Museums on the Green HVAC System and Restoration of Conant House
Location: 65 Palmer Avenue
Applicant: Falmouth Historical Society
Grants: $28,000 and $201,500
Year/Article: April 2006, A32 and November 2012, A43
In 2006 the Falmouth Historical Society (FHS) applied to and received from the CPFund $28,000 for the design and specifications of a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system to protect two homes that exemplify architecture on the Falmouth Village Green during the 18th century, Conant House at 65 Palmer Avenue and the Francis Wicks House at 55 Palmer Avenue. In 2012, FHS applied again to the CPFund and received $201,500 for support for the restoration of Conant House. The houses hold collections of artifacts and historical documents that reflect crucial components of Falmouth’s heritage and economy. These two houses, the restored Hallett Barn that serves as the Visitor Center, and a conference center make up the Society’s Museums on the Green, which together serve as a meeting place and a research facility.
In 2006, there was no system in place to control temperature or humidity in the houses and they and their historic contents were deteriorating from the extreme dryness of Falmouth winters and the extreme humidity of Falmouth summers. The project to design a temperature and humidity control system for them required a year of systematic monitoring and measuring of temperature and humidity in key areas, analysis of the data, and then preparation of the design and specifications.
The Falmouth Historical Society raised the funds to install the HVAC system once the design and specifications had been determined.
FHS purchased Conant House in 1996, an example of eighteenth century Georgian and early colonial architecture and the oldest residence in the Falmouth Village Historic Disrict. It opened as public museum in 1975 to highlight Falmouth’s maritime past. The house is named for its 20th century owners, but it was constructed by the Congregational Church for the Reverend Josiah Marshall in 1724. In 1730 the minister Samuel Palmer made it his residence and he, his widow, and their descendants lived there for nearly 100 years. In the early 20th century a five-bay street façade was added, two stories high, along with a Victorian porch in order to use the house as an inn for the expanding Cape Cod tourist industry. It was called the Elm Arch Inn. When FHS purchased the house, it removed these additions and returned the house to its 1724 footprint. Today the house holds an exhibit area, offices, and a research center.
By 2012 the house was in dire need of a major renovation and exterior foundation work. The fieldstone walls that made up the cellar needed to be repointed and the wood sills and joists needed reinforcement. The FHS wanted additionally to restore the house to its original design and architecture while maintaining as much of the original woodwork, windows, muntins and other details as possible, using materials more in fashion during the 18th century. Clues to its age were the joinery and nails styles. Windows needed to be replaced to match their original style and the house needed a cedar shingle roof to maintain its historic integrity. It was possible to preserve all the existing flooring, baseboards, wainscot and chair rails, doors, fireplaces, mantles, hearths, stairways, library, and even, as much as possible, the nail work. The earliest sort of cut nails had been used to install the roof.
The project was estimated to require $1.3 million. In addition to the $201,500 from the CPFund, the FHS obtained a $250,000 Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, a $25,000 grant from the Lovell Family Foundation, and a grant from the Cape Cod Foundation’s Falmouth Fund. The remaining funds were provided by donations, fundraisers and additional grants. Restoration work included addressing the serious structural issues as well as restoring the historic architectural components in the interior. The renovation created a fully functional interior for research, archives, exhibition, and administrative use. It consolidated the archives into one climate-controlled vault with space for research. The restoration was completed in 2016.
Founded in 1900, the Falmouth Historical Society is the oldest such organization on Cape Cod, hosting over 10,000 visitors each year and received over 200 research requests in 2015.