The Canton Historical Society signed a contract with Gerard O'Doherty of Lincoln, Massachusetts for Phase I structural preservation work at the Tilden House. This culminates the efforts of preservationists that began in 1973. With close to forty-five years of work, a major milestone has been met to protect and preserve the historic homestead of David and Abigail Tilden. Work is expected to begin mid-December.
Earlier this week, the Board of Selectmen executed a preservation restriction with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to protect the building in perpetuity. The restriction paved the way for a $50,000 matching grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission. In addition, Governor Baker's Office of Administration and Finance is releasing the $100,000 budget earmark that was filed by Representative William Galvin and Senator Walter Timilty. Taken as whole, more than $500,000 is dedicated to the project.
Taken as a whole, sufficient money has enabled the Canton Historical Society to begin work on the nearly three-hundred year old house. The house was built over the course of the years between 1725 and 1747 with a rear lean-to constructed in the late 17th century and moved into place in 1725. The house has had seven owners - including the Town of Canton who purchased it in 1970. When preservation is completed the house will become a study in early architecture and wood-frame construction techniques. O'Doherty has very specialized skills that will be used to replicate early construction techniques.
In August 2018 the Canton Historical Society assumed a twenty-five year lease and has begun the restoration as a centerpiece of their commitment to the people of Canton. Plans to share the work and develop tours of the preservation efforts will begin later this Winter.
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.
The behind the scenes look at the preservation of this historic structure.