Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Durant-Kenrick House: A Blog by Carl M. Cohen August 16, 2011

The Durant-Kenrick House:  A Blog by Carl M. Cohen

It’s been a busy summer at the Durant-Kenrick house.  The Newton Historical Society took formal possession of the house and property in May, and, over time, we have had key meetings with the Newton Historical Commission, the Land Use Committee of the Board of Aldermen, the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities, and the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board.  While more meetings are forthcoming, the net result is that all systems are go for this great project to move ahead according to plan.

For those of you who haven’t been living and breathing this project, here is a brief capsule summary of how we got here: The historic Durant-Kenrick house (circa 1732) and adjacent land at the corner of Waverley Ave. and Kenrick St. have been donated  to the Society through the generosity of the families that have owned the property for generations.  The Society sees this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to preserve this unique historic structure that has a deep connection to both local and national history.  The Society’s goal is to make the house and grounds into a museum/education center highlighting the property’s  history, its agricultural saga (apples, pears and silkworms meet New England winter!), and the lives of the people who lived there.  The plans for the property involve restoration of the historic structure, including handicap access, and the addition of a new attached educational facility, including a classroom.  To take advantage of the beautiful property on which the house sits, we are working with Lucinda Brockway, a well-known historical landscape designer, to develop plans for the outdoor areas. These will likely include such features as historically appropriate plantings and garden areas representative of what might have been found at the house in the 18th and 19th centuries.  
Plans are already underway for incorporating the DK house and grounds and the stories of the people who lived there into the history curriculum of third graders of Newton.  This will include visits to the house and grounds, enabling students to see and experience a place in their community that connects to the founding of our country and illustrates the way life, agriculture, and commerce were carried out in the 18th and 19th centuries.

After working for many months with what we inelegantly call the “Durant-Kenrick Transition Committee” (board members and others who have been overseeing the project) our architects have a nearly complete plan for the new addition to the historic house. Also, the architects and engineers have been examining the historic structure to determine how best to restore it and repair what we hope are minor issues.  Any of you who have ever undertaken the repair or restoration of a house even half as old as this one know that we all have our fingers crossed.

As a neighbor of the DK House (I can see the DK house from my back porch!) I am extraordinarily gratified that the project has arrived at this point.  Six years ago when the NHS first learned that the property might be available, those involved had high hopes, but no idea whether they could make this happen or not.  While our fundraising efforts continue, the project is now well on its way thanks to the overwhelming support of the Newton community, neighbors, state and local funding agencies and many generous donors. 

Finally, in preparation for laying the foundation for the new classroom and walkways, we have been working with a group of archaeologists from the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at UMass Boston to ensure that we will not disturb possible historic artifacts or features in the ground where work is planned.  In June the archaeologists completed their initial survey of the property and have submitted a report to the DK Transition Committee for review.  Next Month: Unexpected and exciting discoveries under 2 feet of earth!

Carl M. Cohen
Vice President
Newton Historical Society

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