Restoration, expanded mission fueling Historic Northampton’s future

  • Tojo Rowe an employee of Kris Thomson Carpentry, work on completing the historically accurate balustrade at Historic Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kris Thomson measures a historically accurate balustrade being installed at Historic Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kris Thomson, cuts a historically accurate balustrade being installed at Historic Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kris Thomson, and Tojo Rowe work on completing the historically accurate balustrade at Historic Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tojo Rowe and Kris Thomson, work on completing the historically accurate balustrade at Historic Northampton.The railing above was replaced earlier but is not as historically accurate. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The old end pieces of the railing that will be installed again by Kris Thomson, and Tojo Rowe to the upper balustrade at Historic Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kris Thomson, and Tojo Rowe work on completing the historically accurate balustrade at Historic Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tojo Rowe and Kris Thomson work on completing the historically accurate balustrade at Historic Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 4/8/2017 12:16:18 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Standing atop scaffolding Tuesday afternoon, Northampton carpenter Kris Thomson was putting some finishing touches on a facelift he’s giving to one of Historic Northampton’s properties.

“This spring what I’ve been doing, I call it the icing on the cake, the frosting on top,” Thomson said.

That “icing” on top of the more than 200-year-old Isaac Damon House is a fancy white balustrade — a kind of decorative railing that Thomson jokes has “no practical function, but a tremendous fashion function.”

“It’s light and lacy, not heavy and bulky,” Thomson said. “It really is quite specific to the time period, and would have been very fashionable.”

Thomson’s restoration work is part of what co-Executive Director Laurie Sanders said is a new commitment to making Historic Northampton’s campus a more appealing place for local residents to spend time.

“We’re trying to become more of a community space,” Sanders said Friday standing in the quiet, grassy yard behind the organization’s three historic houses on Bridge Street.

In order to make the space a bigger draw for the community, the organization is putting on more frequent and engaging events, placing benches in the yard for nearby workers taking their lunch breaks and restoring its properties.

The two-story yellow Damon House was built in 1813 by prominent local architect Isaac Damon, who built courthouses, churches and covered bridges across the Connecticut River Valley in a style seen as quintessential New England architecture today.

Restoration of the house is just one of a several significant restoration projects Historic Northampton has been able to complete in recent years thanks to more than $300,000 in grant money from the city’s Community Preservation Committee.

“I just feel eternally grateful and blessed that we have the CPC, that we have that kind of truly local attention, that funding source,” Thomson said. “We literally could not have done it without it.”

Those funds allowed for essential projects in recent years, like the removal of rotting windows from the back of the Damon House and structural work on the Nathaniel Parsons House, including insulating and damp-proofing that building’s basement so that historic collections can be stored there.

More work coming

Historic Northampton is planning on applying for more funding from the CPC to carry on similar work in the future. The organization hopes to do something with the campus’s Shepherd Barn, which they determined from timber core samples dates back to between the years 1803 and 1805. Also on the property behind the Parsons House is a well that Thomson and Sanders think will eventually prove to be an interesting archeological site. “We’re not expecting gold coins,” Sanders joked. “But who knows?”

Though restoration plays an important role in potential upcoming projects, it is just part of the ambitious plans the organization’s leadership have going forward.

Sanders said Historic Northampton has been able to draw in new crowds of people with walking tours, lecture series and initiatives tied to present-day social movements, like the recent “Punishment in Paradise” exhibit that looked at Northampton’s history in the larger story of mass incarceration.

Before leaving the property on Friday, Sanders stood looking out over the yard, envisioning periodic craft beer nights to get the community engaged with their city’s history.

She talked about the potential for some kind of immersive theater experience inside the renovated Parsons House, where city residents could envision what the house’s occupants may have seen through their windows during an event like Shays’ Rebellion.

“The energy that’s over there now is just intoxicating,” Thomson said of the transition in progress at Historic Northampton. “People are just fired up.”

Sanders said they’re hoping to use that passion to get the city excited about its history. Or, at the very least, to start hanging out at Historic Northampton’s campus more.

A good sign of things to come, Sanders said, is that last year the campus became a hotspot for Northampton youth playing the augmented reality video game Pokémon GO.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.




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