After so many years of work and dedication to this project, a flood of emotions wash over the group as we gather for the first project meeting. The kick-off meeting was held, coincidently, in the same place where more than ten years ago a group of citizens gathered to help "Save the Tilden." Not quite journey's end, but instead a new chapter and promised life for the Tilden House. There was a night so many years ago, where Patricia Johnson, Wally Gibbs, and George Comeau gathered with other concerned citizens and took up the task of working to preserve this old house. And, now after more than thirty seasons have passed over the roof, after more than 3000 days in the life of this house, the threat is being peeled back slowly.
On September 24th a new group gathered. This time the excitement was secure. One of New England's foremost and experienced preservation architects sat at a small table at the home of what was once Eugene Williams and signed the contract to begin her work at the Tilden. Lynne Spencer, with years of experience and a deep knowledge of First Period buildings, sat confidently at the table. George Comeau had brought a large archival box containing the research and historical documents that had been amassed since 1970. Preservation efforts began in the early 70's when the town purchased the Draper Estate for conservation land. Since that time, the Tilden underwent fits and starts of activity. Three times it sat on the edge of serious demolition, and three times it was brought back from the brink. Today, looking at the house, it still seems to cry out "please save me," but it is so tired and so neglected that it's pulse beats weaker with each passing equinox.
The task that falls to Spencer is to create a Historic Structures Report that helps us understand and guide the work that will begin in 2016. Spencer explains that what the town is about to receive is "over 100 pages of historical, architectural, cultural, and engineering data that is the basis for the demolition and construction documents to follow. The timeline is complex, but as of this writing we expect major study to be underway immediately, followed by bid documents and scoping in late winter, bidding in the spring, and construction to commence in July 2016. Once work starts on the structure, it is expected to take three-four months to complete.
Yet, this is merely the start. Plenty of hard work is needed to write grants that will guide the interior restoration. New systems for hvac, electrical, and safety will need to be designed and put out to bid. This is a long term project that brings a major historical asset into the lives of the citizens of Canton. The excitement felt through the next few years will resonate across the community.
In 1973, Doris Peters wrote her famed poem "Goodbye Little Red House" and in it she opined "But here it seems I'm doomed to perish. ….Wilt no man in my favour speak? If only Master Tilden wouldst, ….Come back and set me straight!" The spirits of David and Abigail Tilden are strong and it is often said that this is a building that cry's out to be saved. We are happy to report that the saving has begun, and the long line of men and women that have so ardently worked for forty years we be proud to see what comes next.
After a detailed RFQ process, the Town of Canton through the Building Renovations Committee has selected the architectural preservation firm of Spencer & Vogt for design services and the production of an Historic Structures Report. There was a splendid field of professionals to choose from, but Spencer & Vogt rose to the top owing to their experience, sensitive assessments and restoration of wood frame First Period homes, and a long history or working with municipalities and museums.
It is an exciting time at the Tilden House, a time of discovery, planning, and moving forward in what will be a centerpiece in preservation in Canton. Lynne Spencer noted that "the historic David Tilden House is a rare First Period structure and reminder of the town's agrarian past." These are important observations from an expert that has worked on some of New England's most treasured landmarks, including the Old North Church in Boston, H.H. Richardson's "Stonehurst" in Waltham, and Oakes Ames Hall in North Easton, the Buckman Tavern in Lexington and Longfellow's Wayside Inn. Most impressively was the firm's work at the Abigail Adams Birthplace in Weymouth.
Working with such an amazing firm will mean that the Tilden House will benefit from the experience and wisdom of a firm that has specific strengths in ancient wooden structures. And, the firm has worked with over 45 Massachusetts cities and towns - key to understanding the public bidding process and the building code as it intersects with historic properties. Joining Spencer & Vogt on this project is our old friends from Structures North Consulting Engineers, the same firm that managed the engineering assessment to prepare for the Community Preservation Act Grant Application. Also, American Tower & Steeple have partnered to continue their work on estimating the project costs. Finally, the firm of Finch & Rose has joined the project as consultants on the historic framing and fabric for the preservation work. All in all, there is in place an amazing team that will work closely with the Town's Building Renovation Committee joined in the process by the Canton Historical Society, the Canton Historical Commission, the Canton Conservation Commission, the Board of Selectmen, and of course - the Friends of the Little Red House, Inc.
As the project ramps up, expect to see more profiles and interviews with the experts, multimedia, and behind the scenes photos of this landmark project.
The behind the scenes look at the preservation of this historic structure.