Conserving, Honoring Local Landmarks

The Historical Society of Cheshire County’s years of dedication to preserving the region’s past has gotten the attention of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance. It’s among the winners of the 2020 Preservation Achievement Awards, announced during a virtual gathering earlier this month.

Specifically, the Historical Society has been recognized for restoration and rehabilitation work done at two buildings on Main Street in Keene: the Wyman Tavern historic house museum (1762) and a brick residence known as the Bruder House (1839). The project team included Monahon Architects, Daniel V. Scully Architects and Ingram Construction Corp.

Historical Society Director Alan Rumrill has referred to the Wyman Tavern as the group’s “most important artifact.” Built in the Georgian style by Capt. Isaac Wyman, a veteran of the French and Indian Wars, the Tavern was in operation as a public house for 40 years. The Trustees of Dartmouth College held their first meeting there in 1770. Five years later, 29 Minutemen gathered at the Tavern to march to Lexington. In 1968, the building became the Society’s historic house museum after it was a private home for 170 years.

In 2017, the Historical Society was able to acquire the Bruder House, next door to the Wyman Tavern, which made it possible to expand and enhance the programming at the Tavern. Rumrill was delighted to be able to combine these two important Main Street properties into a unified and appropriately preserved historical campus.

“The restored and renovated buildings and grounds welcomed 2,500 visitors for tours, festivals, hands-on activities, cooking demonstrations, lectures, summer camps, living history activities and performances in 2019 after the Bruder House opened on June 1,” he said. “The merging of these two properties has allowed us to expand programming related to the region’s history without compromising the heritage of the 18th century Wyman Tavern.”

Jeff Ingram of Ingram Construction said he was drawn to the project by the owner/architect team and the prospect of helping to preserve a historic landmark on Keene’s Main Street.

“The community will benefit from preservation of two iconic buildings and the cultural and educational opportunities they will help to provide for generations,” he said. “For Wyman, the challenge was installing modern building infrastructure while preserving the character-defining features of the building. Bruder was more of a gut rehab, so the structural upgrades to the building were very involved and complex and had to be carried out with care so the historic features could be maintained.”

Ingram is proud of the collaboration put forth by all members of the team, adding, “The Society’s building committee and staff were phenomenal to work with, and the architects Dave Drasba and Dan Scully were able to strike the perfect balance of budget, program and function.”

The historic rehabilitation project at the Wyman Tavern involved the addition of a lift for handicap accessibility as well as installation of modern heating, cooling and electrical systems. Structural repairs were made, bricks were repointed, the exterior and interior were painted, the slate roof was repaired and finishes were refurbished.

The renovation of the Bruder House had a number of interesting elements… the ceiling and floor were lowered about 18 inches to allow installation of steel beams for reinforcement beneath the second floor. This also allowed for easier handicap accessibility from grade level. Several walls were removed to allow for a large meeting room. The project required considerable masonry work and the masons diligently matched the original 1839 brickwork.

“Every aspect of the job was a challenge,” said Jerrod Lepisto of Lepisto’s Masonry. “We know every joint personally. We washed it, we ground it, we pointed it and we washed it again.”

A covered porch was also built, facing out to the grounds of the Wyman Tavern, and a brick walkway was installed to connect the Bruder House to the Wyman Tavern; supporters of the Historical Society can purchase engraved bricks for the walkway.

A rear ell on the Bruder House, which had originally served as a carriage barn, could not be saved. It was removed and a new west wall was built on the house. Where the ell had stood, a chimney and hearth were built on a brick terrace, and a timber-frame pavilion was raised by volunteers from Keene-based Bensonwood Homes.

The black walnut flooring on the ground level was the result of creativity and collaboration. The wood was harvested from a large black walnut that was removed for the construction project. It was milled on site by a crew of volunteers and then dried and finished here in the region. The elegant flooring was then installed in the renovated building, approximately 20 feet from where the large tree had stood just a few months earlier.

Although the Historical Society has closed its doors to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, the staff is still working hard to deliver local history stories online. The group is looking forward to helping people find their place in history at the Wyman Tavern and the Bruder House when the buildings are able to reopen.

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