BRISTOL - The Bristol Historical Society, closed since January for renovations, expects to reopen to the public in late April.
The sturcture was built in 1891 as the city’s first high school, maintaining that use until the 1920s when the school on Memorial Boulevard opened, said Jeannette O’Keefe, chairwoman of the historical society’s renovations committee.
The boulevard school served as the high school for a brief period until the city’s demographics changed and it didn’t have the capacity for all of the students, O’Keefe said. In response, the historical society building became a school for only freshmen until the 1960s, she said.
After, the building, owned by the city, was used for a variety of purposes, including as a court, a senior citizen center and the Bristol Community Organization, she said. Finally, in 2002, the historical society purchased the building from the city, O’Keefe explained.
It is now Bristol’s oldest building open to the public, and with that rich, long history, she said the renovations committee is committed to preserving it.
“We are trying to keep what we can of the past. That is why we’re keeping some of the original design,” O’Keefe said. “We personified the building. It will be like the lady on the hill, dressed up in her best gown. It will be such a dramatic change.”
“The renovations are Victorian-inspired. We want it fresh and young for the younger people coming in,” O’Keefe continued.
“But we are saving a section of the main event room as it was for people to remember the past.”
The renovations, which are being performed by local craftsman, encompass the Center Street hallway, the gallery, the Summer Street entrance or carriage room, and the meeting or main event room. They include new lighting, electrical, fans, paint and carpeting in all four rooms, O’Keefe said.
In the main event room, a replica of a gas light chandelier, a coffered ceiling and crown molding will be installed, O’Keefe said. The design will mimic the original design, she added.
The windows in that room used to have pink, vertical blinds, O’Keefe pointed out. Those will now have double shades, one for darkening and the other will be translucent, she said.
“That will increase its possible usage,” she said, explaining that the historical society looks to rent out the space for parties, conferences and celebrations.
The stained glass windows in the carriage room have also been “brought back to life” and three doors in the event room and two others into the carriage room will be stripped and brought back to their original Oak look.
The renovations were funded through donations by local companies and foundations, O’Keefe said.
“It was through the support of the community that we did this,” she said. “The historical society is made up of all volunteers, so the work is all through our volunteer workers.”
Planning for the work began at the beginning of 2017 when the renovations committee began to identify the scope of work necessary and how to fund it.
Lorenzo Burgio can be reached at 860-801-5088 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org