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New home for Historical Society

KENT — The Kent Historical Society has found a new home, in an appropriately old house.Seven Hearths is a Colonial-era home on Route 7 about two miles north of Kent center, built in 1751 by John Beebe Jr. It was purchased in 1919 by George Laurence Nelson, who lived there until his death in 1978. Nelson bequeathed his beloved home and property (which is on the National Register of Historic Houses) to the Kent Historical Society, which lists the property on its website as its “prized possession.”Seven Hearths has been open to the public up until now on a part-time and seasonal basis. And the Historical Society has had its office at Swift House (which is owned by the town and is in the center of Kent) — up until now.In an effort to be able to keep Seven Hearths open all year, the Historical Society decided this year to use money from its endowment to purchase Tallman House, a cottage adjacent to Seven Hearths, and convert it to office space. Because they will be physically present next door, Historical Society staff and volunteers will be able to open Seven Hearths to the public all year. The society hopes to move to the new office by Jan. 1, 2012. In addition to providing office space adjacent to Seven Hearths, the new building will provide a safe and secure venue for the society’s collections, according to Historical Society Executive Director Marge Smith.“Using a grant from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, we’ve been working with Hudson Valley Renovation of Sherman, Conn., on preserving and renovating Seven Hearths,” she said. The 260-year-old former residence is in excellent structural condition, Smith said. And because it has only had a few owners, it has remained basically unchanged through the years.Some environmental issues need to be addressed, however, and the roof will have to be replaced. That job presented an interesting challenge, Smith said. “Modern-day cedar shakes do not look like cedar shakes from the 1700s,” she said. “So we’re using a new product called Enviro-Shakes, made from recycled rubber that looks like old cedar shakes. While it’s not an authentic product, the look is extremely authentic.”Windows will also be replaced, to help with air circulation in the building.“One of the challenges is how to restore certain elements of the home to look like they did when the original Beebe family lived there while also keeping a presence of the Nelsons,” Smith said.Nelson was a well-known and respected artist in his day, and one of the founders of the Kent Art Association. He even received a commission from King George V of England to create a series of 64 paintings.Since the artist’s death, Nelson’s work has sunk into obscurity. The Historical Society hopes to revive some of Nelson’s luster and prominence in the art world.“If anyone owns or knows of the whereabouts of art by George Laurence Nelson, please let us know,” Smith said.The society also plans to restore the luster to Seven Hearths.“We want to make it stand out as the excellent example of a 1700s Colonial home in Kent,” Smith said.The money borrowed from the Historical Society endowment fund to purchase Tallman House will have to be repaid. In an effort to expand operations and opportunities, the Historical Society recently expanded its board of trustees from seven to 12 members. Smith hopes the expanded board will be helpful in coming up with new fundraising ideas. “Raising money will take time,” she said. “This is not 2008.” Meanwhile, the society will continue with traditional fundraisers such as the annual Christmas party on the second Saturday of December.Next summer, the society is planning an exhibition of antique toys, with pieces on display from local collectors. These events, of course, require the work of many volunteers. Smith is keen on encouraging people to help out often by making the experience a delight.“I want to make sure our volunteers have fun as well as helping make our events a success,” she said.A fundraising cocktail party will be held Oct. 22. Tickets start at $100 per person. For information about volunteering, the Kent Historical Society, Seven Hearths or upcoming fundraisers, call 860-927-4587 or go online to www.kenthistoricalsociety.org.

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