By NEIL ZAWICKI
MILTON — Work began April 3 to dismantle Civil War General George Stannard’s house on Route 7. The project marks the next phase in the General Stannard House Committee’s efforts to restore and relocate the historic building, built in 1840, making it a museum piece to Stannard’s and other Vermont Civil War veterans’ lives.
While restoration contractor Eliot Lothrop and carpenter Daniel Lee of Building Heritage work over the next month to take the house apart, they will also be documenting each component and determining which parts will need to be repaired or even rebuilt once the house is brought back to life.
That part of the task, said committee co-chair Bill Kaigle, is often misunderstood.
“We battle perception with the project all the time,” said Kaigle. “Some people think we’re tearing it down, but we’re carefully dismantling it and documenting the parts.
Kaigle said the goal to rebuild the house in the period of General Stannard.
“We’re going to do it honorably and in a way that lets us tell the story of Vermonters in the Civil War,” he said.
Of course, taking apart a 178-year-old house with the intention of rebuilding it using construction methods from the period is altogether different from demolition, and both Lee and Lothrop are aware of the importance of the work.
Absent from the job site is the blow-and-go attitude that comes with demo projects. Instead, they’re peeling back layers, setting components aside, and bracing parts of the building that otherwise would collapse. A set of T-shaped posts made from modern 2×6 dimensional lumber supports a sagging rafter near a patched hole in the roof that once contained a dormer, which is a gabled projection from the roof with a window that allows more space in an upstairs room.
In another part of the house, exposed 4×4 wall framing with joined 45-degree braces gives a glimpse of 19th century tradecraft.
Outside, both Lee and Lothrop are excited to point out a wall that still has the original cladding – lap siding with a six-inch reveal, different from the more narrow lap siding that covered the house for generations. They know this because the siding was installed with type B cut nails, which were used prior to 1850. Machined nails, like the ones used today, didn’t appear until the 1860s. Lothrop and Lee will recreate the original siding when they finish the project.
“That’s going to be the fun stuff,” said Lothrop, “when we get down to recreating details from the original house.”
Kaigle said there are some unknowns in the house when it comes to identifying the original architecture and building methods, and for that reason the committee brought in historic preservation expert Alex Tolstoi of Vermont Property Preservation Consultants.
Tolstoi said the house has been remodeled and repaired so much over generations that isolating the elements from Stannard’s time in the house (1866-1878) can be a challenge.
Importantly, Tolstoi said the restoration team will not just make guesses as to the authenticity of period design. But he is equipped with the knowledge to do some detective work. The lath boards, which are one-inch wood strips nailed to the framing before applying plaster to the walls, provide some clues. Tolstoi explained that lath was hand split before 1850, but after 1850 builders used machine split lath. Both styles exist in the house, so Lothrop and his crew can use that to determine which walls are original.
Lothrop said he and Lee will also have to join new wood to old in order to repair some existing timbers that have deteriorated or contain rot. Doing that without modern methods, such as applying two-part epoxy or using lag screws, is what makes it interesting. They’ll instead be using mortise and tenon and wood peg joining methods, skills not common among modern construction tradesmen.
As the house is dismantled, Kaigle said the committee plans to store all the documented components in the Town of Milton’s Bombardier Barn, with plans to put the house next to the barn.
“We have preliminary town and (Vermont Department of Historic Preservation) approval, but it needs to go through more levels of town decision-making before we can officially announce its future location,” he said.
Kaigle said the entire project is expected to cost between $220,000 and $280,000, and so far they’ve spent $37,000 of the $57,000 they have from a state grant and privately raised funds. To get the final $150,000 to $200,000, said Kaigle, the committee will mount new fundraising efforts.
If all goes to plan, the restored Stannard House would be open on Oct. 20, 2020, Stannard’s 200th birthday.