Friday, November 17, 2017

STATE HOSPITAL AT NORWICH
 
Like most state-owned mental health facilities in America, the State Hospital at Norwich closed a number of years ago. Probably because so many people were using it and we needed to increase the homeless and prison populations. Oh, you think I'm being cynical, do you? You not know. Or perhaps you do.
Anyway, a good deal of the property on which the abandoned buildings sit actually lies in the adjacent town of Preston, a quiet little farming community in which I live. Preston has been wrecking a number of the buildings one at a time, most of which fell into disrepair years ago, and almost all had serious structural an/or asbestos issues. Of course I would like to have seen them preserved, but that's me all over. A few still remain, and the property itself has been sold to the Mohegan Tribe, which operates a little business across the river called The Mohegan Sun. That's actually a bit of a joke; Mohegan Sun is one of the largest casinos in the world. Six miles to the east in another of the largest casino in the world, Foxwoods, operated by the Pequot Tribe. But the Mohegans apparently bought the large parcel on which the State Hospital sat for future business development. I'll bet my property taxes go up exponentially anyway. This IS Connecticut, after all.

 
One of the few remaining buildings on the Preston side of the State Hospital
 
Only a handful of the original buildings still survive, and I have an idea for their reuse. Or, at least for the one pictured above; the others, as you will see, are a bit too far gone.
When I first arrived in Preston five years ago, it was to scope out the area as a future place to live. Apparently I chose successfully, since I'm here now. I stayed in a wonderful bed and breakfast called Captain Grant's Inn, where, for the same price as a halfway decent hotel in Norwich, I had a number of fine nights and was fed very well each morning. The place was always filled with guests and the breakfast table was lively with conversation. I may have described this in one of my first posts at one of my other blogs, Standish Farm Restoration. Google it and see. Anyway, I learned, after a few nights there, that many overnight guests were there specifically to see the ghost, which frequents a certain room. Not believing in such things myself (but wanting to see one anyway), I brought this up with Carol and Ted, the owners. They assured me that their always-filled Inn was so successful because of the ghost; many people came there specifically to get a glimpse of it.
I'll feature their Inn in the next post.
Well, I have stayed in another "haunted" B and B, one called The Myrtles, outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and I can attest that its supposed 'hauntedness'  attracted me to it. I'll also admit that it was more than creepy.
'There must be something to this,' I thought after experiencing Captain Grant's. Not necessarily the ghost itself, but the economic viability of having a spook at your bed and breakfast.
Which brings us back to the State Hospital.
What other place could be such a draw to the ghost-hunting crowd than an old mental hospital? I'D stay in one, especially if it was made up to look creepy in the first place, or had tours of the basement. Maybe some sort of play-acting down there depicting lobotomies and shock therapy.
I know, I know. I'm a little ghoulish.
So I propose that Preston restore one of the buildings as a "haunted" B and B. It would take some investment, but I'm sure it would pay off handsomely after a few years. Of course, this will never happen. The selectmen are a stodgy lot, and not exactly imaginative.
Perhaps I should run for office...


This is my favorite surviving building.


"Surviving" is a term to be taken with some salt here. I think it needs a little roof repair.
 
Next post: All About Ghosts!
Just in time for Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 10, 2017

THE LONG SOCIETY MEETINGHOUSE
PRESTON, CONNECTICUT
 
Connecticut is, was, and will always be a thorn in the side of the Federal Government. That's because we pretty much made the model for it, and even that with dissent. We are the Bluest of Blue states, and it all has to do with education and debate.
We have a top-notch public educational system, and we like to argue amongst ourselves as to the best way to do things. Since we're all pretty smart, the arguments can open all sort of doors, as opposed to excluding  people and closing them.
 
Take the Long Society Meetinghouse in Preston.
 
 
Originally built in the first half of the eighteenth century, it was dismantled and rebuilt in 1817, using a lot of the same wood and set up essentially on the same foundation design. Why? Because those that used it wanted it better, that's why. Connectikittens are like that.
The town of Cornwall, in the Litchfield Hills of rugged northwest Connecticut, should have been satisfied with itself, but NOOOOOoooo. They split, split and split again, forming Cornwall, South Cornwall, and Cornwall Bridge. There are probably other varieties I can't find on the map. And Cornwall is not only not alone, it is one of many towns here that have split and resplit and re-resplit to make things more their own. Simply put, Connectikittens are restless and want to govern their own affairs. Even if it's only three people doing it, splitting from three others. We're always looking for something BETTER.
I'm a member of the Preston Historical Society, the town that surrounds The Meetinghouse, and even I don't know exactly what the hell "Long Society" is. I'm sure I'll be chided for my ignorance, probably right here in my own blog. Don't think I don't deserve it.
Anyway, The Meetinghouse is not a church per se. It may very well have been used as such, but even its outward design turns its back on the ecclesiastical. Most Colonial Churches have entries on their shorter gable ends, but not this building. Known as a "broadside" meetinghouse, its entry is on the long side, and the space inside does not focus on the preacher, altars, or God, but on the PEOPLE. I'm sure many a lively discussion was held in this building back at the turn of the century. The Eighteenth Century.
The building went through many years of neglect, but certain members of the Preston Historical Society decided to press for ownership, and after many years of wrangling and discussion (SEE?), The Society now owns it.
Be careful what you wish for.
Now the efforts of the Society are, in addition to other things, geared towards the building's restoration, and they are doing a fine job. In the past four years, they've acquired it, repaired the rotted sills, corner posts and plates, replaced deteriorated trim, installed a new roof, had the exterior expertly painted, and just this summer, replaced the fixed windows with double-hung sash of excellent craftsmanship and original design. Most of the glass is old, wavy stuff that twists the eye upon looking through it, and, as can be seen in the picture, the 'locks' are traditional pieces of wood that are fit diagonally from the inside.
The rest of the building remains as intact as the day it was rebuilt in 1817, or very close to it as can be expected. There is no heat (though there is a chimney in older pictures), no electricity, and no plumbing. There have been a few weddings there (the Senior Center across the street furnished some of the missing amenities), and I can attest to the amazing acoustics of the interior, where a mere whisper can be heard anywhere in the room. No wonder so much was discussed and decided there; no secrets could be kept with such acoustics. I've played guitar and sung there, and I hope that the future will find some musical happenings occurring within its walls.
Much remains to be done, and if I know the strength and perseverance of the Society, much will be.


Looking beyond the north side, into the cemetery beyond. New England is pocked with small, intimate cemeteries dating back to the sixteen hundreds, and this is one of the nicest. Situated on a hill above a swift stream, its stones tell stories of the history of Preston's people. Or, at least of those that lived around Long Society.
Note the curved siding on the left of the picture. The building was restored, not straightened. Let the earth and wood do what they will, and follow both. Not a bad philosophy.
The ground just below the curvaceous siding was excavated by archaeologists last year during construction of a new drain system, and some interesting goodies were found, including a Spanish half real, a political pin from the Teddy Roosevelt era, and some flint points from those who have more claim to this land than anyone. In fact, the nearby Mohegan Tribe, owners of one of the largest casinos in the world, greatly contributed monetarily to the building's restoration. Thanks, Human Beings.

 
The south side, where the cemetery drops towards the stream. Those windows not only look good, but they will bring much needed ventilation during the warmer months.


This tomb fascinated me when I first saw it, and still does. Further down the hill than all the others, it is one of the oldest and certainly the most grand, though the simplicity of Old New England doesn't really warrant that word.


Apparently Captain John Smith resides here. Buried in 1780.

 
This Palladian window rises above the podium (there's no altar in the Meetinghouse), and is one of the new windows installed this year. It is fitted exclusively with old glass, and if you look carefully, you can see the distortion of the other window beyond.
A NEW BEGINNING FOR "VESTIGES"
 
Not that anyone's reading this thing anymore, but the one or two of you that do have noticed a definite hiatus from posts. Well, I've been busy establishing myself in the business of historic restoration in southeast Connecticut, and I've gone through some changes. I'll bet you have, too.
 
So the Vestiges from Arkansas and South Carolina are done for the time being. I'm going to concentrate on this neck of the woods for a while.
For those of you who are not familiar with southeastern Connecticut, forget what you might know about this state. This is not the busy industrial corridor between Springfield, Mass and New York City. I'm not talking Hartford, New Haven, Stamford and Bridgeport here.
 
I'm talking Stonington Borough, New London, and Norwich. Willimantic and Voluntown. And dipping into Rhode Island, twelve miles from my house, Westerly, Exeter, and Ashaway.
 
This part of CT is rife with farms, farm stands, and mom and pop stores. Woods and ponds, rocky seashores, and great seafood restaurants overlooking quiet harbors can be found without trying. Things are wilder, quieter, and more friendly than in other parts of the state.
 
So I'll be plying these quiet waters for a while, presenting things that represent who we were, who we are, and what we are becoming. Come on along.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


SHOP NOTES

HARVARD CARRIAGE SHED

EPILOGUE

Three weeks after arriving on April 16th, we left the job site very tired on May 9th. I had gulped prophylactic Ibuprofen daily. I call it “I Be Broken” (thanks Connie!) for good reason; this was the hardest work I’ve done since loading my own moving trailer in moving from Arkysaw. In fact, it was MUCH harder.

The company put us up in the local Holiday Inn, which made the ten-hour days bearable, but a cage is a cage, and it was good to get home. My farm’s foliage was in full bloom and I had LOTS of work in which I was behind. Go to www.standishfarmrestoration.blogspot.com to watch THAT saga unfold for the next few years.

Ken and I returned for half a day of cleanup and loading the company van with all the architectural goodies we couldn’t fit in our trucks or trust to ride gently on the flatbed. These included a box of small items, the hogshead, some doors (including an eighteenth century door I’ll feature in the next post), and a handful of rough-sawn 1x that the Boss didn’t want and so will be used to help sheath my barn with authentic-looking boards and battens.

So we are done with the thing for now. We unloaded the trailer on the 15th, and its components are under cover and await reconstruction down in Avondale, Rhode Island. I’ll feature it again in a future post, I assure you.
 
Before
February 24th 2014
 
 
After
May 14th 2014

HARVARD CARRIAGE SHED

 PHASE TWO



Once the siding and south addition were removed, we started the rafter and ridgepole removal. As we progressed, we selectively stripped the building of its sheathing. We did this in phases, as the wide sheathing boards were partially responsible for the building's structural integrity. So many post bases and plate ends were rotted or missing that we had to add bracing in a few places; more was added to the rafters themselves.


The ridgepole had some damage near the south end, so we sandwiched the deteriorated area with 2x6.


As rafters were removed, we laid them over the front plates; this allowed for a place to put the 40-foot ridgepole so we could adjust the straps.


                                                   Lowering the ridgepole to the ground

Loft floor with raised ceiling under the hogshead barrel. The hogshead had a family of mice we gently displaced and kept doing so until there were no more places for them to go. They eventually leapt from the ceiling to the workroom floor and finally hightailed it to the brush on the last day of demo.
 
Looking north
 
Half of the flooring and floor joists removed before one of two rain days
 
 
                          Beginning to remove the frame for real; first plate to the ground

                          Removing a stubborn hurricane brace by pounding out the trunnel

                                           More trunnel pounding. Some had to be drilled.

Removing the last piece of sheathing. My t-shirt reads "Without Struggle The is No Progress." How true.
 
                                Last wall standing. The plate is sandwiched at a rotted area.

                                            Dan and I wrestling timbers onto the lull.

Nothing left but the piles of lumber to be banded. Note the plywood to the right of the piles. It covers the partially-removed workroom floor.

The last bit of demolition gave us another hidden extra as exciting as the 'slaughter table' we found the second week. We had removed one layer of the three (!!!?) that composed the workroom floor, and had seen the end of a very thick chestnut timber holding up the flooring as an improvised joist. As Ken removed the last layers, he hollered at me.


"You're not gonna believe this!" he called. I looked and saw a round hole in the 20" x 20" timber being revealed.

"It's got a hole!" I said. "Wonder what it was for?"

"Like I said, you're not gonna believe it!"

When he pulled the last boards off, he revealed not one but three holes.


And two of them were threaded.


It was a frame for a large press, likely for cider. The remaining 'joists' were other members of the press, and though it was incomplete, it was pretty impressive.


               Though chestnut is a comparatively light wood, it took the lull to lift the headframe.

We brought it back and I hope we'll eventually make some of the missing pieces, but who knows? It may be milled into a mantle somewhere. Hopefully the threaded holes will be prominently displayed.

      Banding the sheathing, flooring, roofers, and timbers in preparation for transport to Rhode Island.

40-foot flatbed partially loaded; note the railroad ties as dunnage. The lull's ability to tilt its forks gave out the second to the last day, so we needed tall dunnage and strong backs.
 
 
Guiding the forks
 
Loading the ridgepole; it rode between the stacks in the middle of the trailer
 
Spider Jim examining the load as it is stacked
 
Preparing to finish stacking the load, though last time it was loading the stacks.
 
Last to be loaded; a ton of slate
 
Thanks God for the lull! Note the straps are being used to lift the slate, even though it's on a pallet. The lull's forks would not tilt.
 
Fully loaded; note the cider press pieces in the center of the stacks.
 
Not too high
 
Nor too wide
 
After three weeks, only the dumpster remains

Monday, April 21, 2014


SHOP NOTES

CARRIAGE SHED

HARVARD MASSACHUSETTS

 

If you are an attentive reader, you’ll undoubtedly remember that the company for which I work (Early New England Restorations) has been hired to deconstruct a circa-1800-to-1810 carriage/wagon shed in Harvard, Massachusetts, and bring it down to Westerly, Rhode Island (specifically Avondale, which some in Stonington, Connecticut jokingly refer to ‘a-VON-da-lay) to be reconstructed there.

Damn, that was a long sentence.

Well, we started the project last week. There was a bit of poli-tickling to do beforehand (it IS Mass, after all), and now the snow is off the ground, the blackflies and yellowjackets are buzzing, and the Project has begun. I’ll be trying to add daily posts to keep you all informed. But it is VERY physically demanding, and my time in the hotel is often cut short by    my  *yaaawn*   dozing      offffff

….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzghghggg! snurk snurk……

…..zzzzzzzzzzz…..


                                         Shed in winter; note the height of the plowed snow


Shed in spring; note the removed addition and the only other difference is a scattering of day lilies sprouting under the mailbox frame. We hope leaves on trees will soon follow, but we doubt it after this winter
 
  More very cool pics to follow!

Friday, March 14, 2014


GRAFFITTI
SOAPSTONE MOUNTAIN OBSERVATION DECK
SOMERS CT
 
Being the unabashed rockhound that I am, I got quite excited when I found the location for Soapstone Mountain on my way from the airport at Windor Locks, CT to Norwich last June.

At 1075 feet above sea level, it’s not exactly Everest, but it does rise rather precipitously from the lowlands below.

Soapstone, also called steatite, is a talc-rich mineral that can be carved into many items, both useful and ornamental. I found the mountain’s location on the DeLorme Atlas of Connecticut and Rhode Island, and it took some doing, but after several false starts, I climbed the mountain’s twisty road to a collection of towers at the crest of the mountain. I never found the soapstone deposit (I didn’t look very hard; I was more interested in getting to Norwich), but I did find the tower (a Doppler Weather Radar installation), a great view towards the north, and some interesting graffiti.






 
I like to think that the bare trees and patches if ice surrounding my farm will soon turn as green and warm as on the day I took the pictures.

The city in the distance is likely Springfield Massachusetts.