Farmington’s historic Wadsworth House is getting a makeover. “It’s a brand new house. – Hartford Courant

FARMINGTON — From the street, the Victorian farmhouse at 107 Main St. in Farmington looks much like it has for generations, the home where the Wadsworths — a branch of one of Connecticut’s best-known founding families — have lived for 350 years.

But stepping inside two years after the Wadsworths sold the property, there’s no doubt that a $400,000 renovation has propelled the home into the 21st century. There’s an open floor plan and kitchen with stainless steel appliances, looking so new-build it even smells like a new home.

“It wasn’t the original intention to do as much as we did,” said Tim Brophy, a real estate investor who renovates homes and commercial properties, during a recent viewing of the home. “He was in much worse condition than I expected.”

Few traces of the centuries that passed before the renovation remain inside. The makeover highlights the dilemma of what to do with homes with historic pedigrees like the Wadsworth House in a state with dwellings that may date back centuries.

Not all of them can be museums or even part of historic districts, raising a delicate balance between preservation and making them appealing to new buyers with the conveniences of modern life.

The Wadsworths made the painful decision to sell when no one in the family wanted to take over the property. They explored other options such as turning it into an Airbnb or a rental, but nothing worked.

The house, bordering the Miss Porter School campus, is not part of the area’s local historic district. And even if it did, there wouldn’t be much to say about the changes inside the house.

(Douglas hook)

Jay Bombara, President of the Farmington Historical Society, said the preservation of the streetscape, including the Victorian facade of the house, was a big plus. And even with such major changes inside, the structure will remain what it always was: a home.

“We’re not going to preserve if we’re not going to enable people to create modern spaces that meet the needs of contemporary people and the way they want to live,” Bombara said.

Brophy had renovated other old houses – including one built in 1770 in Roxbury – but Wadsworth House was almost a century older, with part dating from 1680.

As Brophy began digging into the renovation, he said he discovered more and more rotting and insect-damaged wood, some of which was supporting the house.

“Little by little you start ripping things off and you find things out and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, look at this,'” Brophy said.

There was so much disrepair – Brophy said it was amazing the house was occupied until just a few years ago – that he decided to demolish all the innards of the house – walls, ceilings and everything.

One of the deciding factors was a 30-foot old white chestnut beam in the basement, which was sagging so much that the doors above wouldn’t close.

“To try to get around that, I don’t like jury-rig stuff,” Brophy said. “If you’re going to do it, do it well.”

The foundation and supports have been shored up, but where possible some of the original fieldstone has been retained.

Brophy said he knows there might be some criticism from people who would argue, for example, that the original 8-10 inch floorboards should have gone back into the house.

“To do that would have been next to impossible because you don’t want to invest all that time and energy into a house — and money — and the floors still crooked,” Brophy said. “When you’re building a house like this, you have to consider structural integrity.”

The house now has 5-inch oak floor boards, wider than the standard 2 1/4-inch boards now used in new home construction, Brophy said.

On the second floor, six bedrooms transformed into five, making more space for wardrobes, a washer and dryer and a bathroom in the master bedroom.

When Brophy bought the house, he said he would honor the Wadsworth family legacy. Two years later, Brophy said he believed he did. He also says it would have been cheaper to tear down the house and build a new one.

“I didn’t think it was the right thing to do, so I tried to honor it by keeping the same hull,” Brophy said. “I made no additions. I think I improved on what was there. With the interior, I really had no other choice.

Brophy’s renovations are spectacular, even stunning, to those who have known the house before, but they are not the first.

The oldest part of the house – a rear wing – may have been the site of an earlier thatched-roof house.

In the early 1700s, the house appears to have been fortified with brick and was designated as one of the city’s six “sanctuary” houses amid fears of raids by indigenous people.

Just as the American Revolution was ending, four rooms were added to the front of the house, including a spacious dining room that could have served as a “layout” room in the event of death.

In the 1860s, the facade of the house took on the Victorian flourishes it has today, with the addition of an ornamental bow window, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a wrap-around porch and balustrade.

The house also survived the calamities. In 1926, a kitchen fire nearly destroyed the entire structure, forcing new construction at the rear of the house.

“All of these houses, and whichever house you choose that is considered historic, have undergone changes over the years,” said Bombara, the president of the historical society. “They are organic. They are not living beings, but they certainly grow and change organically. You need to keep this in mind first and foremost. »

Although the Wadsworth family no longer has a say in the future of the house, the emotional ties remain strong.

The Wadsworth name runs wide and deep in Connecticut. The son of the original builder of Farmington House, legend has it, was responsible for stuffing the Connecticut Colony’s charter into Hartford’s Charter Oak during a dispute with the British monarchy.

Brophy opened the home to the family over two years of renovations, prolonged in part by the pandemic and ensuing supply chain issues.

He offered the family wood from the old house, perhaps to make furniture out of it. The old front door went to a cousin of Wadsworth who incorporated it into her home.

“There was a lot of emotion with the property,” Brophy said. “I don’t know if they all agree with what I did, but you have to do it right. You can’t keep something just “because”. It has to look good. »

The Wadsworths praise Brophy for the access to the house and for retaining the street look, improved with new siding and a new porch that looks very much like the old one.

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“But as I wrote to Tim after my last visit, it’s really shocking or whatever to walk into that house when you have memories of what it was like,” said John Wadsworth, 69 years old, who grew up in the house. “And even with its sloping floors, its door angles that aren’t square, the physique, the deferred maintenance, the basement, but it had a lot of character and that’s what we got grown up.”

Wadsworth, who moved to upstate New York decades ago and is now retired, said “it’s basically a new home.”

When Wadsworth’s mother, Lois Reeve Wadsworth, the last occupant of 107 Main, died in 2020 at age 92, many family members visited the home after the funeral service. He remembers the reaction of his niece Annie.

“Annie walked into the house, and she had to turn around and walk out of the house,” Wadsworth said, the memory clinging a bit in her throat. “She had to leave. She cried.”

Brophy said the house could be rented or leased with an option to buy, or he could decide to live there himself. He also needs to figure out what to do with a barn and shed on the property.

“It was a great place with character for our family for hundreds of years,” Wadsworth said. “It’s a beautiful house, no matter who buys it. Whatever you do with it, it will acquire a new character. Everything is square and solid. And he’s still standing.

Kenneth R. Gosselin can be reached at [email protected].

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