Lyme Academy expects historic building to fill new role on campus

Old Lyme - The Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts is in the midst of renovating the Sill House, a historic building featuring gallery rooms, offices and meeting spaces.

The Lyme Street building is getting a fresh coat of Tyler gray paint and repaired windows and moldings. The exterior work is the first step in the arts college's multi-year project to upgrade the entire 19th-century building.

The renovations will offer a more sophisticated gallery space to Lyme Academy's approximately 80 college students and encourage residents and visitors to participate in events, administrators hope.

"We're part of the community, and we want the community to enjoy it as much as we do," said Fritz Jellinghaus, the college's vice president of development.

Sill House history

Three iconic buildings in the town's village area - the Florence Griswold Museum, The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme and the Sill House - bear the design of architect Samuel Belcher, said Jellinghaus.

The architect designed the house in 1817 for John Sill, who went to jail the same year for allegedly smuggling silks and other rich textiles. Several owners followed, including William Noyes Jr. and later Judge Charles Johnson McCurdy, according to a college news release.

The arts college bought the Sill House in 1983. Today, it houses gallery rooms for students' artwork, the academic dean's office, a faculty meeting space, archives and original sculptures by the college's founder, Elisabeth Gordon Chandler. The nearly 200-year-old building stands next door to the centrally located Chandler Building, which was built in 2003.

The Sill House had gone 31 years without repairs. Board of Trustees members and administrators decided to upgrade the house, along with other campus buildings, as part of the college's strategic plan. A spruced-up campus has the potential to attract more visitors, increase enrollment and boost fundraising, administrators say.

The renovated Sill House will give the community a new venue for programs and events, Jellinghaus said. "We want to promote our galleries as public amenities."

Elyssa Drainville, a junior majoring in illustration, said she enjoys spending time and attending the annual holiday show in the house with notable architecture and a winding staircase.

"Restoration is key - it's such a beautiful building" she said.

The college is continuing to fundraise for the project, which Jellinghaus called a true public-private partnership. Grants from the state and the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, help from the town of Old Lyme and fundraising have provided support. The Benjamin Moore company donated the paint.

Robert Gillespie, project manager for Martinez Painting, the company handling the exterior renovations, said construction workers have been carefully sanding and painting the house's wooden exterior and replacing moldings. They are specially ordering certain items, such as windowpanes, he said.

Plans include renovating the building's exterior staircases, foundation, basement and interior.

A sense of campus

In addition to upgrading the Sill House, the college, which also offers pre-college and adult enrichment courses, provided on-campus housing for the first time this academic year. The dormitories, townhouses called Southwick Commons, house 17 students.

Olwen Logan, the college's marketing and public relations director, said the dormitories expand the college's enrollment potential by opening it up to students or their parents who may have rejected it because it did not offer housing. It also further opens up enrollment nationally and internationally, she said. The housing offers a sense of security and safety, she said.

"The housing creates a true campus feeling and community, which was previously absent," she wrote. "When students live together, they frequently create lifelong friendships and also learn to live and work cooperatively."


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