In Windsor, 18th Century House May Become Preschool After Extensive Refurbishment

  • A ripped section of Gothic wallpaper is seen in a closet area of the Jacob House on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, at the house on State Street in Windsor, Vt. Judy Hayward, of the Preservation Education Institute in Windsor, said that the wallpaper can be used as a tool to date changes in the house. Hayward said she believes the wallpaper is from the 1850s or 1860s. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Charles Hatcher

  • The Jacob House seen on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, on State Street in Windsor, Vt. Judy Hayward, of the Preservation Education Institute in Windsor, said she believes the house could be renovated to be used for the school district's preschool program. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Charles Hatcher

  • Judy Hayward, of the Preservation Education Institute in Windsor, Vt., talks to a reporter on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, in the Jacob House on State Street in Windsor. Hayward said she believes the house could be renovated to be used for the school district's preschool program. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Charles Hatcher

  • Judy Hayward, of the Preservation Education Institute in Windsor, Vt., holds an original piece of plaster removed from the Jacob House after a structural evaluation, seen on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, at the historic house on State Street in Windsor. Hayward said that the plaster contains animal hair, which was used to help it bind together. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Charles Hatcher

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 12/26/2017 11:50:14 PM
Modified: 12/26/2017 11:50:20 PM

Windsor — Standing inside the late 18th century State Street home originally owned by Stephen Jacob, a former Vermont Supreme Court Justice whose colleagues presided over his slave owning case, it’s hard not to notice the debris, dust, peeling wallpaper and crumbling ceiling plaster.

But Judy Hayward, executive director of Historic Windsor Inc. and the Preservation Education Institute, sees what’s not visible to most — possibilities about how the historic building’s significant features might be recovered and how the refurbished building might be returned to use again.

With experience in historic preservation, Hayward is under no illusion about the cost to restore Jacob’s house — $1.4 million according to an architect’s feasibility study — but as she steps carefully around the cluttered floors, her focus is the home’s historic architectural features.

Stopping in the main room off the entrance, Hayward lightly touches the marble “surround” of a fireplace and comments on the unique molding beneath the windows.

“All of these details I am pointing out are things we can salvage as part of the rehab whether it is the school or some other use,” Hayward said. “There is some really interesting historic fabric here.

“If you start looking at details around this room, which is probably the most formal of all rooms, and you start looking at the wainscot, and the crown moldings and the elaborate fireplace surround, you ask what was this place? This could have been Jacob’s law office.”

Historic Windsor bought the two-story wood frame house — with a pair of large black walnut trees standing sentinel in the front yard — in 2008. Listed on the national register and located within the town’s historic village, it was last used as a five-unit apartment building. Sections of the walls now sport 1970s era wood paneling.

“It was full of junk, old refrigerators and appliances,” said Hayward, adding that the last owners cleaned out most of the interior. “Despite condition issues, the frame is essentially good and also a lot of plaster is in relatively good condition.”

In the last 10 years, Historic Windsor Inc. has completed some stabilization work on the home, including a new roof and foundations repairs.

“We had interns do a window analysis and that helps tell us if we can save the windows and what the level of repairs will be,” Hayward said.

One aspect of the house that Hayward said they are thinking about restoring is the front symmetry, where initially there were just two large windows on either side of the main entry.

Hayward said the house originally opened to a larger hall entryway from the front door, with an elaborate window above the center doorway. At some point, she said, it was narrowed and another room with a window was created on the left, so today there are three windows on that side.

“The symmetry is off in the front, so one of the questions is, would we restore the facade? And that is a debate we are still having,” Hayward said.

The home is steeped in history, and not only because of its age — built around 1784 — or architecture.

The unique story of Jacob and a woman who likely was his slave, Dinah Mason White, give the home added historical significance.

“We always knew the story of Dinah and Jacob that went to the Supreme Court,” Hayward said. “That made for a really valuable story and it puts the house in a different context; national significance.”

According to a history researched by HWI, Jacob, who was educated at Dartmouth College and Yale University, moved to Windsor in the early 1780s, not long after the Vermont Constitution — the first document in the U.S. to outlaw slavery — was signed in 1777, also in Windsor. Jacob held a number of prominent positions at both the state and local level, including Vermont’s first district attorney.

According to records, Jacob purchased White in Charlestown in 1783 and brought her and another “unknown African-American” to his home, likely as slaves. Whether the town was aware of what he was doing is not clear but when Jacob turned White out of his house after she became blind and infirm, the town picked up the expenses for her care and later sued Jacob for those fees.

Jacob was one of three justices when the case went to the Vermont Supreme Court in 1802. He of course had to recuse himself and the other two judges ruled in Jacob’s favor. According to the record, Judge Royall Tyler said that while an owner must take care of his slaves, White could not be viewed as a slave because slavery was outlawed in Vermont. The bill of sale showing Jacob bought White was not allowed to be admitted as evidence because that state’s constitution outlawed slavery, according to the court ruling.

Though he won the case, Jacob’s public service career all but ended. He was not re-elected to the Supreme Court and no longer was involved in state or local politics. He died in 1817 at age 61. White continued living in Windsor and was supported by the town. She died in the early 1800s.

With an estimate to restore the home, Hayward said they have begun “preliminary” discussions with donors and have secured about $200,000 in pledges thus far.

“We have not talked to national foundations yet. That will be the next phase,” she said. “I think the project touches on historic preservation and early childhood education (White cared for Jacob’s children) so that opens up a larger donor pool for us.”

Though nothing has been decided and the discussions are very preliminary, Hayward said she has spoken to the supervisory union about possibly using the renovated space for the school district’s preschool program, ages 3 to 5. The program, which currently has 25 children enrolled, operates out of the State Street School. Vermont has universal, not mandatory, preschool, which means if parents want their child to go, public money has to be made available, said Jan Crow, director of early childhood services for the school district. Crow said she is aware of the conversations about the Jacob house but had not heard any details.

Attempts to reach Superintendent David Baker were unsuccessful.

In the initial preliminary feasibility phase, the main body of the house had a plan for eight classrooms, though some of those would be slated for offices, storage and other uses.

“So we have already looked at (using it for preschool) and that is doable,” Hayward said.

If a preschool becomes the use, there are standards and regulations under the state departments of education and child and family services that have to be met in addition to building codes.

“We would have three to four areas of governmental review, depending upon where the money comes from,” Hayward said. “We would work toward the secretary of interior (historic) preservation standards. Whether it is required, depends on where the money comes from.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.




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