Spectators watch as the lantern and spire of the Strafford Town House are lifted off the building by crane to be restored on site in Strafford, Vt., Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. The estimated $107,000 restoration will take place in the coming months. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to [email protected] Purchase a reprint »
Rocky Fuller, chair of Strafford's Town House Committee, left, and historic preservationist Jan Lewandoski, right, look over the weathervane taken down from the top of the historic building in Strafford, Vt. Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. The weathervane was removed from the building's spire which was taken down by crane for restoration work. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to [email protected]Purchase a reprint »
Mike Cotroneo, of Morrisville, directs a crane operator as the Strafford Town House lantern and spire begin to lift away from the bellfry in Strafford, Vt., Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. The lantern and spire were lowered to the ground near the building to be restored. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to [email protected] Purchase a reprint »
Timber-frame builder Silas Treadway signals to a crane operator that the lantern and spire of the Strafford Town House are in position to be lowered onto a temporary foundation as Bryan Plust, back left, and Joe Cotter, back right, guide it into place in Strafford, Vt., Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to [email protected] Purchase a reprint »
The skeleton of a bird, found when members of the Strafford Town House Committee cleaned out the attic of the building, sits at the joint of two timbers in Strafford, Vt., Thurday, Sept. 17, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to [email protected] Purchase a reprint »
By Jared Pendak
Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, September 28, 2018
Strafford — For more than 200 years, the Strafford Town House has sat perched atop a knoll overlooking the Strafford Common, looking pretty much as it did when it first was built in 1799.
That changed radically on Thursday, when a crew used a crane and rigging to lift off the building’s top-most components — its lantern, spire and weathervane — and lower them about 100 feet to a platform of timbers, where they will be repaired. The operation drew about 35 people and, although it took only about 2½ minutes for the pieces to be lowered onto the platform just west of the building, involved a certain amount of suspense.
“Phew,” project contractor Jan Lewandoski, of Stannard, Vt., said after the structure settled onto the platform. “It came off without a hitch.”
Built at the very end of the 18th century, the Strafford Town House has hosted Town Meeting and other functions for more than 200 years, thanks in large part to community fundraising efforts to pay for needed repairs.
The project, budgeted by the Town House Advisory Group at $107,000, so far has required no town funding and will be the first major refurbishment to that part of the building since the 1970s. Fundraising efforts began about three years ago and included appeal letters to residents and benefit events such as concerts, as well as a $20,000 grant from the Vermont Division of History Preservation.
“It’s a very significant landmark and one of Vermont’s most iconic buildings,” VDHP grants coordinator Caitlin Corkins said. “It was one of our top-scoring projects during the application process because it’s exactly the kind of project this grant funding is designed for. Because the grant is publicly funded, we ask applicants about what type of public benefit their projects have for Vermonters. This building is widely used by the community.”
The components will remain at ground level for about five weeks as contractors work to upgrade roofing material on both the lantern base and spire, and to perform various maintenance to preserve structural integrity and prevent water leakage. For longevity purposes, the lantern’s roof will be converted to metal from cedar shingles, Town House Advisory Group Chairman Rocky Fuller said, but the spire will remain shingled. The wooden railings on the lantern also will be replaced, while the 60-pound weathervane will be re-gilded and a decorative wooden ball at its base may be replaced.
Built as a religious gathering place for all denominations — a cost-saving measure, since taxpayers didn’t favor funding multiple places of worship — the Town House began hosting Town Meeting two years later and has every year since. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Interior renovations over the years have included replacement of its original pews with wooden benches, removal of its original pulpit in favor of a stage area, and multiple structural integrity fixes and upgrades, most recently to several columns on the first floor.
The building has become a popular wedding venue and now is one of the most photographed buildings in Vermont, according to the town of Strafford’s website. Like all historic structures, it requires occasional significant repairs.
“Once the shingles start failing and the water sets in, it can really affect the integrity of the building,” Fuller said. “It’s been 40 years since that part of the building was worked on. Back then, workers were up there on ladders.”
This time, Strafford timber framer Silas Treadway, a Town House Advisory Group member, and Glover, Vt., resident Jason Morris were lifted via Miller Construction crane to install heavy-duty straps and check on cribbing they’d installed two weeks ago to help the roof lift more freely.
The owner of a company called Restoration and Traditional Building, Lewandoski previously has done historical preservation work on the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge, the Weathersfield Center Church and the Old West Church in Calais, Vt. He’s particularly excited to be part of the Strafford Town House project, he said.
“It’s one of my favorite church buildings in Vermont,” Lewandoski said. “It’s a beautiful building and has a great location up on this hill in a historic village. I love the 18th-century style of the building, where the tower sits in front of the main building.”
Among the onlookers on the common on Thursday was 94-year-old Martha Manheim, who supports the project, as well as Strafford Historical Society curator Stefanie Johnston and her husband, Bob. They spoke fondly of the building’s history and its continued functionality, which includes serving as a ceremony site for eighth-graders graduating from the town’s Newton School.
“It’s called the Town House because it really is the town’s house,” Bob Johnston said. “It has been for a long time and will continue to be.”