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House getting the love it deserves

By TRACI HASTINGS

Chronicle Staff Writer

HEBRON — It’s been a long time getting to this point and the end is still far away.

Those who support the renovation of the historic Peters House in Hebron are hopeful a fresh influx of volunteers could hasten the building’s re-emergence.

“I call her Lady Peters,” said Mary Ann Foote, looking fondly at the imposing structure.

Foote is a member of the town’s historic properties commission and the historian for the Hebron Historical Society, which has long been a proponent of the grande dame’s restoration.

The home was built by the Peters family, which once owned most of the land along present-day East Street where the house sits.

Although Foote refutes accounts the home was central to one of Hebron’s legends, it was owned by members of the same family.

The story concerns the Rev. Samuel Peters, who left town indebted to creditors, and his slaves, who were forcibly removed from Hebron by slave traders in the 1770s.

Local residents concocted a fake charge against them, claiming they had stolen from a local merchant so the sheriff and his men were able to intercept the slave traders at the Norwich harbor and bring the slaves, Cesar, Lowis and their children, back to Hebron on the fake warrant.

They were later emancipated and their story is one that usually is recalled when the subject of the Peters House comes up.

But Foote said the reverend never lived in this specific Peters House, so the story took place in another, probably long-gone structure.

A period home

Foote said the important aspect of the restoration of the Peters House has nothing to do with preserving a historical tale and everything to do with saving a period piece.

“This is very fancy Federal architecture,” Foote said on a recent tour, pointing out the house’s several chimneys, upstairs ballroom and interior and exterior molding.

The house, which dates back 300 years, is on the state’s register of historic properties.

The Town of Hebron acquired the house during an open space purchase in 2004, which was made because of the 100 acres of land that came with the house.

Much of that land has been turned into recreational fields and an outbuilding on the property was converted into an annex for the parks and recreation department in 2011.

The house was, for years, a subject of debate in town.

Initially, the town planned to use the house itself as an annex, but then considered selling it to a private owner and gaining taxable income from it.

When negotiations fell through in 2008, the town decided to create a combination museum/meeting space within the house.

Grant funding was sought to renovate the exterior and, in 2013, with outside renovations complete and an 18th-century herb kitchen established, preservationists turned their attention to the interior.

However, work inside was short-lived, as structural deficiencies made conditions unsafe.

Load-bearing joists were rotted, partially due to long-term, unseen leaks from bathrooms with plumbing dating back to the 1940s.

After that was discovered, it was determined a less steep and narrow staircase than the one currently in place should be installed.

Proponents then had to focus not solely on restoration, but on extensive structural renovations as well for the joists, staircase and a new bathroom, seeking more grant funds to bring the structure up to code.

Upgrades

Today, the house has an upgraded electrical system and a full HVAC system; linoleum and plywood floors have been removed to reveal the original wide-planked floorboards; walls have been peeled back to show the original horsehair plaster and riven lathes.

A historical contractor, Paul Pribble of Paul Pribble Productions, recently completed work on a new, wide staircase and an ADA-accessible bathroom.

He was assisted by longtime volunteer and another member of the historic properties commission, John Minard.

Minard spent years working in a mill that reproduced fixtures for 18th-century houses before working on lighting for movie sets.

That’s how he met Pribble, who builds movie sets and consults on period accuracy for films, as well as doing his own building contracting.

“We both like old houses,” Pribble said, explaining why it is worthwhile for him and Minard to work on the Peters House.

With the stairs completed, the house only needs a completed bathroom, and then work can begin once again on restoring the rest of the interior and some of the original features.

Volunteers, funds needed

To get the work completed, though, the house needs something just as important as stairs and facilities: volunteers.

Minard and Foote are hopeful both new and former volunteers will come forward to expedite the restoration process.

Volunteers with specific skill sets would be helpful, including those who know how to build cabinets, restore molding or determine the proper wallpaper replication for a house of this era.

But unskilled labor is more than welcome too.

There is plenty of work to go around: walls to be stripped and repainted or papered; doors to be stripped and rehung.

Minard shows off two doors: one with several coats of paint that hangs in front of a cupboard; another that has been temporarily removed to be restored.

It took Minard a day to strip off all the paint from the second door, but once it was done, the original paneling detail is again showcased.

It’s not complicated work, but it does take time, and there are several doors in the Peters House.

Foote showed off the second-floor ballroom with its high ceilings.

At one time, previous owners put up a wall to turn the ballroom into two separate bedrooms.

Foote envisions the space with the wall removed and the ballroom becoming a space where, in the future, it might be rented out for showers, or used for chamber concerts for the public.

But first, the wall, with its period-inappropriate wood paneling, must be taken down, and that will take volunteers, as there is little money for paid labor.

The town has received municipal capital improvement funding and different grants in the past and hopes to again.

Some state funds were held up because of the recent budget snarls.

A ‘huge’ favor

Foote said, in the intervening years between when the Peters House was owned by the Peters family until the town acquired it, the different owners did today’s preservationists a huge favor.

“They covered things up, but they didn’t remove or bastardize anything,” Foote said. “We’re able to peel back to the original skin.”

Foote has photographs of sconces and samples of paint chips taped to the walls where, one day soon, she hopes to see actual fixtures and paint, and reiterates volunteers with a love of interior decorating could find their niche here.

It’s been a long time for Foote, Minard and others who want to see “Lady Peters” restored to grandeur inside as well as out.

“We’re starting to see some progress,” said Minard, who — so far — has committed eight years to this project and said he continues to donate his labor despite the daunting tasks because “I’d like to see it done right.”

“There’s so much surface work,” Minard said. “We definitely need volunteers.”

Those who are interested in finding out more about volunteer opportunities, either on a one-time basis or more long-term, can contact Foote at mafoote@fairpoint.net or 860-944-3862.

 

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