Ambler farmhouse continues its road to 'redemption'

Less than 20 years since its renovation first began in 1998, Ambler Farm’s white farmhouse will begin the final stages of its physical rebirth over the next two years. By 2015, the first-floor interior of the farmhouse is planned to be completed, allowing it to begin its role as an educational tool for children and adults alike.

The completion of its interior spaces will render the building nearly incomparable to its previous life as a deteriorating relic of the past, said Neil Gluckin, president of the Friends of Ambler Farm, a 501(c)(3) organization tasked with upholding the property’s deed of sale.

Though the completion of exterior renovations in 2013 has done much to improve its footprint on Hurlbutt Street, inside improvements will allow it to become a more well-used community asset, he said.

“The farmhouse had been neglected for many years,” Mr. Gluckin said Monday from Ambler’s carriage barn. “It wasn’t cared for meticulously even when it was inhabited. There was serious [exterior] redemption needed to be done to stop the decay and get us to the point where we no longer need to worry about the building falling down.”

The exterior portion of the renovation, known as Phase One, will now give way to the second phase. Phase One included structural repairs and structural stabilization of the farmhouse, and cost approximately $970,000.

“Now we have a very, very sturdy shell, and don’t have to worry about its safety or security,” Mr. Gluckin said. “The end game is to be able to devote this to safe use by the public. That is a requirement of the deed. As much as we are aligned by that ambition, it is what the deed of sale requires.”

Phase Two, which will begin after town funding is confirmed at the Annual Town Meeting, has been estimated at a total cost of $925,000. This section of the project will include a number of interior fixes, including installation or renovation of:

  • Electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems.
  • Floors.
  • Interior paint.
  • Fire stairs.
  • Walkways and retaining walls.

In essence, said Mr. Gluckin, the intent of the second phase “is to do the same thing for the interior as we’ve done for the exterior.”

This, he and Terry Scarborough, another member of the Friends of Ambler Farm, said, will open up many possibilities for the historic space.

“There are a couple of important uses for the house, and one of them is educational. It will be a very, very powerful extension of a lot of the educational work we do for school-aged children and adults,” Mr. Gluckin said.

For instance, he said, the group has plans to plant a “kitchen garden” outside the house.

“We want to dimensionalize the property,” he said. “Instead of seeing a poster or hearing a lecture, you could actually live, participate, and immerse yourself in growing food out back that you are going to bring in and cook and serve for your family.”

It will prompt questions like, How do you cook on a hearth? Or what kind of stove was used in the past half-century? How did people cook their food?” he said.

Modern interpretation

In addition to basic historical re-enaction, the Ambler Friends president said, the farmhouse has the ability to be a “showcase for very modern interpretation techniques that allow people to participate.”

Though plans for such interpretations have not been completed, Mr. Gluckin said a tech-friendly atmosphere is an idea the Friends are considering.

“Technology today makes it possible for the same space to serve numerous purposes at the same time. We don’t want to have to nail a certain room to a certain year. We are considering the idea that we can use technology that would allow a visitor to chose a time frame [in a given room]. With an iPad or a smartphone they can create an experience that says, ‘Here’s what happened in 1825,’ and if you’re interested in 1925, ‘Here’s what it looked like 100 years ago.’ This is the next frontier for us.

“We’re beginning to open our minds. We’re obliged by the deed to preserve the architectural character of the house, and we have to stick with the floor plan, too. It is important for us to say, ‘This was a bedroom,’ or ‘This was a parlor,’ but then going from there, we have the opportunity to tell a story not only about the Amblers but about the time in which they lived.”

Time frame

The time to full completion of the interior space is still undecided by the Friends of Ambler Farm, though they are working over two ideas on the project.

“We still have some decisions to make about the project,” Mr. Gluckin said. “Do we do it all at once, and open it when it’s all finished? Or do we finish some of it, open it, and come back and do more work.”

Ms. Scarborough said many of these plans are contingent on decisions by the Wilton Planning & Zoning Commission.

“We have to work with P&Z on that,” she said. “Our inclination is to get people into the house sooner rather than later so we can enjoy it, get people excited about it, and get another meeting space.”

Funding

Barring a nay vote during the Annual Town Meeting, the town government will soon pledge its third round of capital funding for the renovation of Ambler Farm as a whole. This would bring the town’s total contribution to just over $1 million.

The first round of funding, approved in 2007, was a $550,000 pledge. The second, approved in 2012, was $250,000, and the next $250,000 would be split over fiscal years 2015 and 2016.

Each round of funding for the farm is given only after the organization tasked with upholding the deed of the property’s last owner, the Friends of Ambler Farm, has raised a matching amount from outside the municipal coffers.

The farmhouse project will cost a total of $1.9 million to complete, showcasing the high costs associated with the renovation of a historic property.