Farmington's historic Wadsworth House gets extreme makeover. 'It's a brand new house.' – Hartford Courant
The house at 107 Main St. in Farmington had been in the Wadsworth family for 11 generations until it was sold in 2020. Real estate investor Tim Brophy bought the property and pursued a dramatic renovation to the interior but kept the same appearance from the street. A Wadsworth was a member of Thomas Hooker’s band of settlers that founded Hartford, and it was his son, John, who built the farmhouse around 1680. (Douglas Hook)
FARMINGTON — From the street, the Victorian farmhouse at 107 Main St. in Farmington looks much the way it has for generations, the home where the Wadsworths — a branch of one of the Connecticut’s most well-known founding families — lived for 350 years.
But stepping inside two years after the Wadsworths sold the property, there’s no mistaking a $400,000 renovation has pulled the house into the 21st century. There’s an open floor plan and a kitchen with stainless steel appliances, looking so much like new construction that it even smells like a new house.
“It wasn’t the original intent to do the extent that we did,” Tim Brophy, a real estate investor who renovates homes and commercial properties said, during a recent tour of the house. “It was in a lot worse shape than I had anticipated.”
Real estate investor Tim Brophy paid $160,000 for the property and spent roughly $400,000 on renovations. Brophy is shown here at the rear entrance to the house. (Douglas Hook / Hartford Courant) (Douglas Hook)
Few traces of the centuries that passed before the renovation remain in the interior. The makeover highlights the dilemma over what to do with homes with historic pedigrees like the Wadsworth House in a state with housing that can date back centuries.
All can’t be museums or even part of historic districts raising a delicate balance of preservation with making them attractive to new buyers with the amenities of modern living.
The family room and kitchen in the Wadsworth House in Farmington as it appeared in late 2019, prior to a major renovation that dramatically changed the inside of the house. (Courant file photo) (Brad Horrigan / Hartford Courant)
The Wadsworths made the painful decision to sell when no one in the family wanted to take over the property. They explored other options such as turning it into an Airbnb or a rental, but nothing panned out.
The house, on the edge of the campus of Miss Porter’s School, isn’t part of the area’s local historic district. And even if it were, there would be little, if any, say about changes inside the house.
The family room and kitchen in the Wadsworth House in Farmington after an extreme renovation. The area has been opened with the wall removed, creating the kind of space buyers are now seeking, said Tim Brophy, a real estate investor who renovated the house. (Douglas Hook)
Jay Bombara, president of the Farmington Historical Society, said the preservation of the streetscape, including the house’s Victorian facade, was a big plus. And even with such major changes inside, the structure will remain what it always was: a house.
“We’re not going to preserve if we are not going to allow people to make modern spaces that fit the needs of contemporary people and the way they want to live,” Bombara said.
Brophy had renovated other old houses — including one built in 1770 in Roxbury — but the Wadsworth House was nearly a century older, one part thought to date to 1680.
When Brophy began digging into the renovation, he said he discovered more and more rotted and insect damaged wood, some of it holding up the house.
“Little by little, you start ripping out things and you uncover stuff and you say, ‘Oh my God, look at this,’” Brophy said.
A view of the gutted interior during renovations to the Wadsworth House in Farmington. (Photo Courtesy of Tim Brophy)
There was so much decay — Brophy said it was amazing that the house had been occupied until just a couple of years ago — that he decided to tear out the entire guts of the house — walls, ceilings and all.
One deciding factor was an ancient, 30-foot white chestnut beam in the basement, sagging so badly that doors above it wouldn’t close.
“To try and work around that, I don’t like to jury-rig stuff,” Brophy said. “If you’re going to do it, do it right.”
The foundation and supports have been shored up, but where possible, some of the original fieldstone was preserved.
One of two bedrooms at 107 Main St. in Farmington that featured a barrel ceiling and plank flooring as it appeared in late 2019 before a $400,000 renovation. (Courant file photo) (Brad Horrigan / Hartford Courant)
Brophy said he knows there might be criticism from people who would argue, for example, that the original, 8-to-10-inch plank floorboards should have gone back into the house.
“In order to do that, it would have been next to impossible because you don’t want to put all this time and energy into a house — and money — and then have the floors still be crooked,” Brophy said. “When you do a house like this, you have to look at structural integrity.”
The house now has 5-inch oak floor boards, wider than the standard, 2-1/4-inch boards now used in building new homes, Brophy said.
After the renovation, the bedroom retains the barrel ceiling but has been turned into a master bedroom with a bathroom, a walk-in closet and new flooring. (Douglas Hook)
On the second floor, six bedrooms morphed into five, making more space for closets, a washer and dryer and a bathroom in the master bedroom.
When Brophy bought the house, he said he would honor the legacy of the Wadsworth family. Two years later, Brophy said he believes he has done that. He also says it would have been cheaper just to tear down the house and build new.
“I didn’t think that was the right thing to do, so I tried to honor it by keeping the shell the same,” Brophy said. “I didn’t do any additions. I think I improved what was there. With the inside, I really didn’t have any other choice.”
Brophy’s renovations are dramatic, even stunning, to those who knew the house before, but they are hardly the first.
The oldest part of the house — a rear ell — may have been the site of an earlier, perhaps, thatched roof house.
[ Historic Wadsworth farmhouse will pass out of family after 11 generations but buyer has plans for renovations ]
In the early 1700s, the house appears to have been fortified with brick and was designated as one of the six “sanctuary” homes in town amid fears of raids by indigenous people.
Just as the American Revolution was ending, four rooms were added to the front of the house, including a spacious dining room that could have doubled as a “laying out” room when someone died.
In the 1860s, the facade of the house took on the Victorian flourishes it has today, with the addition of an ornamental bow window, floor-to-ceiling windows and a wrap-around porch and balustrade.
Wood from the Wadsworth House in Farmington is piled up in a barn, shown here with current owner Tim Brophy standing by the door, and in a shed nearby. Brophy said he replaced the old and often rotten beams to make the structure more sound. (Douglas Hook)
The house also survived calamities. In 1926, a kitchen fire nearly destroyed the entire structure, forcing new construction at the rear of the house.
“All these houses, and I don’t care which house you pick that is considered historic, have had changes over the years,” Bombara, the historical society president, said. “They’re organic. They are not living things, but they certainly grow and change organically. You need to keep that in mind above all else.”
Even though the Wadsworth family no longer has a say in the house’s future, the emotional ties still remain strong.
The Wadsworth name runs wide and deep in Connecticut. The son of the original builder of the Farmington house, as the legend goes, was responsible for stuffing the Connecticut colony’s charter in Hartford’s Charter Oak in a dispute with the British monarchy.
Brophy opened up the house to the family as the two years of renovations unfolded, stretched out, in part, by the pandemic and the supply-chain troubles that ensued.
John R. Wadsworth at an auction in the fall of 2019 that failed to produce a sale. The house was later sold to Tim Brophy, who has since renovated the house’s interior. (Courant file photo) (Michael McAndrews/Hartford Courant)
He’s offered the family wood from the old house, perhaps to make a piece of furniture. The old front door went to a Wadsworth cousin who is incorporating it into her house.
“There was a lot of emotion with the ownership,” Brophy said. “I don’t know if they all agree with what I’ve done, but you have to do it proper. You can’t keep something just ‘because.’ It has to look right.”
The Wadsworths praise Brophy for access to the house and that he’s kept the look from the street, improved by new siding and a new porch that closely resembles the old one.
[ ‘It’s sad, very, very sad:’ After 350 years in the family, Farmington’s Wadsworths auctioning off historic farmhouse ]
“But as I wrote to Tim after my last visit, it’s really quite shocking or whatever to walk into that house when you have memories of what it was,” John Wadsworth, 69, who grew up in the house,” said. “And even with its sloped floors, door angles that aren’t square, the physical, the deferred maintenance, the basement, but it had a lot of character and it’s what we grew up with.”
Wadsworth, who relocated to upstate New York decades ago and is now retired, said, “it’s basically a new house.”
When Wadsworth’s mother, Lois Reeve Wadsworth, the last occupant at 107 Main, died in 2020 at 92, many family members went for a tour of the house after the burial service. He remembers his niece Annie’s reaction.
Sections of the original front wraparound porch at the Wadsworth House in Farmington. The porch was replaced with one that closely resembles the original. (Douglas Hook)
“Annie walked in the house, and she had to turn around and walk out of the house,” Wadsworth said, the memory catching a bit in his throat. “She had to walk away. She was crying.”
Brophy said the house could be rented or leased with an option to buy, or he could decide to live in it himself. He also needs to figure out what to do with a barn and shed on the property.
“It was a great place with character for our family for hundreds of years,” Wadsworth said. “It’s a beautiful house, whoever buys it. Whatever you do with it, it will acquire a new character. Everything is square and solid. And it’s still standing.”
Kenneth R. Gosselin can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2022, Hartford Courant
Copyright © 2022, Hartford Courant