This Old House Is Coming Back

Allan Appel PhotoWith plastic bread “baking” in the crumbling colonial beehive oven, preservation architect Sara Nelson (pictured) painted a hopeful picture of what it will take to bring one of New Haven’s premier 18th houses back to secure structural life.

It will take an estimated $700,000 to about $1 million to brace separating walls, repair the roof, address drainage, and do the plumbing, mechanical, and electrical work to preserve the Pardee-Morris House in Morris Cove for generations to come.

That ballpark figure and an update on the work already undertaken emerged during a lecture and tour of the house convened by the New Haven Preservation Trust on the premises Wednesday evening.

The event drew about two dozen house and history buffs to the historic home, which was built in the mid 1700s, burned by the invading British on July 5, 1779, and rebuilt by Amos Morris in 1780.

(Fun historical fact provided by New Haven Museum board member Priscilla Searles: The Brits chose, with irony, to invade at Lighthouse Point on the rebellious colonies’ independence day. In 1779, July 4 fell on Sunday, when the Puritans didn’t party, so New Haveners were celebrating on July 5, when the English ships entered the harbor.)

The New Haven Museum, which received the house in a bequest from a Morris relative, William Pardee, in 1918, raised $30,000 from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and other sources to do an intense “conditions assessment update” in 2013.

The idea was to provide a long-term blueprint, organized by priority items, complete with price tags to expedite fundraising, for how to proceed with preservation of the house.

While previous such studies have been undertaken, this was the most in depth so far.

For the first time it included “investigative demolition”: removing boards and other sections of the house “to see what was going on in concealed areas,” said Nelson. Nelson’s Branford-based firm Nelson Edwards Company Architects serves as principals in the investigation.

Not surprisingly for a 200-plus-year-old house, they found rafters needing bracing, wall connections that need securing, and serious damage caused by moisture and insects, especially along the sills (pictured).

Nelson’s study includes scope and costs not only for the extensive repairs, in priority order. It calls for topographical and archeological investigations of the site along with a plan for an interpretive program.

The New Haven Urban Design League’s Anstress Farwell, who participated in earlier condition reports, called Nelson’s presentation “impressive.”

After closing down and removing the collection from the house due to burst pipes in 2000, Museum officials struggled with securing the envelope of the building and addressing the complaints of neighbors who contended the museum was being negligent in its maintenance of the house.

That’s the past, said Executive Director Margaret Anne Tokarshewsky, under whose leadership the museum has revived and accelerated a program of tours, lectures, concerts, art exhibitions, and other activities utilizing both the house and the exquisite grounds.

Already, drains have been replaced to address moisture problems at the foundation and in the basement, and some carpentry work has also been undertaken, based on Nelson’s plan. The other major structural upgrades await what Tokarshewsky called “vigorous fundraising” that will be required.

During the work, which could take up to a decade, “my goal is to keep the house alive and present in people’s minds and move the house [more and more] into the community by these programs,” Tokarshewsky said. “I like to think of it as our summer home.”

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posted by: RHeerema on July 28, 2014  9:21am

Great news!  Such a wonderful building and beautiful grounds.  I’ve enjoyed the concert series here. With a $700,000+ investment, I certainly hope that the interior of the building will be made more amenable to community meetings & events as well.  Perhaps a farmers market on the grounds in the summertime.  Can we dream up a “mixed use” property that is historically informative and intact, while being useful to its 21st century neighbors? Dreaming: bathrooms.