Lauren R. Stevens: '53 House represents history
WILLIAMSTOWN -- On or about 4 p.m. on Nov. 14 town officials will light the ceremonial first fire in the new fireplace of the 1753 House in Williams town. The occasion will mark the building's reopening -- and mark its progress from a temporary structure volunteers built by the methods and materials of the first houses in town to a community icon supported by public funds; and it will also be an implicit tribute to Henry N. Flynt, one of the original build ers and the main maintainer, with a group of volunteers, through nearly 60 years.
Henry Flynt has organized replacing the hand-split shakes on the roof and the fieldstone chimney several times. His most major reconstruction project resulted from wet conditions at Field Park, strategic location of the House between The Wil liams Inn and the Milne Library. The sills were rotting, so in 1996 the town DPW dug a hole, contractors Grady and Jennings provided concrete footings, volunteers dismantled the chimney and barn expert Dick Babcock hewed new sills and moved the house with people-power and rollers 30 feet west onto the new foundation. Then Babcock, partially supported by the Wil liamstown Community Chest, rebuilt the chimney.
With the freezing and thawing, and the trucks pounding by on Rtes. 7 & 2, the location is tough on chimneys. Two years ago the ‘53 House's was precariously cracked and leaning, so the House was closed, unavailable for elementary school field trips, tourists summer and fall or for the carolers who sing there pre-Christmas by the light of a crackling fire.
Then 2011 and 2012 Town Meeting votes provided Com mu nity Preservation Act funds to enable mason Bart VanLuling this October to take down the old chimney and rebuild an elegant new one. The allocation de fined the 1753 House, al though once expected to be ephemeral, as an ongoing part of the character of the town and worth preserving not just as a replica but in its own right.
As he has nearly since the House was raised, Henry Flynt continues to preside over the 1753 House Committee, duly listed in the town reports, but for the first time House repair was put out to bid by the town and supervised by Town Man ager Peter Fohlin. Hank dropped by from time to time to check progress.
It's tempting now to look back and say that Flynt's quiet patience and persistence, not to mention his hard work of riving shakes from ash billets, enabled, perhaps even foresaw, the transition. After all, two generations who had been exposed to the House as school children have grown up to become voters.
To them, as to newcomers and tourists alike, the 1753 House is the history of the community in tangible form, where they come to understand what it was like for their forefathers and -mothers to begin life on the frontier. To quote from the House brochure of 1953, "Two hundred years ago a clause in the land grants from the General Court provided that title to a lot was not valid until the settler had cleared five acres of land and had built a house measuring at least 15 by 18 feet and with 7-foot stud (distance from the sill to the plate). This building is an example of such a ‘regulation' house."
Remote and self-reliant, without benefit of sawmill, glass or many nails, they labored then; and so we honor them now. At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.
A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.
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