Rallying for the general

Author and Civil War historian Howard Coffin (center) rallies the troops to save Gen. George Stannard’s house, which has fallen to disrepair. (File photo by Courtney Lamdin)

The informal group that led the charge to restore General Stannard’s former residence last summer has again found momentum.

Now complete an assessment of the ramshackle home near the Milton-Colchester border, the group will formalize its membership at an organizational meeting next week, said Bill Kaigle, de facto leader and Milton Historical Society vice president.

The group seeks members familiar with preservation, construction, project management, accounting and grant-writing or those passionate about saving the home of Gen. George Stannard, the Vermonter credited with winning a key Gettysburg battle and who likely built and lived in the clapboard structure. It’s been listed on the Vermont Historic Register since 1980.

Since meeting at the site last August, the group of enthusiasts obtained a $250 grant from the Preservation Trust of Vermont that, matched with town funds, paid for a conditions assessment of the building and put an estimated price tag on its repairs.

Turns out building owner and philanthropist Bobby Miller was right: He guessed it could be upward of $300,000 to restore the structure, and the report agreed.

Scott Newman, a former Vermont Agency of Transportation official who has overseen historically minded projects, compiled the 20-page assessment.

A group from Milton has mobilized to save the home of storied Civil War Gen. George J. Stannard, credited with stopping a vital Confederate charge in the Battle of Gettysburg. (Public domain photo)

“We got an answer that [restoration] is definitely doable,” Kaigle said.

And it’s somewhat urgent: The leaky roof has caused “catastrophic” damage to the home’s interior, “of which little appears to be savable,” Newman wrote. “The good news: The foundation and building exterior were observed to be in better than fair condition.”

The report recommends fixing windowsills, replacing interior framing, repointing the chimney, rebuilding the entry porch and repainting the exterior, among other repairs. Many of the wooden clapboards are reusable, Newman said, as is an interior staircase.

The $279,000 estimate includes 20 percent for contingency, which Kaigle said could cover mold and lead paint remediation. He said more study will determine a more exact cost with which to seek bids.

Though much of the house needs attention, Kaigle said the most pressing need is a new roof, for which he hopes to begin fundraising as soon as possible.

Before this can happen, though, the group needs a better-defined vision and mission for what the Stannard House will become. Some ideas include a welcome center, museum, meetinghouse, art gallery or a combination.

This lesson was imparted by Tom Mulcahy, a Colchester selectman and curator of the Colchester Log Schoolhouse, a centuries’ old one-room structure that was found inside a camp and was moved to Airport Park. Since 2007, it has housed a museum and information center along the bike path.

Mulcahy served as project manager of that restoration – hiring Milton’s own K.R. Adams as general contractor – and met with Kaigle’s crew last week to tell them how it was done.

“I tried to give them a pep talk and said the only way this is going to fail is if you quit,” Mulcahy said.

 Key to Colchester’s success was a grant from VTrans, specifically for an info center situated on a bike path. Though the schoolhouse met that criteria – and though grants were more plentiful before the economy tanked – Mulcahy said Milton should have hope.

“There’s a grant out there with their name on it; they just have to find it,” he said. “You just have to think outside the box to get there.”

Before any hammers hit nails, however, the group needs permission. The building is not only old, but it’s significant, said Devin Colman, state architectural historian with the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, which so far supports the restoration project.

“People are starting to come out of the woodwork for this project.”
— Bill Kaigle

The group eventually needs to submit a cover letter describing the building’s intended use for approval by Colman’s office and the Act 250 board, which governs the Stannard House’s lot, shared with Gardener’s Supply in the Catamount Industrial Park.

Colman expects it to pass muster and wants to see the house survive.

“That’s our goal for any project like this,” he said. “If there’s no use for it, it’s not going to last. Historic buildings need to be used, because that use generates an interest in the building, and routine maintenance happens,” unlike the status quo.

Colman said the group’s phased approach works, starting with stabilizing measures like the roof, since, as Newman wrote, the house is as resilient as its fearless former owner. “Demonstrably close to the point of no return,” it’s stubbornly resisting collapse, he said.

With Gettysburg’s 150th anniversary last year and further Civil War battles to commemorate this year, Colman said the timing is perfect to save a war hero’s home, turning it into a physical representation of Stannard’s triumph.

“Saving the house opens up all these doors to tell a much broader history,” he said.

Kaigle agreed, noting the historical society plans to pen a comprehensive history of the one-armed general to coincide with the restoration.

Though efforts have stopped and started over the years, stymied by permits and lead paint, Kaigle is confident this time is a go. The group hasn’t begun formally recruiting help, but it’s already gained interest from people with various professional backgrounds willing to lend hands.

“People are starting to come out of the woodwork for this project,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

Mulcahy said even simple acts can help the cause: His group erected a sign reading, “Future site of the Colchester Log Schoolhouse,” and that helped glean followers and funding.

Mulcahy, who has also helped St. Johnsbury save a one-room schoolhouse slated for demolition, said Milton’s cause is a worthy one.

“There’s only one” Stannard House, he said. If it goes, it’s gone, and Newman suspects losing the building would be more difficult than preserving it, he wrote.

Kaigle agreed in encouraging attendance at the first committee meeting, slated for Tuesday, July 22, at 6:30 p.m. at the town offices’ community room.

“This is an opportunity that we’re not going to get again: to save and create a cultural asset in Milton,” he said. “It will benefit the town on so many levels, some we don’t even know yet.”

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