Future of Tuttle House coming into focus

Naugatuck Historical Society President Ken Hanks discusses the ongoing project to restore the Tuttle House at the historic building in Naugatuck earlier this month. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Although the floors still have to be replaced and there is damage to some of the walls, the ceilings of the historic Tuttle House on Church Street offer a glimpse of the building’s future.

In the room that used to serve as the Naugatuck Board of Education’s meeting room, the ceiling is a pale cornflower blue. Across the hall, in the room that served as the superintendent’s office, the ceiling has been painted a bright light pink.

Naugatuck Historical Society President Ken Hanks said the historical society wanted to match colors of the Victorian era, since the house was built in 1880.

“We don’t know what the original colors were in the Tuttle House. But we wanted to match that era. There are no color photographs of 1880s homes, but there are descriptions of the colors,” Hanks said. “There was not a lot of lighting back then, so they had bright colors.”

Picking out the right colors for the ceiling was far from the minds of historical society members just over a year ago after a fire started in a cupola on the roof when a worker was using a butane torch to solder a joint for a rain gutter.

The fire, which happened in June 2017, only damaged a portion of the roof, but the building suffered significant water damage from the effort to put out the fire.

“Eleven of the 26 rooms had water damage. That included cracked plaster ceiling, cracked plaster walls and warped flooring. They had to go through and dehumidify all of the water out of it,” Hanks said.

Since then, contractors have been hard at work restoring the building, Hanks said.

The borough-owned building, which served as the Board of Education offices until two years ago, is ultimately slated to house and be a museum space for the Naugatuck Historical Society. The Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation is also expected to have its office in the house.

Renovations to the house started in 2017, and the original plan had the building open to the public by now.

While the fire and water damage set the opening of the museum back a year, it also opened doors for the historical society, Hanks said.

The borough received about $80,000 from the insurance claim for the fire damage and about $530,000 so far for the water damage, Hanks said. The insurance claim for the water damage is still open, he said.

This allowed the borough to redo the walls and floors of the building, which was something that would have had to be done anyway, Hanks said. It also allowed the borough and historical society to take its time and ensure the building is completely ready for the historical society to move in.

“We don’t need to be open in six months. I would rather take the year to do it right than to rush in in six months and miss something. We have been waiting years. Another year is not going to kill us,” Hanks said.

The restoration work is expected to be completed by October, Hanks said. Once it’s complete, the historical society can begin moving its exhibits, which are stored at the Naugatuck Event Center, into the building.

Hanks said members will work to unpack and set up exhibits over the winter, and he expects to have the museum open by May.

There isn’t a set plan, yet, on what exhibits will be set up when the museum first opens, Hanks said.

The ceiling of this room in the Tuttle House, which used to serve as the Board of Education’s meeting room, was recently painted blue as part of the restoration of the historic building in Naugatuck. –LUKE MARSHALL

The historical society recently received a $20,000 grant from Connecticut Humanities to plan and design “Town of Dreamers, City of Invention: Naugatuck’s Rise to Industrial Greatness, 1840 to 1920,” as a permanent featured exhibit at the Tuttle House. The exhibit will cover several topics, including the Tuttle family, Naugatuck inventions, and the Tuttle House itself.

Hanks said he would like to ultimately have exhibits on the Whittemore and Tuttle families, the Flood of 1955, and the role of immigrants in Naugatuck.

“There are definitive waves of Irish, Italian, Polish and Portuguese who all came here and all worked in the factories and helped make Naugatuck what it is. The Whittemore and Tuttles had the money, but the backbone of the community was the immigrants. That’s part of our story,” Hanks said.

When the museum opens, it will be confined to the first floor of the building, at least at first. Hanks said the historical society would like to use the second floor of the building, but it may require building another staircase to meet fire safety regulations. In the meantime, the museum can expand outside its walls and use the property surrounding the building, he said.

“We found that the Tuttles did a clambake on that property in the 1890s. We have the menu for Lobster Newberg for 300 people. Now, I’m not saying we are going to do Lobster Newberg, but we want to try to recreate that as a community event,” Hanks said.

Hanks said the historical society is working to restore and showcase the Tuttle House because the borough has lost a number of historic buildings.

The Whittemore house, which was where Liberty Bank now sits at 333 Church St., burned to the ground in 1972. The borough’s former Town Hall was demolished in the 1970s, and Building 25, the former hub of the U.S. Rubber Co., was demolished in 2014.

“We lost that building,” Hanks said of the Whittemore house. “We are not losing this one.”