By KAITLYN NAPLES
Like any other old, historic buildings, necessary renovations are to be expected if one is to continue the use of, and preserve, a building and its legacy.
The Bristol Historical Society’s mission is just that, to preserve and maintain the history of Bristol, especially its own building, “and we are 100 percent dedicated to that,” said Thomas Dickau, Historical Society president.
Since 2002, the Historical Society has performed a little over $1 million in renovations to its building, said chair of the society’s Building Committee Jerry Thompson. The work includes brick replacement, installing a fire alarm and sprinkler system (which the building did not have that before), making bathrooms ADA compliant (Americans with Disabilities Act), installed a ramp in the rear of the building for handicapped individuals, upgraded its electrical service, security system, boiler system, and put on a new porch on the Summer Street entrance.
The next item on the to-do list is to replace the aging, leaky roof, which has been that way for many years, Thompson said, and has damaged the second floor of the building.
The Histori-cal Society has acquired $200,000 to replace the roof, and has received an additional $140,000 from the government, strictly for the roof. However, there is a deadline on those funds or else the organization loses it.
Before the roof can be replaced, masonry work needs to be done above the roofline, which is expected to cost about $75,000. The society was originally counting on funding from a private company through the state’s Neighborhood Assistance Act Tax Credit Program to be put toward that $75,000. However, those funds fell through. Now, the society is actively trying to raise that money through donations and/or hoping for help from the city.
“We believe the importance and elegance of this building requires this and we are willing to walk-the-walk, as we have demonstrated up to this point,” Dickau said, adding the society will be going out to the community to ask for donations for this work to be completed.
“We’re trying to preserve this building,” Dickau said, adding he is dismayed that there isn’t more recognition or investment from the city, especially referring to the fact that none of the museums or the society have representatives on the city’s Marketing Task Force.
Since 2005, the society has had three emergency roof repairs because of wind and driving rain, Thompson said. He added that once the roof is completed, the society can then think about internal construction, especially on the second floor.
“We just can’t let this project extend out anymore,” Dickau said, adding the society’s Building Committee has done a great job in planning out priorities and tackling what needs to be done. However the shortfall now is the fallout of the funding.
After the roof is completed, the society wants to renovate the second floor so it can be used. Right now it is vacant, but once it is refinished, and an elevator is installed, Dickau said it can be used by the historical society and potentially other civic groups or companies. Thompson added that at least one of the rooms on the second floor is expected to remain as what it was originally, a classroom.
“Hopefully equipped with the original blackboards,” he added.
The Summer Street building that houses the Historical Society was constructed in 1890 and is the city’s oldest public structure. Its first purpose was as the former Bristol High School until it outgrew itself. An addition was put on the building in 1908. Eventually, in 1922, the city opened a new high school, which is the current Memorial Boulevard School building. After that, the city needed more space for the high school grades, and moved the freshman class to the Summer Street building from 1929 to 1959. Eventually Bristol High School was no longer, after Bristol Eastern and Bristol Central high schools were established. The city owned the Summer Street building until the Historical Society bought it for $1 in 2002, where the historical group has stayed ever since.
“Thousands of people have history in this building,” Dickau said.
The Bristol Historical Society has a membership of over 300, spread across country – both lifetime and annual, and 70 to 80 active members on a variety of activities and committees, like building and grounds, collections, marketing, and more. The society is also active on Facebook by uploading old photos and historical facts, and Dickau said he is contacted on a daily basis by individuals from all over the country seeking information.
The society also operates on about a $75,000 budget, which is strictly for bricks and mortar or designated to areas like education or computers. Funding is through grants, private donations, annual appeal and fundraising. There is no public fundraising and the society operates on a volunteer basis with no paid staff or director, just one grant writer who is paid on an hourly basis. The society shares the building with the Sports Hall of Fame and the Memorial Military Museum, however they are separate entities. The society also sponsors Troop 9 of The Boys Scouts of America and The Covenant of Grace Church holds services there each Sunday. The Historical Society also collaborates with the other many museums in Bristol.
“We are so indebted to local foundations, state and federal funding, private donations and everyone who has assisted us in the past,” Dickau said. “It is amazing where we are at right now.”
The Historical Society is always open to the public. For the winter months, it is open by request to conserve heat. It will begin its regular hours and programming in April when it will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays, noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays, and programs every third Thursday of each month.
The society is located at 98 Summer St., Bristol and can be reached at (860)583-6309. Its website is www.bristolhistoricalsociety.org and search Bristol Historical Society on Facebook.
Comments? Email knaples@BristolObserver. com
By KAITLYN NAPLES