The whole town is searching for the right answer to the Russell House conundrum.
In 1753 the Reverend William Russell, the minister of First Church at that time, had enough personal wealth to have master craftsman Timothy Loomis III build him a relatively grand home at 101 Palisado Avenue. The house stayed in the Russell family until 1953 when it was purchased by First Church and served as the parsonage for three pastors until 1995.
The building is historically significant because of its former occupants and its builder. The craftsmanship used in creating this home makes architects drool, and historians sigh when they think of the history emanating from the walls.
The problem is that the Russell House is 256 years old and is showing its age. Like any of us, it has foundation issues and needs a facelift. According to First Church, pastor Rick Huleatt, the bigger problems beyond the expense of restoring the property are maintaining it and finding a purpose for the building.
“We have no intention of razing or destroying the house” said Huleatt. “We are trying to partner with the Windsor Historical Society to find a solution.”
The first step is to find out what needs to be done to preserve the building. With the help of the Windsor Historical Society (WHS), First Church was able to obtain a grant to hire an architect to look at the building’s sustainability. The architect’s report should be available this fall and will site necessary repairs and review the functionality of the building.
Maintaining antiquities is an expensive practice. Huleatt noted that the first priority for First Church is maintaining their Meeting House. “The Church itself is the most important piece of our campus. It has been our sacred space since 1794,” he said.
The cost of needed paint and windows for te Russell House is estimated to be between $150,000 and $200,000. Over half the funds will come from their small and aging congregation, but fortunately, First Church has received a grant from Connecticut Tourism for $82,000.
The Russell House also has tourism value as part of the entire Windsor Historic District. It would seem a natural fit for it to become part of the WHS collection, but the monetary challenge of the care and feeding of this white elephant on Palisado Green would be difficult to manage for the small budget organization
In January, a builder offered to move the Russell House out of Windsor. While a generous offer, it caused quite a bit of consternation to those who want to keep the historic house in town, if not in place. At a recent meeting, a suggestion was made to move it to another site in Windsor to free up the land for First Church, but even that is uncomfortable for preservationists. Plus the moving costs and new foundation would add $100,000 to the rehabilitation of the structure.
If the building can stay in place, another idea was that the property would be restored and used as rental office space for a non-profit organization. That use of the building would match up with the First Church mission of service to the community. However, the building would also need to be brought up to code to meet ADA and OSHA requirements along with town standards which would impact on some of its historic value.
While the futue of the Historic Distric treasure is far from resolved, hope for its restoration and place in town is present, as expressed by WHS Executive Director Christine Ermenc is the Society's Spring Newsletter.
“Who knows – once word is out, a new idea or partner or white knight may emerge," she wrote. "We will continue to search for partners and funding and facilitate communications.”