Person of the Week
Peter Gulick: Preserving the Past for the Future
Peter Gulick is a longtime member of the Madison Hose Company No. 1, a volunteer job he finds personally rewarding. He is also a professional restorer of historical and contemporary houses. (Photo courtesy of Peter Gulick)
If only the walls of historical houses could talk, what treasure trove of stories and lessons would we hear?
Of course, we all know that walls can’t talk, but it’s the inherent significance of historical houses that Peter Gulick wants people to remember.
A professional restorer of historical and contemporary houses and a former member of Madison’s Advisory Committee for Community Appearance, Peter points out that historical houses don’t have to deteriorate or fall into disrepair. In fact, well-preserved historical houses can provide value, significance, and yes, appeal to the community.
“Renovating old houses is fulfilling since we want to keep the stories and the people that use to live in these houses for the past 200 to 300 years. Getting rid of these houses means that the stories of their live[s] go away with the house,” he says.
“Preserving these houses lets us tell their stories for at least 100 more years,” he adds.
He cites as an example, the story of Phineas Meigs, a local patriot of the American Revolution.
Meigs was a militia captain who lived in Madison, which was, in those days, called East Guilford. By the time of the American Revolution, Meigs was in his late 60s, yet he returned to serve in the militia beginning in 1777, this time as a private.
On May 19, 1782, the war was winding down and it looked like fighting was over. But on that fateful day in May, an American sloop from Fairfield was fleeing from armed British vessels on the waters of Long Island Sound.
In fear for their safety, the crew members steered their sloop ashore at East Guilford and fled. The British troops from one of the pursuing vessels landed on the shore to capture the boat.
Soon, local militiamen, including Meigs, arrived on the scene to engage the British in battle. When the skirmish ended, the smoke cleared to reveal two men laying on the ground—a British soldier and Meigs.
The wool hat that Meigs wore that day bears the evidence of his sacrifice: two holes that mark the entry and exit points of the musket ball that instantly killed him.
Today, that round, wool hat is on display at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford.
Peter now owns the Phineas Meigs House on Wall Street in Madison where the current office of Gulick & Co. resides.
Recalling the story of Meigs’s heroism, Peter says, “If this building was torn down and something new was built, that story would be lost. Renovating and rehabbing old houses keeps these stories alive and told for many more years.”
Peter’s passion for historical houses is known in Madison. For his work in preserving the historical properties in town, he received the Jane R. Kuhl Award for Historic Preservation from the Madison Historical Society in 2007.
His company also received the Community Spotlight Award from the Madison Chamber of Commerce 2019.
While he has made a name as a carpenter and restorer, Peter has also made his mark in Madison by volunteering his time in various capacities.
Aside from his previous membership in the Advisory Committee for Community Appearance, Peter was a former member of the 1685 Deacon John Grave House Board of Directors.
He also talks about volunteering for the Madison Hose Company No. 1 for some 20 years, more than 10 of which have been as a member of the board of directors.
It’s a commitment he finds personally fulfilling.
“The most rewarding time was volunteering with the Madison Hose Company No. 1, where I am still involved as the chair of the scholarship committee. Being a volunteer fireman takes the most time due to all the training drills, meetings, and being on call 24/7, for 365 days a year. While it is the most time-consuming volunteer organization I have been involved in, it’s the most rewarding helping out the community in so many different ways from fires, car accidents, and water rescues,” he says.
Peter has two grown sons, Jesse and Travis. Today, Travis works with Peter at Gulick & Co.
In the mid-1970s, Peter began restoration work to the 1780 Abigail Meigs House in Madison to house the Wall Street Gallery, which he founded.
A few years later, he took over the Madison Decorating store and moved it to the 1733 Phineas Meigs house where his office currently sits.
“While working in these two old houses, that is where I started to get intrigued by old houses,” Peter says.
“I have always worked in businesses where I work with my hands, including carpentry. Therefore, working on these old houses is where I started to hone my craft,” he adds.
After owning those two businesses, Peter went into carpentry full-time in the late 1980s. In 2001, he partnered with John Spradlin to create Gulick & Spradlin LLC.
“Shortly after that we worked with John Herzog on saving and renovating three old houses: the 1690 Jonathan Murray House, the 1720 David Field House, and the 1710 Stone-Shelley House,” Peter explains.
Preservation and restoration of historical houses require hard work, attention to detail, and dedication to the historical character of the building.
But to Peter, it’s all worth it because to him, historical houses are not mere structures. They’re former homes of real people who lived and became part of the community.
And some of them were homes to heroic figures like Phineas Meigs.
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