Restoration Of Historic Eldredge Library Windows Underway

By: Tim Wood

A crew from Essex Restoration prepares to removed historic windows inside the Eldredge Public Library reference room. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Architecturally, the Eldredge Public Library stands out on Main Street both for its uniqueness – its Renaissance/Romanesque Revival style is unlike anything else in town – and the nearly pristine state of preservation of the original 1886 building.

Upon close inspection, however, some of the details of the building have suffered with age. Specifically, the sills, sashes and windows in the 131-year-old structure, all of which are in the process of being restored.

Last week, contractors removed 51 windows from the library's original building, carefully taking out each to preserve the original glass and sashes intact. The windows will be taken to a workshop in Wilmington for cleaning and restoration and then brought back and installed in early June.

The work necessitated the closure of the original building, which fronts on Main Street and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, for two and a half days last week, but the addition built at the back of the structure in 1992 remained open and the staff was able to accommodate patrons' requests for books and periodicals housed in the closed area, said Library Assistant Director Amy Andreasson.

“The public has been very understanding and patient through this process,” she said. New books and newspapers were relocated near the circulation desk; the passageway to the original section of the building was sealed with heavy plastic. The same setup will be repeated when the windows are replaced.

Inside the reference section last Wednesday, a crew from Essex Restoration was preparing to remove the large windows that line the street-side of the building. Lisa Norcross, project manager for general contractor Eastward Companies, said the historic windows are removed from the inside, while storm windows – which are not historic – are removed from the outside and will be disposed of. The storm windows apparently were not installed correctly and appear to have contributed to deterioration of the historic windows; in many areas, the sills are crumbling.

“The way they did it allowed more moisture to get in,” Norcross said of the storm windows. New storm windows are not included in this phase of the project, said Terry Whalen, the town's principal planner and operations administrator. This phase will, however, include the addition of insulation to the existing window frames, which may preclude the need for new storm windows, he said. “We'll be pursuing that in the next fiscal year or so,” he said.

The historic windows themselves are not in bad condition, and a close inspection reveals details which, like the building itself, are aesthetically interesting and unusual. The corners of the sashes, for instance, are rounded, which makes them “pretty special,” said John Folsom of Essex Restoration.

“I've never seen anything like that,” he said.

Chains that lift the windows are also concealed in woodworking around the frame, and the sashes are locked with a round key, which isn't unusual for windows from that late 1880s, Folsom said. There are more than 90 sashes involved, said Whalen.

Restoration work will include scraping, cleaning, priming and repainting the sashes and cleaning and reglazing the window glass. Most of the windows, Folsom said, are in pretty good shape.

“The ones on the south wall have taken most of the weather,” he noted.

Because the building is listed on the National Register, the work is being done in accordance with the Department of the Interior's historic restoration standards. Whalen said the town's consulting architects, CBI Consulting Group, will monitor to the work to ensure it meets the standards, including a visit to Essex's workshop. The work will take about eight weeks; replacing the windows and restoring trim and sills is expected to take about a week, Norcross said. The goal is to complete the project by June 15.

“It's a nice project,” she said. “The building is going to look beautiful.”

In the meantime, the holes left by the windows will be covered with a combination of plywood and Plexiglas. At least 50 percent of the natural light must be retained in the building, Norcross; from the outside, many of the windows will appear blacked out, including all of those in the attic, where there is no public access.

The project is being funded by $186,000 in community preservation funds appropriated in 2014. Eastward was the low bidder at $150,000, with the remaining funds covering design work, hazardous material testing and project oversight, said Whalen.