Watertown History

Restoration of the Edmund Fowle House Nears Completion

The restoration of the original portion of the house is nearly done.  Most of the restoration work in the second floor Council Chamber was completed by students enrolled in the Preservation Carpentry program at the North Bennet Street School (NBSS).  This prestigious school, headquartered in Boston's North End, was established in 1885, 20 years after the demolition of John Hancock's mansion on Beacon Hill sparked an appreciation for and awareness of historic preservation.  The school offers training in carpentry, masonry, furniture making and other vocations using historic techniques and materials.

In 2005, our architect, Wendall Kalsow, of McGinley, Kalsow and Associates, contacted Robert Adam, head of the Preservation Carpentry program at the NBSS and arranged for his students to work on the Fowle House.  This was a win-win situation for the students and the Historical Society.  The students were able to experience hands-on training by recreating and restoring many different parts of this historic, Revolutionary War era house.  The Historical Society reaped the benefits of the craftsmanship and attention to accuracy in the details that these students practice.

The NBSS students graduated on June 1, 2007.  The nine students that worked on the Fowle House came by that morning with their parents to show and talk about their work.  Work done in the Council Chamber included recreation of the brick fireboxes in the two fireplaces, the recreation of a surround for the second fireplace to match the existing fireplace surround, recreation of the chair rail or cap molding above the wainscoting that surrounds the room, seamless repair of the wood on the original doors where modern hardware was removed, replacement of the wide floorboards where the "modern" bathrooms were removed, removal of the bathroom windows and the replacement of the wooden cross-bracing using the original mortises in the wall.


The windows in the modern bathroom were removed
and the wooden cross-bracing was replaced


The Watertown TAB was invited to attend this "show-and-tell."  A wonderful article about the students and the restoration project appeared in the June 8, 2007, issue of the TAB.

As reported in our January, 2007, update, evidence of a second fireplace and a small closet or cupboard was discovered adjacent to the existing fireplace surround in the Council Chamber.  The NBSS students took the existing, sizable fireplace surround back to their school and recreated a surround, including the closet, for the newly-discovered fireplace.  It was recently installed in the Council chamber.  This magnificent double fireplace feature provides a "wow factor" in this room.


The original fireplace surround on the left was duplicated for the newly-discovered
fireplace on the right in the second floor Council Chamber; both fireplace surrounds
will be painted medium ochre with a verdigris glaze, to match evidence uncovered
by our paint analyst, Architectural Conservator Sara Chase


The NBSS students also did work on other parts of the house.  We mentioned the carefully repaired clapboards on the outside of the house in our January, 2007, update.  The 1870s front door was found in the basement.  The door, as well as the wooden frame around the elongated windows in the front entrance facade, were refurbished.


Period appropriate hardware for the doors
has been acquired and is being installed


Although some of the work in the kitchen was done by the NBSS students, a good portion of the work in this room was carried out by Preservation Carpenter and Mason David Webb and his associates, Justin Webb and David Mason.  This room has gone through an incredible transformation!  It has been turned back to its 1772 appearance.


The original stairway opening (A) and the locations of the original window (B) and exterior door (C)
in the kitchen can be seen in the photo on the left; the stairs, a faux window and a faux exterior
door have been put back in this area (right); the door sports beautiful, period hardware


In addition to the recreation of the appearance of the side wall shown above, the huge 1772 cooking fireplace has been recreated.  A period appropriate crane for hanging pots was secured from a blacksmith in Sutton, MA.

As we mentioned in our April, 2007, update, a 2-inch long original piece of cap molding or chair rail from 1772 was discovered under the 1870s plaster in this room.  This discovery also enlightened us as to the original height of the wainscoting, which we now know was 48 inches.  The cap molding/chair rail was recreated by the NBSS students and the wainscoting was brought up to its original height.

This room looks spectacular!  It will be the venue for many living history demonstrations by our reenactors for school children and the general public.


The original kitchen was used previously as the Historical Society's library (left);
the large cooking fireplace, which was located where the bookshelves appear
above, has been recreated in its original location (right


If you have visited the house recently, you may have noticed that the exterior has been painted a lively shade of yellow and the front door is now a beautiful, deep green.  The shutters will be going up shortly.  The brick walkways have been placed and landscaping work has begun.  Shrubbery and flowers will be planted around the house.


Before (left) and after (right) photos of the back of the house, including the 1871 kitchens addition
with its tall chimney, show the many changes that have been made; a kitchen window (circled)
was removed and replaced by a door, which will serve as the main entrance to the house;
the bathroom windows on the 2nd floor (circled), as well as the kitchen chimney, were
removed; the 2nd floor window to the right of the bathroom windows was moved back
to its original position, aligning it once again with the 1st floor window below


A new exterior door, which will serve as a primary entrance to the house, has been added to the 1870s kitchens addition (see photos above).  The wall and the chimney that separated the two kitchens that were located in the addition have been removed, yielding a space that will house our new visitor's center, an ADA compliant bathroom and a very small kitchen area.  As can be seen from the photo on the right above, a new ADA compliant ramp leading up to the new entrance has been added.

Work on this section of the house continues, as the "mudrooms" addition that extends to the left of the kitchens addition in the photos above is outfitted as the Historical Society office.