Repairs To The Society's Buildings

The Newtown Historical Society owns two buildings in Newtown, CT:
The Matthew Curtiss House at 44 Main St and The Little Red Schoolhouse on the grounds of Middle Gate School at 7 Cold Spring Rd.

As one might expect with buildings between 164 and 264 years in age, repairs are sometimes needed just to maintain their structure, never mind keeping them attractive. Such has been the case with both the schoolhouse and the Matthew Curtiss House, and during the month of October, 2014 what started as a minor repair, paint and polish job lead to the discovery and repair of unexpected damage to both buildings. Wood replacement was extensive, the roof was replaced on the schoolhouse, painting involved sanding all existing surfaces down to bare wood, some of the window glass was replaced in the Curtiss House and all windows were reglazed.

The Newtown Historical Society wishes to publicly thank the contractors listed below and their crews who worked so hard to complete all structural repairs and painting in such a short time and for such favorable prices to our non-profit organization.

The paint crew put aside other work to get this done as a favor to the Society and we are very grateful for their consideration of our non-profit status.

The Little Red Schoolhouse

The Newtown Historical Society hosts an Annual Children's Day in early October in the existing schoolhouse, a genuine one-room schoolhouse built in 1850. It replaced the original which was built in 1783. The original schoolhouse served what was then the Bear Hills School District. It was briefly joined to the Huntingtown school district in 1795. This did not work out as expected, so the two districts were separated again three years later. The name "Bear Hills" was changed around 1802 when the Newtown-Bridgeport Turnpike was opened (this became Route 25 in 1932). The school stood on the north side of Toll Gate Hill. Since the middle toll gate was on the south side of the hill on the Monroe border, the school became the Middle Gate School.

In 1973 the Newtown Historical Society was given the Little Red Schoolhouse with the provision that it be moved from its original site. It was subsequently relocated to the front lawn of the present Middle Gate Elementary School on Cold Spring Road where it stands today.

The wood replacement was extensive - approximately 100 linear feet of siding and rebuilding the entrance threshold which hopefully will prevent the water from running in. The painting involved sanding all existing surfaces down to bare wood. As close examination on the structure continued it was also determined that the entire roof should be re shingled.

Time was running out to paint. It was already late October and if the current season turned into another winter like the prior year (2013) further deterioration could be expected. The general consensus was to go for the complete job even though the estimate exceeded $3,000! However, there was a feeling amongst a few board members that the Matthew Curtiss House should be given the first priority when considering the risk of further damage over the next season. Additional fund raising efforts were discussed at length, and the emails began to fly.

The Matthew Curtiss House

Matthew Curtiss, Jr. purchased the house at at 44 Main Street in 1781. It is a fine example of Connecticut saltbox architecture, and for some time it was believed that he was the house's builder and first resident. Thus his name was attached to it. Subsequent research shows that the house was originally constructed in about 1750. Curtiss sold the house in 1807, but may have continued to live there until his death in 1824. The house was acquired by the Historical Society in 1970. It serves as our headquarters and is open to the public as a house-museum.

Much of the initial restoration of the house was done by members of the Newtown Historical Society. Modern features were removed and three fireplaces uncovered, including the rare arched fireplace in the main parlor. Among the most unusual features of the Curtiss House are the large basement fireplace with cupboard built into the chimney stones and meat hooks in the attic which are all that remains of an old smoke oven.

The present contents of the house include not only furnishings of the time the house was new but also items of later date which help to tell the history of Newtown. Rooms suggest the way family possessions could have been added as one generation followed another.

The house is open for tours by costumed docents one Sunday per month March-June and September-December. Open houses are typically held in conjunction with a living history event. Past demonstrations have included open hearth cooking, candle dipping, spinning and blacksmithing. There is no admission fee.

Concerning the Matthew Curtiss House repairs, there was unanimous agreement that any rotten wood would be replaced, not just painted over. At one time it was even considered that if we could not afford to replace all rotted wood at once, we would try repairing only one wall at a time. At least that way we would be showing progress to our donors. Fortunately a board member insisted that particular approach would at least double the cost, and John agreed that where he found bad wood he would make needed repairs or advise us before proceeding.