Historical society taking next step in museum project

Naugas line the mantle of a fireplace in the Tuttle house in Naugatuck. The Naugatuck Historical Society is in the process of turning the historic home into the Naugatuck History Museum. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

NAUGATUCK — With the first phase of renovations at the Tuttle house complete, the Naugatuck Historical Society is ready for the next step in turning the historic home on Church Street into the Naugatuck History Museum.

The borough, which owns the house at 380 Church St., has been eyeing the building for the historical society since the Naugatuck Board of Education moved its offices from the house to Naugatuck High School in 2015. Work to renovate the house started two years ago and took an unexpected turn in June 2017 when a cupola on the roof caught fire from a spark from a butane torch. The fire damage was limited, but the water damage was extensive.

“The fire was kind of a blessing and a curse for us,” historical society President Christopher Ritton-Stokes said. “We weren’t going to be able to do as much painting and the floor refinishing and everything that needed to be done right away. It delayed us two years, but we got a lot more accomplished with the insurance money than we would have been able to do on our own.”

The restoration work after the fire wrapped up in early June, a couple of weeks before the society’s journey took another turn.

The historical society had been operating its museum out of a storefront at 171 Church St. since May 2016, after the borough sold its former home — the former train station on Water Street. On June 19, the storefront flooded due to an issue on the roof during several days of heavy rain, Ritton-Stokes said.

Ritton-Stokes said the society lost some items, including reproduction prints, postcards and stamps due to water damage. However, many of the society’s artifacts are in storage — at least for the time being.

In the wake of the flooding issue, the society decided to temporary close the museum for the summer and focus on moving into the Tuttle house and establishing exhibits there.

“We’re very excited. There’s definitely new energy since we started to spend more time here,” said Wendy Murphy, a society member and chair of the society’s capital campaign. “The board is reenergized. We’re thrilled.”

Ritton-Stokes said the society is pulling artifacts out of storage and working with Robert Segal, a museum exhibition designer, to plan the museum and exhibits, which will focus on the gilded and industrial age of Naugatuck. The goal, he said, is to have the museum up and running in early September.

The society is running a capital campaign to help raise funds for the museum design and exhibits. Donations can be sent to the society at P.O. Box 317, Naugatuck, CT 06770, or made online through the society’s website, www.naugatuckhistory.org.

Ritton-Stokes said 50% of the money raised from events sponsored by the society, including the historic walking tours run on the second Saturday of the month, will go to the campaign, as well.

“We have to keep the society up and running but we’re really trying to focus most of our fundraising toward the museum,” he said.

As the society turns its attention to designing the museum, there is still some more work to be done to the outside of the building, including masonry work, updating the fire escape and possibly adding a second fire escape to allow the society to use the entire second floor of the house.

The borough is handling this work. The borough awarded a bid for $877,000 for the first phase of the renovations, which is finished and included replacing the roof and updating the interior of the building to comply with fire codes.

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess, who is a member of the society’s board of directors, said the borough plans to apply for a state historic grant, which it has gotten in the past, to complete the exterior work and explore other grants to upgrade the upper floors as a separate project.

“As far as the interior, we’re going to do whatever it takes to find a way to complete the building,” Hess said.