Published: January 9, 2001
WILTON, CONN. – Fitch House, the Eighteenth Century house being displaced by D.O.T. because of the widening of Route 7, is scheduled to move south on Danbury Road on Wednesday January 17, with a snow date of Thursday January 18, the Wilton Historical Society has just announced.
Preparation for this move began last fall, when the 7,000 plus rdf_Descriptions in the collection of the Wilton Historical Society went into storage off site and work began to prepare the house for its physical relocation. The Nineteenth and Twentieth Century additions were dismantled, the chimney taken down to the attic floor, and the roof removed. Each part was marked and documented for later reassemble on the new site.
Nicholas Bros., building movers from Hopewell Junction, N.Y., have worked for several weeks to separate the house from the foundation and to get temporary steel under the house. The undercarriage will now be assembled under the house to roll it south about 2000 feet to the Betts-Sturges-Blackmar site.
It is a very sensitive job to keep Eighteenth Century post and beam construction intact and especially to support the huge stone central chimney mass. Because the house is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a museum, it is especially important to preserve the historical integrity of the building.
This kind of project requires coordination of many elements. The overhead wires must be moved, thus Connecticut Light & Power, Cablevision, SNET, and another company must take down the traffic lights and are all required to be on duty to handle their particular lines as the building moves.
In addition, traffic must be rerouted, for a period of time, from this busy artery. Although there will be a three-hour period set aside, it is expected that the actual time required to move down Route 7 will be about 30 minutes. The day before the house will be hydraulically lifted off the foundation, partially turned, and moved to the curb. At its destination, it will be lifted up and moved onto and above its final resting place to the north of the Betts-Struges-Blackmar House.
The cost of all the logistical support is very high and will be entirely paid by the historical society. In addition to the cost of seven extra-duty police coverage, each of the four utility companies require very substantial fees, with CL & P’s bill, at more than $23,000, the highest.
The descriptive visualization of this entire process is quite fascinating. First, the Eighteenth Century post and beam house must be fully supported by large steel “I” beams running north and south and east and west, with special support for the 120-ton stone fireplace. At the same time, much of the original foundation stones are removed, leaving piers to support the structure.
Two massive steel beams will be inserted under the other steel forming a chassis-like undercarriage. This chassis will have 16 pneumatic airplane type wheels on which the house will roll. This will then be joined to a tractor trailer with a “fifth wheel” turntable so that the entire package can make a U-turn to go south and then turn again to be placed on its new location.
When it is hydraulically lifted off the original foundation, it will be rotated completely so that the front door faces west instead of east because it will be relocated on the opposite side of the street. After it is pulled 2000 feet south it will again be hydraulically raised and placed above the hole in the ground that has been prepared for it. At the present time perimeter foundation footings are in place as well as a 12 by 14 foot concrete base for the fireplace structure.
Fitch House will be placed on temporary supports, with steel still in place, hovering above its future cellar. The society’s preservation contractors will then dismantle and move the original foundation and fireplace stones and rebuild them at the new site. When the foundation and chimney base are reconstructed, the hovering house will be carefully lowered, with new sills meeting reconstructed foundation.
Then the difficult job of restoring this venerable building to its former stylishness begins. All mechanical, electrical systems, wiring, etc. will require replacement. The roof will be rebuilt as well as the chimney top. It is hoped that the interiors will have survived these last four months in relatively good condition – original plaster, paneling, flooring and windows.
It is hoped that, by late summer, interior and exterior restoration will be complete and that the collection will be returned for placement in the period rooms. “Our hope is that we will reopen our period rooms in October,” said museum director Marilyn Gould.
While this project is underway, construction will be taking place that will connect the two important Eighteenth Century houses. It will include a reconstruction Nineteenth Century Wilton barn, which will provide exhibition space for the large permanent collection of dolls, toys, and dollhouses, special exhibits and in the lower level a properly outfitted area for textiles and costume storage, conservation, and exhibition.
Another summer project will be the furnishing of two more period rooms in the Betts-Sturges-Blackmar house. By May, the textile making room, showing home production of wool and linens, should be completed in time for education programs.
“When we reopen next fall, we will have eleven period rooms showing the evolution of style and family life between 1740 and 1900,” explained Gould. “These, along with our important collections of textiles and objects of childhood, our working blacksmith shop and barn to house farm equipment and woodworking tools, will place us in the forefront of local historical museums. This site should be an important resource for Wiltonians of all ages, as well as a regional audience.”
The society is beginning a major Capitol Campaign (its first) to help complete this ambitious project. The state of Connecticut has made a lump-sum payment to meet its obligation to relocate Fitch House and restore it to the level required for its continued inclusion on the National Register. The society is using its own funds for the construction of the “connector” gallery but must have outside assistance to cover the projected $500,000 budget. Hunter Brown is chairman of this ambitious fund raising project.
Walter R T Smith is the historic building wizard who is organized and implementing the complete project from beginning to end. “With 55 years experience, Walt is probably the only person in the region who could accomplish this complex task and we are so fortunate to have him as our general,” remarked Nicki Brown, president of the society. Steve Hoyt, Tecumseh Woodworks of South Salem, NY is the contractor in charge of construction and reconstruction, working under the direction of Walt Smith. Robert Faesy, of Faesy & Sanders Architects, is the project architect, as he has been on all Society projects since the 1970s.
This project is being completely documented in photographic and narrative forms. An in-depth archeological survey and recovery process is near completion by Historical Perspectives, Inc. of Westport, Conn. Steve Bedford of Fitzgerald & Halliday Inc., in Hartford, Conn , is the project manager and will submit a detailed report on the project through its restoration to both the Connecticut Historical Commission and the Federal Department of the Interior.
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