Today was an emotional day for me at the Tilden House. I have to admit that as our guests left a friend caught me crying. There is no doubt it was very delightful. After all, it had been more than twenty years since the public had been in the house. It was the realization that finally we can safely take people through the house and showcase the history, workmanship and heritage of this first-period home.
The two-hour workshop was a test. We wanted to know whether the story that we had been telling for many years would have meaning and spirit within the space. Because the house was “standing sawdust” for the last several years, it was always precarious whenever we invited people inside. The windows had been boarded up, the floor sagged, and animals had largely come to occupy large sections of the basement and attic.
What we can say now, and on no uncertain terms is that indeed the stories and discussions that have led to the preservation project resonate within the authenticity of the house. It’s a simple house built in a simple time for families that came to live in Dorchester Village – or Stoughton and then Canton. We spent time talking about the process of preservation and what it takes to deconstruct a wood frame structure in order to put it back together. At one point a dozen people stood in the front parlor – to do so merely six months ago would have been impossible.
We’ve always been very forthcoming with the fact that the work we are doing is in phases. And phase one is all about structural integrity. In order for twelve people to stand in the parlor, the floor strength had to be brought to one-hundred pounds per square foot. The new floor loads in the Tilden are designed to meet the demands of a modern museum. Your house has a floor load of less than half what we are providing for in the Tilden. And so, it is no surprise that there was great joy seeing so many people in a place that was once off limits to more than two or three people at best.
The new challenge that is arising is the need to understand how to reframe the house and the windows. Since the plates, girts, beams and posts are all repaired or replaced, and the sheathing is about to go back on, there is a need to figure out the rough opening and quantity of windows. Sadly, we are still trying to raise money to actually place new windows into the project. The balance is being made with the need to make sure there is a wooden roof as well. Is it possible to want to much? Probably so. But, that is what the creative side of preservation is. Deciding how best to allocate the funds in a way that ensures success and safety.
Last week our historical architectural consultant spent an entire day studying the exposed building. This is where the window style is being chosen. It is also where we are making a choice as to which windows to eliminate. The house is not being restored to the time or Tilden or Alexander – rather we are moving to adjust the time of the house to the first third of the 19th century. Keeping all the elements that were there just before the Civil War. So, the house as a continuum will show several owners and several styles. Certainly, the first period (late 18th century) will be shown. But, some of the changes made in the late 19th and early 20th century as well as work in 1976 are being eliminated. Careful documentation is underway to preserve what is being changed. Through reading the building we are now more confident in the final look of the facades and lines of the house.
And so, on a glorious summer day, we opened the Tilden for the first time. We shared so many stories and in a private moment I cried a tear of joy. It’s really hard to explain the joy and elation of this work. A five-minute trip to the Tilden turns into an hour or two whenever Jay or Gerry are working. Until now, it was only for me, so it is a new emotion to be able to share with others; the details, craftsmanship and history of such a remarkable place. Our architect, and dear friend Lynne Spencer remarked, “out of the ashes rose the Phoenix,” and the Tilden is just that – radiant and shimmering. Just like the Phoenix, the Tilden has lived for several hundred years, nearly died by bursting into flames, and now reborn to start a new life – long and rich and worthy of our heritage.
The behind the scenes look at the preservation of this historic structure.