Well Done Wellington

The historic Wellington House in Waltham MA dates back to the late 1700s and has a long history which was almost lost to development. In recent years this house has seen some exterior restoration, but now things are progressing on the interior as well. This post is the tale of how the kitchen fireplace surround was documented and restored.

Front of the Wellington House
Front of the Wellington House

First some history about the house:

It was home to the Wellington Family from 1779 – 1930 when it was sold to the state and became part of the Middlesex County Hospital and was used as an office for some of the hospital administration. After the hospital closed the house stood abandon for 20+ years and the weather and neglect took a toll on the building

Interior Front Door of the Wellington House
Interior Front Door of the Wellington House

This house is an interesting specimen of Massachusetts Architecture from the time of the revolutionary war, the local militia and the large percentage of original details that remain intact in the house, though many of them are in desperate need of preservation.

Central Stair Hall, Wellington House, Waltham MA
Central Stair Hall, Wellington House, Waltham MA

In 1989 the house was put on the National Historic Register of Historic Places.  As a developer was looking to develop the acreage behind this historic property the city of Waltham had the foresight to ask that this house be donated back to the town along with funds to cover the restoration work. Since that time the roof was replaced, some structural stabilization was carried out and much of the exterior has been touched up, but the interior is another story. Once restored this building will eventually serve as the offices for the historical commission.

Now on to the interior of the main kitchen:

The 'Before' this was the kitchen fireplace surround as we found it
The ‘Before’ this was the kitchen fireplace surround as we found it

Above is what the kitchen looked like when I arrived at the house.

Steve O'Shaughnessy working with me on documenting what was left of this historic fabric
Steve O’Shaughnessy working with me on documenting what was left of this historic fabric

Steve O’Shaughnessy and I examined what was left and worked to document the fireplace surround, paneling, cabinets, hardware etc via photographs and site notes. Water had been infiltrating the chimney stack and was causing a lot of damage to this woodwork — along with various small animals. The paneling on the right side was bowed several inches off the wall. Sara Chase, NBSS adviser and paint analysis expert examined samples to determine the original color of the trim.

Carefully removing pins so we can disassemble the paneling
Carefully removing pins so we can disassemble the paneling

After initial documentation we carefully disassembled the paneling so the masonry could be examined and repaired and so the woodwork could also be restored.

Getting the large panel and surround down in one piece (Pictured Bill Rainford)
Getting the large panel and surround down in one piece (Pictured Bill Rainford)

Getting the central panel out in a single piece was an accomplishment and while exhausted at the time we were happy that everything came out without breaking anything and it even revealed a nice surprise….

Signed and dated 1904 in beautiful cursive -- likely when the panel was put back in to cover the earlier hole made when a stove was installed
Signed and dated 1904 in beautiful cursive — likely when the panel was put back in to cover the earlier hole made when a stove was installed

Behind the large panel was a large signature in fancy cursive writing that read: “Ernest S Farr January 28th 1904” I did some digging around on the internet and found that there was an Ernest S Farr (ca 1874-1920) in Middlesex who was married to Ida Farr and had a daughter named Helen N Farr in 1895.

The masonry seeing the light of day for the first time in well over 100 years (At least since 1904, possibly since 1799)
The masonry seeing the light of day for the first time in well over 100 years (At least since 1904, possibly since 1799)

With the paneling removed you could see the masonry work of the chimney mass. You could see the heavy wood lintel was sagging a bit, but otherwise the masonry was largely intact. You could also see the scars of installing a stove into the main chimney flue and also into the flue for the beehive oven.  It appears that the work of Ernest S Far was to replace the fielded panel and cover in the stovepipe hole in the primary fireplace, which leads me to think the stovepipe in the beehive oven was the later addition. I also have to comment that Ernest did a very good job getting that panel in place without disturbing the other woodworking — when we removed the rest of the surround we could see the cut nail holes and the rest of the paneling were original to the first installation.

Martin Hickman fine tuning some hardware during installation
Martin Hickman fine tuning some hardware during installation

My friend and colleague Martin Hickman (also from NBSS) restored the woodworking that was removed. This was a laborious task that took many days to complete.

Restored paneling being re-installed (Pictured Martin Hickman)
Restored paneling being re-installed (Pictured Martin Hickman)

Beyond the dissassembly, paint scraping and basic repairs , Martin also had to work to remove the large bow in the paneling caused by the water damage

Martin finishing up the final pieces of the installation
Martin finishing up the final pieces of the installation

Martin’s efforts paid off well as the final product once re-installed would likely have looked very familiar to the original Wellington’s who once inhabited this house. This room will eventually be used as a conference room for the Waltham Historical Commission.  If you notice the small patch above the fireplace that is an area deliberately preserving the long paint history of this woodwork and will be exposed as a reminder to the later inhabitants of the room.

The 'After' -- the restored surround, paneling and cabinets have been re-installed and are looking great. The off color patch in he middle will be preserved under glass as a reminder of the change this woodworking has seen and for future paint analysis if ever needed again in the future.
The ‘After’ — the restored surround, paneling and cabinets have been re-installed and are looking great. The off color patch in he middle will be preserved under glass as a reminder of the change this woodworking has seen and for future paint analysis if ever needed again in the future.

While there is a LOT of work that remains on the rest of the interior the Wellington House is off to a great start and I hope that the rest of the building will be restored to its earlier glory in the coming years.

You can learn more about the Wellington House and some of its history here.

3 thoughts on “Well Done Wellington”

  1. Thanks for the shout out, Bill. Not the most flattering pictures of myself, I must say. “Hipster Doofus” comes to mind.

  2. Dr. Sumner Haven Remick, my grandfather, built the Middlesex County Sanatorium and became its first Director. He and his family lived in Wellington House and contributed to its preservation and beauty. The family were Mabel Taylor Remick, the doctor’s wife, and three daughters, Evelyn, Helen, and Louise. Evelyn Frances Remick Russell was my mother and I remember the house as a little child.

    My father, Harlow Russell, was always very enthusiastic about the home and had built a large fireplace, a replica of the fireplace described above, in the “keeping room” of the Federal home he was restoring in Ashburnham MA. The Ashburnham fireplace was built using the exact measurements of the fireplace in the Wellington House. My father’s fireplace is NOT covered with panelling and it is very beautiful.

    My father’s house has been purchased by Cushing Academy as a faculty residence. I visited it November 28, 2015. It came into Cushing’s possession in 2015 and some restorations and renovations are being planned. Its address is 107 Main Street. The current resident is Mr. Bill O’Hearne, Cushing’s director of alumni and development, and his family.

    I would welcome any inquiries

    Victoria Russell Caleb
    Evanston, IL
    847-869-6362

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