By Suzanne Thompson
Publication: The Day
Just in time for holiday decorating inspiration, not to mention historical insights, a handful of landmark residences in Old Lyme are open tomorrow for the Homes for the Holidays house tour.
The biennial event supports the Old Lyme Children's Learning Center, a community institution of daycare and after-school programs for families with children from infants and toddlers to those in the elementary grades.
The house tour generates a significant part of the financial support for the center, which was established in 1987 and shaped by the vision of Mrs. Connie Pike, a generous donor and supporter of community efforts to help families and children, who died in 2009.
The center also will donate a portion of its proceeds to Caroline's Miracle Foundation, launched by Caroline O'Brien, an 11-year-old from Old Lyme who died in July 2010 of Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, an inoperable brain tumor. Caroline, who started the foundation to help other families affected by the diagnosis, had attended the children's center.
"Caroline's mission is very similar to ours: working for the best of children," said Alison Zanardi, center director, "and it fits with Connie Pike's vision for helping children.Everything we do here is in Connie's spirit and in honor of what she has done for the center. Children meant so much to her."
This is the non-profit's second tour of homes and its largest single fundraiser, aside from its annual spring campaign. The center depends on a combination of tuition, donations of longtime donors and community organizations in Lyme and Old Lyme.
The tour, which starts with refreshments at the center at 57 Lyme St. and includes five personal residences plus the Old Lyme Inn, gives rare glimpses into buildings that have served multiple purposes in the town over the years. Each of the stops could fill its own book of architectural history and photos.
The house at 54 Lyme Street has been a 15-year labor of love by the current owners, who have completed a museum quality restoration of the three-quarter cape from the ground up after sparing the dilapidated structure from bulldozers. Although historical records show Justin Smith built the house in 1710, they discovered that many of the rafters had come from another building. That timber is more than 300 years old.
The first floor walls had to be replaced and updated electrical, heating and plumbing added for what originally was heated by two large fireplaces, also used for cooking. To keep the historical sensibility of the house, the walls were reconstructed with the original bows and sways. Visitors can now appreciate the beams, wood panels and gunstock posts that had been hidden for years by plaster, plus replicas of the original molding and interior "Indian Shutters" crafted by the owners. The house is decorated by the owners, as well.
Also on the tour is the Mason's Lodge, a former town hall and, as some residents still remember, the town post office in the 1920s, at 20 Lyme St. Although the exterior has remained almost exactly as it was built, the derelict condition of the interior called for a complete gutting when the house was purchased in 2011 to be converted to a private home. The architect and owner have worked to honor the history of the building. Visitors will admire the large open room on the first floor, exposed beams and an original set of French doors and the holiday décor.
Anyone with an interest in politics - and music - won't want to miss the Hiram G. Marvin House, circa 1824, which is now the year-round home of former Senator and Governor Lowell Weicker, his wife Claudia and their dogs Cricket and Stoney. The front room includes Weicker's collection of autographs and photos of musical legends, from John Philip Sousa to Luciano Pavarotti, taken when he performed in Hartford, to "Jaws" author Peter Benchley and John Williams, who composed the foreboding movie score, as well as mementos from the family's Washington, D.C., years.
Although the kitchen has been newly remodeled, the dining room is still mostly lit by candles. The property's gardens have undergone a major pruning, which Claudia Weicker says makes the bricked side terrace reminiscent of historic homes in Alexandria, Va.
The tour also includes the Will Howe Foote House, or "Cedarfields," on Sill Lane, built in 1907 or so, and a Georgian Federal style house on Ferry Road, built in 1986, which incorporates a traditional elements of rich wood molding with a contemporary floor plan.
A fitting conclusion to the day is a stop at the Old Lyme Inn to see the newest chapter in this historic home, savor more local history and libations and listen to the Lyme-Old Lyme High School Select Singers. Owners Chris and Ken Kitchings reopened the inn this spring after major renovations to what started as the Champlain family estate, constructed around 1865. The Connecticut Turnpike's arrival in the 1950s put an end to the 300-acre working farm, which also had been a favorite study for Old Lyme's impressionist painters, the building became the Barbizon Oak Inn and eventually the Old Lyme Inn.