Campaign focuses on turning Tuttle House into museum

From left, historical interior consultant Marylou Davis, Naugatuck Historical Society member Bridget Mariano, guest curator Rachel Carley and Naugatuck Historical Society President Christopher Ritton-Stokes look over options of different stain colors for the floor at the Tuttle House on Dec. 12. The historical society kicked off its capital campaign this month with the intention of using the money to help bring the Tuttle House online as a museum. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck Historical Society is planning to kidnap people for ransom. All for a good cause, of course.

The fake kidnappings, which will be coordinated with the intended “victims,” are part of a series of events planned this year to support the historical society’s annual capital campaign.

The campaign’s goal for 2019 is to raise $150,000, Naugatuck Historical Society President Christopher Ritton-Stokes said. The money raised will go toward transforming the Tuttle House at 380 Church St. into a museum and the society’s home, he said. The work includes continuing to refurbish the house, bringing in artifacts and designing exhibits, he said.

Built in 1880, the 7,500-square-foot brick and brownstone Queen Anne-style house was the home of businessman Bronson Tuttle, who owned Naugatuck Malleable Iron along with John Howard Whittemore.

Most recently, the house served as the Naugatuck Board of Education offices until 2015 when the board moved its offices to Naugatuck High School. The borough has been renovating the home to use it for the Naugatuck Historical Society and an office for the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation.

Ritton-Stokes said the kidnapping event, which does not have a set date yet, will let people see what is going on with the house, if they come to pay the “ransom” in person.

“They will be able to come to the Tuttle House and donate in person, so it will be like ‘I am playing the game, but I get a sneak peak of what is going on in the house,’” Ritton-Stokes said.

As part of the campaign, the society is also planning an adopt an artifact program. The program allows people to “adopt” items in the society’s collection by paying for the conservation and restoration of the artifact, Ritton-Stokes said.

For example, Ritton-Stokes said, the society has a painting of the Tuttle House that was donated by a descendant of the Tuttle family. The painting needs to be restored and the frame needs to be repaired, he said. If someone adopts the painting, there will be a tag next to it when it’s displayed to show who paid for the restoration, he said.

“It’s a chance to get people involved on a personal level. If you’re a chef you can conserve a piece of cookware, if you are an artist you can conserve a piece of art. It really makes it personal for people,” Ritton-Stokes said.

In addition, the society is also preparing for its annual Savor CT event, a food and wine tasting planned for Feb. 9.

Ritton-Stokes said the campaign is about more than raising money, though. He wants to make sure that people see the historical society is active in the community.

“We wanted to focus on showing people what we do. That has been a big focus of the last couple months,” Ritton-Stokes said. “We want to show people we are doing stuff and we are not just some dusty, old little historical society.”

The renovation of the Tuttle House hit a significant snag in June 2017 when 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 only damaged a portion of the roof, but the building suffered significant water damage.

The majority of the building and woodwork was able to be saved, which was a relief to Ritton-Stokes.

“We are trying to keep it as original as possible because if it’s just a museum about Naugatuck, we have a very limited reach. It will definitely be a museum about Naugatuck, but we are trying to also think statewide and globally. We want to really focus on the house because it is our biggest and best artifact,” Ritton-Stokes said.

Naugatuck Historical Society President Christopher Ritton-Stokes looks over a room in the Tuttle House on Dec. 12. –LUKE MARSHALL

Ritton-Stokes said the plan for the house includes recreating Bronson Tuttle’s personal study as close as possible to how it was when Tuttle lived at the home.

Rachel Carley, a historic preservation consultant and a descendant of the Tuttle family, said Bronson Tuttle was a big proponent of education and left the house to the borough with the express purpose that it be used for educational purposes.

“I am very pleased that the society is finding its home here at last,” Carley said. “The house was lived in until the late 1920s and given to town in 1933 and was always meant to be used for educational purposes. So this is really where the society belongs.”

Ritton-Stokes, who became president of the society on Jan. 1, said he wanted to take the position and the Tuttle House project on because he is passionate about restoring old houses. He said he has restored his house in Naugatuck, which was originally owned by an employee of Bronson Tuttle.

“I am not a contractor, but I have been through this enough where this is my wheelhouse. This is something I am passionate about. I love old houses. I love the history of Naugatuck,” Ritton-Stokes said. “In the truest sense I am an old house nerd. This doesn’t seem like work to me. This is fun.”

Ritton-Stokes said he also wants to make sure the house is preserved for future generations.

“It is a great feeling when you can bring a house back. And to be able to do that for the community and make it a better community for my daughter and other people’s kids, that’s where my passion is,” Ritton-Stokes said.