STONINGTON — Standing under a gabled roof, Patrick Pinnell pointed to a window in the attic of the farmhouse at Forge Farm on Monday morning.
“This is the one surviving 1790s window,” he said. “It’s great that somebody was smart enough to preserve this and we’re going to repair it and put it back in place so there will be one original window.”
Pinnell, an architect and a member of the board of Connecticut Landmarks, the Hartford-based group that owns Forge Farm, has already drawn up plans to begin work on restoring and improving the original 1780 farmhouse and its addition, built in 1790.
His presence Monday was a quick reaction to Friday’s report from the Office of the Attorney General, which investigated Connecticut Landmarks management of Forge Farm and its endowment.
The 20.8-acre property at 330 Al Harvey Road, with its three buildings,was given to Connecticut Landmarks, formerly known as the Antiquarian & Landmarks Society, as a “conditional gift” in 1983 after the death of owners Charles and Virginia Berry. The property and its buildings were to be maintained and preserved as a “historic landmark” using funds from the Berrys’ three trusts.
In July 2017, Connecticut Landmarks sought court permission to sell the farm, which would have allowed the nonprofit to use the funds for its other properties. Selling the farm would have been legal if it could prove the terms of the Berrys' will were broken, such as if the property could not be maintained as an example of early American architecture and grounds.
Community members contended that Connecticut Landmarks had let the house fall apart by not maintaining it properly. Around 2007, all of the house’s windows, except for the one in the attic, were replaced with white, vinyl windows, which were deemed historically inappropriate.
The Office of the Attorney General’s report, attributed to Deputy Attorney General Perry Zinn Rowthorn, who oversaw the investigation because Attorney General George Jepsen recused himself from the matter, found “no evidence of misappropriation of charitable funds” but said Connecticut Landmarks should improve its management and preservation of the property according to the donors’ intent.
“The matter will remain open within our office so that we can monitor the organization's progress in the areas of need we have identified,” the report stated.
With many improvements in mind, including construction of a new kitchen, adding doors to the upstairs and moving the downstairs powder room to expose part of the house's original hearth, Pinnell said the vinyl windows will be one of the first items to be replaced.
The house will become a "test case" for special, historically-accurate Pella windows that the company developed in consultation with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Pinnell said.
“Pella is very interested in getting them installed here so that they can use it for their PR. They’re satisfied enough that this is a worthy historic house and this is going to be their test,” he said.
However, Pella will not provide the windows for free, he said. The windows in the house are three different sizes and the prices will range from $1,200 to $1,500 per window before installation.
Pinnell said it was important to acknowledge that historic preservation standards and best practices have changed over time. For example, the farmhouse’s previous asphalt roof, which has been replaced with a historically-correct cedar shingle one, was a point of contention in the community because it was considered historically incorrect for the age of the house.
But, asphalt roofs were the standard in historic preservation starting in the 1920s because they were considered safer than the more flammable cedar shingles, Pinnell said.
“The concern was that historic buildings were often lost to fire,” he said. “So, one of the interesting conversations to have is the history of the attitudes toward history in historic materials.”