GROTON -- After a years-long effort at renovating the historic Boutwell House, Main Street headquarters of the town's Historical Society, the results were officially unveiled to an admiring public on the afternoon of Oct. 5.
Against a backdrop of coloring trees and fallen leaves, members of the society welcomed guests at an open house to show off the restored portions of the building, which included the outside as well as numerous rooms in the two-story dwelling, the former home of Secretary of the Treasury and Massachusetts Governor George Boutwell.
"I'm pleased to see the renovations for three reasons," said Brian Bixby, who hosted the open house in period attire as Boutwell himself. "There were many rooms in dilapidated condition that were in real need of repair, the creation of office space for the society and the people of Groton who are interested in their history, and allowing for greater access to historical records."
In fact, said Bixby, it was access to just such records in the form of 80 letters discovered in a desk drawer some years ago that inspired his interpretation of the former governor whose giant-sized portrait dominates the building's newly restored dining room.
"Those letters were not read in over a century," said Bixby as he gestured to period wall maps of Groton showing ancient lot lines and parcels, including those of the Boutwell farm itself. "One important discovery was that Gov. Boutwell had a sense of humor. It was understated, but it was a sense of humor."
Restoration of the 160-year-old home began over two years ago, kick-started with $176,525 awarded by the Community Preservation Committee. Those funds were then supplemented by a Cultural Council Facilities grant of $79,000.
Habitat Advisory Group representative Al Collins was then hired to manage the project.
"We asked Al to be project manager because he had a lot of experience in restoration and because his family has been in this town for so long," explained Historical Society president John Ott. "He has a lot of skills and innate common sense for projects like this. Also, he has high caliber people who work for him. They were the best."
Collins' efforts began on the outside of the house where, among other things, his crew repaired the building's foundation, rebuilt the rear chimney, replaced gutters and repainted the exterior.
Inside, certain portions of the house had to be torn down to make way for new wiring, insulation and heating system, all done in accordance with strict rules governing historical landmarks.
In addition, doors and windows were repaired and returned to operating condition, interior walls painted or wallpapered, plank floors cleaned and buffed, and many pieces of furniture and other household items original to the Boutwells were refurbished and placed appropriately.
On display were a massive wood burning stove in the kitchen, original set of dishware in a glassed-in cupboard, table and chairs in the dining room and paintings and quilts displayed in the parlor.
Helping to make sure that the restoration work was faithful to the home's original design was the discovery of architectural plans showing details of the house, circa 1894.
Collins reported to the CPC last year that those plans were being followed in order to restore the building as close to its original appearance as possible.
"It's outstanding," said Hollis, N.H., resident Betsy Hopkins, whose father, Burt, practiced medicine in Groton for 48 years. "They managed to show everything to best advantage. Nothing's crowded together. It's just enough to show off things well. It all looks great."
"I'm so impressed," declared Groton resident Zoa Guernsey. "I think this is how the house should look."
"It's beautiful inside and out," agreed Vermont resident Anne Dempsey.
"I came through here a few years ago when I was just beginning research on my book Artful and Designing Men, and it was very cold and sparse, as I recall," commented author John Shattuck. "It's much changed now. It's very warm and inviting now. I think it's important to preserve buildings like this because there are so few places like it left that deserve it and are not. So when something like this is done, it's terribly valuable for the future."
But as attractive as the building's many rooms have been made to look following the renovation effort, there is still much work that remains.
"So far, it looks great," said Ott. "But there are still many rooms that are closed to the public."
Those rooms, said Ott, are crammed with the society's artifacts that still need to be placed into a yet-to-be found home. In the meantime, restoration work will continue in those spaces to make them available for public viewing in the future.
In addition, a carriage house to the rear of the property holds a number of vintage conveyances from an 1850 stagecoach to a horse-drawn hearse.
"The house will be great to see when it's been completely restored," said an enthusiastic Gary Grossman, visiting from Montana. "Efforts like this are definitely worthwhile. There's a lot of history here for people to see."
"I think it's just beautiful," said daughter Amber Grossman, of Leominster. "They did a very good job in restoring the house. It should definitely be kept in its natural condition."
But with more to do, the society is looking for new members to help them bring the project to fruition. Anyone seeking information about membership or the Boutwell House itself should check the society's website at www.grotonhistoricalsociety.org.