Historic Waterford home now protected from lightning
Waterford ― Thanks to resident Jim Barnard, the 19th-century era Beebe-Phillips House is once again protected from lightning strikes.
One day this past summer, Barnard took his 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood named “Large Marge” out for a drive and stopped by the Jordan Green on the corner of Avery Lane and Rope Ferry Road. As the owner of Northeast Lightning Protection LLC in Bloomfield, Barnard said he has a habit of staring at roof lines and began looking at the Beebe-Phillips House.
That’s when he noticed the lightning protection system on the home was in need of repair.
So, he contacted the Waterford Historical Society and offered his time and expertise at no charge to the town. Barnard is one of two experts in the state in the field of lightning rod installation and has done this work at historic properties throughout Connecticut. He estimated the repairs would normally cost about $2,500.
“Something so original, in such good condition, there’s not a lot of them in existence,” Barnard said of the house. “So I kinda focus on something like this. It’s irreplaceable.”
“You can feel the history inside,” he added. “To protect that, I think it’s everyone’s responsibility.”
After a windstorm damaged the roof a few years back, the Beebe-Phillips house had its roof repaired in 2021. It’s believed that’s when the lightning rods were displaced.
Barnard, with the help of LPI Certified Master Installer Mike Maser, who has been with Northeast Lightning Protection for 22 years, repaired the failing lightning protection system. In order to return the system to its original design, they had to replace one of the four lightning rods, or terminals, in the system as well as a glass ball attached to one of the rods, relocate a downed cable and refasten all the cables to the house.
Commonly referred to as lightning rods, the lightning protection system prevents lightning from directly striking a house and rather attracts it to a rod or rods that direct the electricity through a cable and into the ground.
To ensure that the repairs were historically accurate, Barnard found a terminal that was an exact match to the four that were used on the Beebe-Phillips house. He said he was doing work at Miss Porters School in Farmington and found the terminal on a building that was built in the 1700s.
Barnard said the repairs will allow for the building to be protected from 94% of lightning strikes, compared to the 50% before the work. Waterford Historical Society President Kristen Widham said she appreciated Barnard’s attention to historical details.
“We want to make sure we’re not posturing, but actually showing things as they were back in a certain period of time,” Widham said.
“That’s why we’re very happy that this man donated his time and expertise and materials to restore the lightning protection system here that’s going to be authentic,” she added.
The Beebe-Phillips House was originally built in 1838 at 284 Boston Post Road. It was left to a widow of a whaler, named Lydia Beebe, until it was briefly owned by a man named Amos Chapel. It was then sold to the Phillips family who held onto it until Lydia Phillips’ death in 1969. Her only surviving son, George, who was the town’s building inspector at the time, donated the house to the historical society shortly after his mother’s death. It was moved to its current location in 1974 and dedicated in 1978.
Widham explained that the historical society and its 100 or so members are “entrusted with some buildings here that are on town property,” such as the Beebe-Phillips house, the, the Jordan Schoolhouse, the Stacy Barn, the society’s education center and a blacksmith shop. The town retains ownership of the Jordan Park House, which is also located at Jordan Green.
She said that the historical society, in its 55-year history, has an obligation to maintain the buildings and use them to educate the public about the town’s history and develop a “sense of place” in the world.
That’s why Widham said the society puts such an emphasis on both exterior and interior renovations. While the lightning protection system was restored just this week, the interior had been restored a few years ago.
The house is furnished in 1840s-style with a typical floor plan of the era. The kitchen runs across the back and previously had its dome-shaped, beehive oven restored. The house’s chimney had also been restored with 1,800 bricks. The downstairs walls were plastered, painted, and wallpapered. The upstairs, however, is unfinished and closed to the public.
Widham said the historical society is looking to host tours of the house and the adjacent schoolhouse to third and fourth graders in the spring. This year, they brought back “Second Saturdays” in which, once a month, volunteers are at Jordan Green to show the public the different buildings and how people used to live. The tours will return next year in the warmer months.
“There’s nothing better than just, rather than words, to actually experience what the atmosphere was like,” Widham said about being in a historic home..
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to clarify ownership of the Jordan Park House.