our biggest concern is keeping (the Spaulding Cooperage) watertight — and that’s increasingly been a challenge with the river right there.”

“We have to restore the building envelope sooner rather than later, and it can be a lot of work to reside all four sides of a pretty big historic structure like this,” Morrell said. “And, as well as the building has held up for a couple of centuries at this point, it is gradually falling into the Squannacook River, which we want to prevent.”

This is the latest attempt by the THS to have the building restored in some fashion, according to Morrell, who said the THS has applied for numerous grants to help fund the project and received “generous” donations from locals and local businesses. Hayward also said the THS had raised a “significant amount of money” for the project — but it has not been enough.

While the need for such work was first recognized back in 2018, inflated costs, as well as the specialization required to properly handle such a historic structure, have delayed the project.

“The difficulty has been trying to find any contractor who wants to work on (the Spaulding Cooperage),” Hayward said. “Between COVID and rising costs, we’ve just found it difficult to keep pace.”

“Back in 2019, the project was set to cost around $40,000 and, since, that number has just skyrocketed, Morrell said. “And the combination of those rising costs, the availability of contractors being so limited and the fact that we’re trying to focus on construction companies that have experience with historic structures like (the Spaulding Cooperage), we’re having a hard time finding anyone that who can do the job.”

Hayward said, despite those difficulties, that he and the THS hope to have “at least some of the work started” before the end of the year.

Built by the Conant family prior to 1790, the building known as the Spaulding Cooperage has seen sporadic usage in its time. Once a mill, the building would later serve as a tea room and a place to train soldiers during World War I.

Purchased by the THS in 1981, the property has served Townsend as a rental property and home for local business since the early 1930s.

According to Hayward, the building has seemingly always been remembered as the “Spaulding Cooperage” despite the fact that the property served as such for “less than 10 years.”

“I don’t know why the name stuck,” Hayward said, “and it’s funny, but, at this point, I don’t think anyone would want to change the name.”

Both Hayward and Morrell said it was of the utmost importance to Townsend and the THS to restore the building and maintain its condition going forward. Morrell called the structure the “last of its kind.”

“Coopering, as a profession, was such a big part of Townsend’s history — there were over 80 such businesses in town at one point,” Morrell said. “This building is sort of a legacy of that, a dying breed and a call back to a classic New England industry.”

“I think it’s important to allow people to see these buildings, to restore them and give people a greater appreciation of their community and their shared history,” Hayward said. “(The THS) want to preserve these things so people can learn from them.”

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