Help Shore Up Branford's Harrison House
Work to replace clapboards at the historic Harrison House hit a snag after a rotting timber was revealed in a critical corner of the building. Now, Branford Historical Society is hoping donations will help shore up the unanticipated expense in order to make the fix and complete the re-siding of the house. Photo by (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
Early on Thursday, November 17, work was underway to put clapboards in place, painted primer white. Photo by (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
Have you noticed? There's something different about Branford's historic Harrison House. Clad in barn-red clapboards for as long as anyone can remember, the 1724 saltbox has now has a funny-looking façade.
"It looks plaid," said Ginny Page, president of Branford Historical Society (BHS). "It looks funny. A lot of people are asking what's going on with the Harrison House."
After completing a successful fundraising campaign, BHS purchased the house in May 2016 and had some extra funds to seed a new building maintenance fund. Plans to get to some needed fixes soon got underway.
"The outside clapboards have been curling and splitting. We've been screwing in these clapboards to keep them secure," said Page.
With a matching grant of $7,650 from the 1772 Foundation (through the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation), the plan was to remove the front clapboards, replace them with new clapboards, and paint everything in, said Page.
"But when we took the clapboards off, we found out the post on the right-hand side is rotting. So now there's extra work that needs to be done, and extra expense," she said. "But it could have been a major issue -- that whole corner could have collapsed. So in the long run, it's going to work out."
After leasing the house for decades to use as its museum, Harrison House became available for BHS to buy in 2015, when conservation group Historic New England (Boston, MA) notified BHS it was putting the house on the block. In just about one year, BHS raised the $132,500 purchase price as part of an overall goal of raising $225,000 to also help establish a building maintenance fund. The fundraising push to help BHS buy their home was buoyed by community support and big assists from Branford Community Foundation and Branford Rotary.
"Now, we have to take care of our home," said Page. "Our fundraising campaign is still going on, through the end of December, so we're hoping some more donations will come in. We still don't know quite how much it's going to cost us to fix the beam, but right now, it's almost an emergency. We just have to do it. We have to get it shored up."
Page said the fix is "...going to be a matter of surgery."
"We had a master timber framer come and look at the house with our contractor, and he drew up a schematic. We need white oak to replace it, and it needs to be fitted in to secure the house. Then we can replace the clapboards."
As for the "plaid" Harrison House, Page said it while it's likely the façade will get its clapboards back before winter weather closes in, the front of the building could be wearing white for winter.
"At this point I was hoping to have the whole thing done and painted," said Page. "Now, we might end up with primed white cedar clapboards for the winter."
Donations to support non-profit Branford Historic Society and help shore up the Harrison House building maintenance fund can be made online at the Branford Historical Society website (click here); or send a check payable to The Branford Historical Society, P.O. Box 504 Branford CT 06405.