By Katelyn Gendron
Members of the Agawam Historical Association are working to restore the 252-year-old Thomas Smith House on North West Street. For additional photos, see the slide show at the bottom of this page. |
Reminder Publications photo by Katelyn Gendron
Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM -- Stepping over the threshold into the 18th century Thomas Smith House on North West Street there's a rush of sounds, smells and sights that overwhelm the senses.
Visitors are propelled back into the Feeding Hills of yore with the creaks of the uneven wooden floorboards; the sight of peeling 1920s wallpaper from plaster walls insulated with newspaper; and the damp, musty smell of a 252-year-old house.
Members of the Agawam Historical Association and the Community Preservation Act (CPA) Committee took Reminder Publications on a tour of the house last week, which up until a few years ago, was in danger of collapsing.
Approximately $212,000 in CPA funds has been allocated for the preservation and restoration of the Thomas Smith House -- a landmark 97 years older than the town itself -- with the ultimate goal of opening the home as an interactive museum.
"We have museum-pure (practically untouched) rooms, according to historical experts [who've examined the house]," Ann Bellico, a member of the Thomas Smith House Committee, said.
She added that the house, occupied until the 1950s, is still without many of today's modern conveniences such as a bathroom, a centralized heat and cooling system or running water.
The two-story house, which once sat on 200 acres of land, consists of two parlors, a common room, a kitchen (previously a barn attached to the house in the 1800s) on the first floor, and bedrooms on the second story.
"This is not a case of saving history for history's sake -- it's for the students and people of Agawam to see how people lived [in this town before them]," Louis Russo, vice chair of the CPA Committee, said.
"We want to honor all the families that have lived in this house," Bellico added.
Rick Bellico, a member of the Thomas Smith House Committee, stated that rooms will chronicle the transformation of the house from its construction in the 1750s up through the modifications of the 1900s.
Judith Anderson, project manager for the Thomas Smith House, noted that artifacts for future display have been found throughout the house, on the grounds and within the two barns adjacent to the home such as dishware, part of a porcelain doll and a newspaper clipping of Babe Ruth stuffed inside one of the fireplaces.
Restoration and preservation work on the house began with stabilization, roofing, siding and window replacement, Anderson explained.
"We've had to work from the ground up," she said. "[During] the first few years [of the preservation], the only work done was to keep it upright. [The house] had to be pulled together with cables."
Anderson noted that a portion of the museum will be dedicated to the documentation of the preservation process. "We will have to show how we had to pull this house together, literally," she said.
Anderson explained that the latest $100,000 allocation of CPA funds, approved by the City Council last month, will be used for interior restoration and preservation, electrical work, landscaping, masonry and septic replacement.
The home's fireplaces will also be restored, including the bake oven in the common room for open hearth cooking demonstrations, Anderson noted.
She added that other modifications must be made in order to convert the house into a museum that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); however, changes will adhere to the time period.
"We would not be where we are today without the volunteers and the CPA," Rick said of the preservation.
He added that many people and organizations have also helped by making five-year commitments to pay one month of the house's mortgage, which was taken out by the Historical Association. The commitment is a tax-deductible $670 per month expense, Rick noted.
Anderson said the goal is to have an open house for the public in the fall so that people may see the progress of the restoration firsthand.