Update, 7:54 p.m., ETA of porch per Mike Mocciae.
NORWALK, Conn. – Progress on the house at Fodor Farm might seem slow to passing motorists, but Norwalk Department of Recreation and Parks carpenter has a message he’d like to share.
“We’re going to be done with it when it’s time,” Steve Green said. “We’re not selling any wine before it’s time.”
The historic complex, built in the early 19th century and described as Norwalk’s first farm, was slated to become a new elementary school before being saved by the Norwalk Preservation Trust, according to the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation. Renovation, which began five years ago, was thought to be not doable, as the main house was a tear-down, Recreation and Parks Department Director Mike Mocciae said last spring.
This sentiment was echoed by visitors to the recent Fodor Farm open house. “It was such a wreck. It was just, I would say, ‘The only thing that could fix this was a match,’” said a woman who would only identify herself as Marion, a neighbor of the property.
“It was broken pieces. There was nothing to nail anything,” another woman said.
“It should have been done 50 years ago. There was nothing left to save,” Green said. The roof beams – which were 10- to 12-inch by 12-inch oak beams – had rotted and fallen onto the second floor, and the second floor fell through to the first floor, he said. “That’s 75 years of rot – and you want me to snap my fingers and make it good in two days? Or one year? Or two years? It’s not going to happen, realistically.”
After five years of work, Green and co-worker Matt Dijoseph are expected to begin fixing the most visible part of the old house, putting a porch roof on the part that faces Scribner Road, on July 1, Mocciae said. While Planning Commissioner Bill Dunne described the boarded-up front as an eyesore recently, Green said it’s been delayed for a reason – the front wall was rotten.
“You have to build the house and then attach the porch,” Green said. “That’s the way it goes in the carpentry world… it’s been around since the Egyptians. It’s called plumb, level, square, and then the fourth option, you make it look straight. Blend it, that’s a good carpenter. If the house settles, you bring it back, you blend it, that’s the fourth option, make it look straight. There’s a lot of ‘make it look straight’ here.”
Planning commissioners put $100,000 into the 2014-15 capital budget for Fodor Farm, an allocation that was eventually approved by the Common Council.
Green said work on the dilapidated remnants of the home began in the basement, as a structure to support the timbers above was necessary. A jackhammer was used to remove a boulder, he said. The stone foundation was reinforced and beams were replaced.
The thing is, the old house was built by a farmer, he said. The roof line isn’t exactly what a carpenter would build and pieces of recycled wood were used.
“This was built before water and before electricity,” Green said. “When they did the electricity they plastered again so there’s actually two layers of plaster in this house. There were five layers of roof, two layers of plaster, three layers of flooring, rotten timbers and rotten foundation, a dungeon that was filled in with dirt.”
When it’s done, the upstairs part of the main house will be used as office space for non-profit organizations. There will be a mini-museum and a conference room downstairs.
“Everybody wants to see the finished product, but it takes a while to get to the finished product. They want to see the tip of the iceberg, but they don’t see the iceberg. They don’t have time for that,” Green said.
Barbara Montgomery was among the recent visitors who appreciates the progress made, the fact that it was saved.
George and John Fodor were special, she said. “I moved here in ’83 to Townhouse of the Pines. My first experience when I moved in, my back was to the farm and the movers were coming in and there was this great big ‘moo.’ I turned around and there was this big brown cow looking at me. They had two cows, they had 16 sheep. John, he looked like Einstein… he would ride around on his tractor,” she said. “… This is really exciting. It was so sad to watch it fade.”
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