Archeologists dig into First Church property in Windsor

By Jennifer Coe - ReminderNews
Windsor - posted Wed., Aug. 14, 2013
Sean Hayden, of PAST Inc., sifts through some dirt excavated from the backyard of the Russell House, on the First Church property. Photos by Jennifer Coe.
Sean Hayden, of PAST Inc., sifts through some dirt excavated from the backyard of the Russell House, on the First Church property. Photos by Jennifer Coe.

As the oldest congregational church in Connecticut, as well as one of the first buildings built in the town of Windsor, no doubt First Church abounds with archeological magnetism. The Rev. Russell’s house, built on the property in 1755, is too, but it has sadly been falling into disrepair.

In recent years, the house was considered uninhabitable and not able to be used by the church. Since 2011, though, when a committee was formed to discuss its future, the home has been under serious discussion. According to the church, the plans are to refurbish and redesign it so that it can be used for church functions and possibly public functions, as well as bring it up to local code.

“What we’re doing is bringing it up to certificate of occupancy standards,” said church administrator Mary Phelan. “We are strengthening the infrastructure, electrical and converting to gas from oil.”

As part of the refurbishing, the church will be adding a wheelchair ramp behind the house. It is in this location that you could find archeologists from Public Archeology Survey Team, Inc. working on the week of Aug. 12.

Looking for archeological remnants dating back to the building of the home, PAST workers were digging holes and sifting soil. Once the supports go in for the ramp, these particular spots on the property will be inaccessible forever.

Most of what Ross Harper, Sean Hayden and Matt Grillo were finding on the first day of the dig consisted of construction bits and pieces which were left behind during the building of the home in 1755. In fact, one nail removed, Harper said, “dates to the earliest period of the house.” Harper explained that he and his assistants would be digging in a careful 1-meter-by-1-meter grid, so as not to accidentally miss something valuable.

Some options for future use of the property include youth room, class room, or library. In the future, the church would consider renting it to a non-profit group in Windsor. “Maybe weddings or smaller concerts,” added Phelan.

The church is utilizing a grant from the Office of Historic Preservation ($89,340) as well as gifts from church members ($135,000) to fund the refurbishing project.

For a complete history of the Russell House, go to www.firstchurchinwindsor.org.

Established in 1976, Public Archaeology Survey Team, Inc. is a private, nonprofit research and public education organization based in Mansfield, Conn.


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