Above, state Sen. Stephen Brewer peruses a photograph of the Fitch-Hoose House from the 1890s. Tiles made from a painting found inside the house (one of the last occupants was an artist) were given as gifts to the dignitaries.
DALTON, Mass. — The tiny house on the corner is unprepossessing in its poorly clad green vinyl.
But it hides a deep history of family and freedom that the Dalton Historical Commission hopes to uncover and preserve.
The commission recently got a $180,000 boost in its efforts to restore the Fitch-Hoose House, marked Friday afternoon with a brief ceremony.
"For the amount of money they are giving us, it is a dream really come true for us," said the commission's Gail A. Pinna.
The 168-year-old two-story house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was occupied by the Hoose family, Charles and Ellen and most of their 13 children, for three generations.
A lingering memory of what was once a thriving African-American neighborhood dating from before the Civil War that included freed and escaped slaves, the building was abandoned and taken by the town for back taxes about a decade ago.
The commission was determined to save the structure and create a museum and interpretive stop on the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail. The Fitch-Hoose House was connected to the Underground Railroad and one its occupants, Edward Hoose, served in the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War.
"It was really kind of sad looking but we wanted to do something with it," said Pinna, later adding, "I can't wait to get rid of this ugly green siding."
The grant was from the new "Promoting Community Development and Tourism in Central and Western Massachusetts" program, funded through the Executive Office for Administration & Finance. The Berkshire Scenic Railway also received $200,000 toward its new terminus in North Adams; another $56,210 was awarded to the Franklin County CDC for the Mohawk Trail centennial.
The lead proponent of the grant program, state Sen. Stephen Brewer, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, attended the event to congratulate the town for endeavoring to preserve an importance piece of its history.
The house from an 1890s photograph; below, the building today with the back addition removed.
"They ain't making this stuff anymore. The generations of our historical artifacts is getting lost all of the time," the Barre Democrat said. "I don't know you people but I know the passion that local historians have and thank you for what you did."
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing said the program was specifically for smaller projects that don't grab headlines but "remind us of who we were and who we are as a community."
The program received some $6 million in requests for only $2 million in funding.
Mary Jane Caliento, described as the project's "visionary," passed around a photograph taken in the 1890s she believed was critical to the application, written by Lisa Peltier, being funded. It shows some of the Hooses outside the house, which isn't much different than today.
The back addition, which had a kitchen and bedroom, was taken off several years ago because of its condition. The plan is to remove the vinyl siding and the asbestos siding beneath, rebuild the small addition, fix the foundation and roof, and make the exterior historically accurate.
Pinna said the goal isn't to make the house look new but rather authentic to its 19th-century period.
Also speaking were state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, Select Board Chairwoman Mary Cherry, and Elizabeth Cardona, director of the governer's Springfield office. A number of town officials attended, including selectmen.
"Your children, your children's grandchildren, can look at some of these things and know what we did .. and what those who went before us did really mattered," said Brewer.
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