Work underway at Tuttle house

Scaffolding surrounds the Tuttle house in Naugatuck on April 19 as workers replace the slate roof. –LARAINE WESCHLER/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — The Tuttle house sandwiched between Meadow Street and Church Street is encased in $60,000 worth of scaffolding, an outward sign of the transformation taking place in the historic building.

As the weather warmed up the past few weeks, workers from A. Seondino & Son Inc. have been scrambling across the roof, replacing the nearly 140-year-old slate with black slate from Spain. Once complete, the roof should be good for another 100 years, according to Naugatuck Historical Society President Ken Hanks.

The historical society and Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation hope to move into the building, the former home of the Board of Education offices, this fall. The school offices moved into the renovated Naugatuck High School. The historical society and NEDC were booted out of their former offices in the old train station on Water Street when the borough sold the building to a restaurateur. The historical society has a temporary storefront museum on Meadow Street and the NEDC has temporary offices on the second floor of the Ion Community Building next to the YMCA.

A new fire sprinkler system has already been installed and the plaster patched up where years of a leaking roof damaged it, Hanks said.

Because the building, originally built as a residence in 1880, does not comply with modern fire codes for a place of assembly, the historical society will not be able to use the second floor until phase two of the project, which is still several years away. Hanks, Naugatuck’s former fire chief, said the historical society will need to build a second exit off the second floor on the Church Street side and update a fire escape on Meadow Street.

He said he will apply for a modification of the state fire code to allow storage on the second floor in the meantime.

“This is a problem that should’ve been fixed a long time ago,” Hanks said.

The Tuttle family deeded the home to the borough in 1936 for educational purposes. It was used for classrooms throughout the years and in the early 1960s after a fire at Hillside School. The Board of Education moved there in the 1950s, Hanks said, before modern fire codes.

Once the $900,000 first phase is complete in the beginning of July, the historical society will seek grant money to complete the second phase.

Although the space on the first floor will be smaller than the society’s museum on Water Street, once the second floor is opened up, it will be larger, Hanks said.

Unlike similar groups in other towns, Hanks said Naugatuck’s historical society and economic development corporation work well together.

“We miss our historical society friends,” NEDC President and CEO Ronald Pugliese said.

The new museum will not be a house museum dedicated solely to Naugatuck’s prominent families of yesteryear, but rather contain exhibits on the lives of everyday people and the industrial companies that formed the borough in the 1800s, Hanks said.

“They’re an important part of our history,” Hanks said, referring to the Tuttles and Whittemores, two philanthropists and partners who led Naugatuck industry in the late 1800s, “but there’s so much more history in this town, we’re trying to show it all off.”

He said the museum will have exhibits on rubber giant Charles Goodyear, Risdon Manufacturing and The Foundry and a rotating photo exhibit.

Other local groups will be allowed to use the building for meeting space. The Naugatuck Senior Center plans to use it for its blood pressure screenings and tax help, Hanks said.

While many people in town are still angry that the borough tore down the old town hall in 1965 and Building 25 a few years ago, the borough has in the Tuttle house a chance to preserve it for future generations, Hanks said.

“We’re pretty excited about this. The Tuttle house is one of the treasures of Naugatuck,” Hanks said.