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Step into Stonington history

AMY J. BARRY, Special to the Day

Publication: The Day

Published October 02. 2012 4:00AM
Tim Cook/The Day
Interior of one of the homes that will be open for the Stonington Historical Society's upcoming house tour.

You can count on a house tour of Stonington Borough to be steeped in the rich, lively history of the seaside village and feature dwellings that have been carefully restored by their owners.

Due to the successful 2009 debut of "Behind Stonington's Doors," the Stonington Historical Society, which hosts the fundraiser, has decided to make the walking tour of historic homes a triennial event.

None of the seven homes on the Oct. 6 tour duplicate those on the 2009 tour. Also different is that in addition to 18th- and 19th-century structures, the tour will include two early 20th-century homes.

"I'm an old house nut and wanted to focus on very early houses the first time," says Mollie Burton, tour chair. "But these are noteworthy structures that have a lot of history in the borough that people would be very interested in seeing-and to a lot of people they are old houses."

One is an Italianate-style home overlooking Dodge Paddock, Sandy Point and Long Island Sound. It has been featured in the classic film "Mystic Pizza," as well as two movies starring Merryl Streep: "The Iron Lady" and the new "Hope Springs."

Burton says that the house has beautiful porches, lots of windows that frame breathtaking views, and great details throughout, including the balustrades, moldings and original light fixtures.

"It's solid as a rock," she notes. "It went through the Hurricane of 1938, probably took it right on the nose, and didn't move."

The other "newer" house is a classic example of the Colonial Revival style popular in the first decades of the 20th century. It contains many examples of furniture from 10 of the original 13 colonies, as well as antique decorative art and textiles.

"The owner is a collector with an impeccable eye for detail," Burton says. "He carefully researches what he wants to buy. The choice of wallpaper and stenciling is incredible. It's a lovely house with elegant proportions in all the rooms."

The oldest house on the tour is a c.1750 Colonial gambrel. Several of the rooms have been opened up to make the small space more livable for modern residents.

"The owner taught French literature at Princeton and has a beautiful collection of antiques, mostly French and some English," Burton says. "Her things all work so well in there. She has a baby grand piano that fills up the whole second room, a nicely done kitchen and dining room/library with a whole wall of books. There's also a beautiful Savannah (style) pocket garden."

The tour features three Greek Revival style homes. The most formal one was built for entertaining in the grand style of a wealthy Stonington merchant. Burton points out that the house is very unusual in Stonington because it's set back from the road. It was moved early in its life, most likely to take advantage of the views out the back of little Narragansett Bay and Watch Hill, she surmises, adding, "It's absolutely spectacular."

A more modest example of a Greek Revival has two adjoining parlors, front and back, with a classic front stairway.

"It's had some renovations that were very well done, and it has a lovely feel to it," Burton says. "The owner is English and quite a good collector-there are some very beautiful English antiques in the home."

The third Greek Revival, in Burton's opinion, is particularly noteworthy for its updated kitchen that utilizes the best of the new without sacrificing the character of the original.

"I was a kitchen designer in another time of my life, and I'm sympathetic to people who haven't ruined a house by putting in a kitchen inappropriate to the period," she says. "It's functional but appropriate to the house. They didn't put in granite countertops-they did wood. They kept it really low key, not splashy."

Last but not least on the tour is a Federal style home built in the late 1700s that has been in the same family for many generations and is filled with artwork done by the owner's ancestors.

"It's on the only hill left in the borough," Burton points out. "It's been used for many years as a summer house and you can tell that there's a wonderful family life in this house-a place kids and grandkids come and have dinners around a big table in the dining room."

New to this year's event are privately guided 90-minute tours of three additional locations led by local architect Mark Comeau on Oct. 5 between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

A preview party also is slated for Oct. 5 at 6 p.m. at one of Stonington's most elegant homes on Wadawanuck Square.

"It's an original 1890s Italianate house that's remained in the same family since it was built," Burton says. "It's very large with 13- or 14-foot-high ceilings-just extraordinary."

Proceeds from the house tour benefit Stonington Historical Society's educational and community outreach programs and preservation of its properties including the Captain Palmer House, Woolworth Library, and Old Lighthouse Museum.

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IF YOU GO

“Behind Stonington Doors” will be held Saturday, Oct. 6, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $30 (up to Oct. 5 at noon), $35 day of tour. Private guided tours on Oct. 5 are $50; reservations required. Tickets to preview party on Oct. 5 begin at $75.
Tickets to all events are available online at www.stoningtonhistory.org, by
calling (860) 535-8445 or at the Old Lighthouse Museum, Captain Nathaniel Palmer House (both included on tour), Tom's News and Dime Bank
in Stonington Borough.
Tours are self-guided with a tour booklet to be distributed same day in Stonington Borough's Wadawanuck Square.

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