Watertown History

Historical Society Awarded $200,000 Grant for Edmund Fowle House

As we reported in the January, 2005, issue of The Town Crier, the Historical Society of Watertown has been granted a $500,000 award from the state for the Edmund Fowle House, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The Executive Council of the Provincial Congress met in the Edmund Fowle House during the first year and a half of the Revolutionary War in 1775 and 1776.  The Executive Council acted in place of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor from July 20, 1775, until the adoption of the Constitution in 1780.

We are very excited to report that in July, 2006, the Historical Society was notified that a grant of $200,000 has been awarded for the Edmund Fowle House from the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.  We, again, must thank State Senator Steven Tolman for helping us acquire this grant that was vetoed by Governor Mitt Romney, but received an override in the House and Senate.

Full restoration and renovation of the historic Edmund Fowle House would not be possible without this additional money.  The $500,000 appropriation we received from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is an extremely generous amount and has given us the ability to save this historically significant house.  We have been able to conduct an in-depth study of the fabric of the building and uncover some long hidden secrets of the original layout of the house.  It has provided us with funds to bring the building up to code so that it will once again be open to the public.  The award has made it possible to restore several of the characteristics of the 1770s, when this house was the meeting place of the Executive Council, as well as the house of a family, headed by Edmund Fowle, who lived in Watertown at that time.

Because of all of the essential work that has to be done on the house, there was not enough funding to carry out all of the restoration work that we had envisioned in order to present this house properly.  A list of alternates was drawn up for the restoration/renovation plans that could be executed at a later date, once more funds had been raised.  This list included the window shutters, the re-creation of the brick openings for the fireplaces, the painting of the unrestored rooms and other items.  Because of this additional grant, all of this work can be completed now instead of having to wait for an indeterminate number of years while we searched for additional funding.  We are extremely grateful for this additional grant!

Plans for the restoration and renovation of the house, inside and out, have been finalized by the Building Restoration Committee and the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

The outside of the house is being closely restored to the 1870s period, minus the ornamental fencing on the crown of the house creating a “widow’s walk” and the picket fence surrounding the property.  The dormer will be removed and the window shutters will be restored and put back on the front windows.  The restoration and hanging of the shutters is possible because of this additional grant money.  The shutters are now being stored in the basement of the house.  The middle window on the second floor of the southeast side of the house will be removed.  This window was added to light a hallway that was created in the 1870s.  This hallway was removed earlier this year by the North Bennett Street School students during their deconstruction project.

As you can see from the photo below, the porch on the southeast side of the house was smaller than the one there now.  This porch will be restored to the size shown in the photo.


The Edmund Fowle House before 1896
(photo courtesy of the Watertown Free Public Library)


The new access to the house will be through the 1870s kitchen addition on the back of the house.  A sloped brick walk will lead to an existing window opening that will be converted to a door.  This access point will be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant.

The outside of the house will be painted the same colors it was painted when renowned local architect Charles Brigham moved and renovated it in the 1870s.  Historic Preservationist Sara Chase has determined the colors from fragments of paint found during her investigation of the outside of the house - mustard yellow for the clapboards, dark green for the shutters and black for the window sashes.

Plans for the inside of the house have also been finalized.  The wall between the 2 kitchens in the 1870s addition will be removed, making this a much larger space.  This old kitchen space will serve as the new entrance and will provide space for a visitor's center where information will be presented and books and other Historical Society items will be available for purchase.

The remaining 1770s plaster ceilings will be resecured and restored under the watchful eye and guidance of Architectural Conservator Andy Ladygo.  The original kitchen, now the library, will be restored, including the large cooking hearth.

When the house was moved from what is now the corner of Mt. Auburn and Marshall Streets in 1871 to its present location, the large central chimney could not be moved with it.  The fireplaces were closed off after the move and stoves were then used for heat.  As a result, there is presently no structural masonry in the basement or walls to support the re-creation of the brick openings of the fireplaces.  The structural masonry will be put in place during this renovation while other invasive work, such as adding the ducting for the furnaces, is being carried out.  The re-creation of the brick openings of the fireplaces was another item that was listed as to be done at a later date, once more money had been raised.  We will be able to restore the brick openings during this renovation because of the $200,000 grant.

The Council Chamber on the second floor, where the Executive Council met during the Revolutionary War, will be restored.  Students of the North Bennett Street School's Preservation Carpentry program will do the carpentry and plaster conservation work.


The floor plan for the second floor showing
the Council Chamber layout from 1775


A window that was moved from the small room on southwest side of the second floor when bathrooms were added in the late 1800s will be moved back to its original position.  The entrance to the attic stairs will be moved back to this small room.

The construction plans went out for bid in July.  A pre-bid meeting was held at the Fowle House shortly thereafter, in order to allow interested contractors to get a look at the house and have an opportunity to ask any questions about the construction and landscaping plans.

General Contractor M. J. Mawn, Inc., has been chosen and approved by the Building Restoration Committee, the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) and the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office.  Michael Mawn has worked on many historic restoration projects overseen by the MHC.  He has also worked on projects with our architectural firm, McGinley, Kaslow & Associates.

Work has begun on the outside of the house.