Museum keeps ‘history alive’ with restoration of Knapp House
The New Milford Historical Society & Museum has reason to celebrate.
After several years, a major revitalization and renovation of its Knapp House is complete.
“It is 100 percent done,” said museum curator Lisa Roush of the project. “It’s structurally sound, and we can take care of it.”
The work was broken into three phases: stabilization of the house; restoration and interpretation of the interior of the first floor; and exterior painting and replacement of rotting sideboards.
The exterior work was completed just a few weeks ago, capping off the final stages of the long-term project that cost more than $250,000.
Much of the work was completed with financial support from the 1772 Foundation, which is part of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation. Ongoing fundraising efforts and private donations supplied additional funding.
“We believe the Knapp House is one of biggest pieces of our collection,” Roush said. “As stewards of this collection, it was our duty to care of the building.”
Loretta Kretchko, second vice president of the museum board, said the restoration of the Knapp House is satisfying.
“We successfully raised the money through grants and donations,” Kretchko said. “We successfully did it, it’s a big undertaking.”
Preserving the house is “what our museum is all about, preserving New Milford history,” she said. “It’s a sense of accomplishment.”
Museum president Joe Cats said he is impressed with how everything came together.
“It looks so much better from the end of the Green that it’s hard to believe what it used to look like,” he said.
The Knapp House was given to the museum in 1956 by the Knapp sisters, Mary Clissold Knapp, the last member of the family to own the property, and Margaret.
The house was originally built in 1770 by Daniel Burritt. Levi S. Knapp bought the property from Royal Davis in 1838. Part of the house dates back to 1770, while later additions and renovations date back to 1815.
With restoration work now complete, the museum can move forward with an ongoing maintenance plan for the historic house and address other projects on the museum’s radar.
“Moving forward, (the house) will be around for another 100 years, if not more,” Roush said.
The Knapp House was closed in 2014.
In the following years, and with support from the CT Trust for Historic Preservation, work was done replace beams and stabilize the structure in a way that maintained its history.
Phase 2 included the restoration and interpretation of the interior of the first floor, which includes a living room, dining room, kitchen and pantry.
The house’s original floors needed to be refinished but due to them bowing, the museum chose to paint the floors to be historically accurate.
A whitewash on the walls was also done.
In April, the exterior work began, a project that cost about $35,000.
The museum raised $10,000 and received a grant from the 1772 Foundation to help with paint.
The museum celebrated the re-opening of the Knapp House in 2018 so a grand re-opening is not expected now that exterior work is complete.
However, Roush said there is one last step to be taken: the creation of a nice sign for the house.
The Knapp House has not been the only focus of the museum over the past few years.
Major renovations, through a grant from the Iroquois Foundation, in the main gallery were done in 2016.
The main gallery showcases early American history.
Walls that covered windows were removed, floors were refinished, walls were painted and museum quality lighting was installed.
The lower gallery, which has been closed to the public for three years due to water damage, is the next area of focus.
That gallery features more localized history about, including among other topics, Candlewood Lake, Native Americans, New Milford Pottery and tobacco farming.
“We’re very lucky to have such a beautiful campus of buildings,” Roush said, citing the bank building, Knapp House, Elijah Boardman Store and main gallery.
In addition, a special garden planted and maintained by the Garden Club of New Milford graces the campus.
“We’d love for it not to be such a secret garden,” Roush said
“Our goal is to keep history alive and to take care of what has been entrusted to us and to bring people to the museum to learn about,” Roush said. “That’s a huge part of our mission and we can accomplish it.”
One of the next big projects is the restoration of — and hopefully moving of — the old Hill and Plain Schoolhouse.