RIDGEFIELD Town Hall widow’s walk returns
RIDGEFIELD — Local carpenter Mike Wise may have just finished the 15-square-foot widow’s walk perched on Town Hall last week, but the architectural feature actually isn’t new to the building at all.
The railed platform, a typical addition to early New England houses to provide a view of the ocean — or to gaze into the distance if an ocean wasn’t in sight — is a re-creation of the widow’s walk that stood on the building when it was rebuilt in 1896 after “The Great Fire” that burned down much of Main Street.
Historians surmise that the original widow’s walk fell or was taken down in the early 1900s because it stops appearing in photographs of the building around that time.
It was one of the photos taken in those few years it was still there, though, that began Wise’s decade-long dream of replacing the structure. He realized looking at an old postcard back in 2008 that the building used to have a widow’s walk, he said, and thought maybe it was time to put it back.
“Somebody wanted it to be there...it just felt like it should be,” Wise said. “I love being able to put things back the way they were.”
The idea stayed in the back of his mind for a while, he said, but started coming to fruition two years ago when he brought it to his friend Dave Scott, a retired architect and former board member for the historical society.
Scott volunteered to draw up the designs, even though all he had to go off of was the last known photograph of the widow’s walk taken for President William McKinley’s funeral in 1901.
“It was hard to get accurate dimensions because you can’t measure the photo,” Scott said. “But that was fun. I enjoyed figuring out the puzzle.”
Once Scott finalized a historically accurate markup, though, the next obstacle became how to pay for the idea, Wise said. With roof repairs, materials and renting a boom-lift for a month to install it, the project ending up costing upwards of $40,000, not to mention free labor from Wise, Scott and a local painter.
First Selectman Rudy Marconi helped secure a contribution from Fairfield County Bank for most of the funding and let Wise use his parking spot at Town Hall for the boom lift, Wise said. Then, Ridgefield Historical Society agreed to chip in for the rest of the costs.
“Everything kind of fell into place,” Wise said. “If it weren’t for Rudy, Fairfield County Bank and the historical society, it would have never happened.”
Once the money was secured, Wise got to work creating the structure in a make-shift studio in Scott’s garage. He then brought it up piece by piece onto the roof.
Scott, who had been on vacation as Wise finished the rails, got the first look at the finished product last week. He told Wise excitedly how much the sight of the building’s new “crown” exceeded his expectations as he drove up to Town Hall.
“I didn’t realize what a difference it was going to make,” he said. “I knew, but I didn’t feel it. I mean — there it was.”
“It’s one of the most satisfying things in my profession to draw something up and someone else pays for it and builds it,” he joked. “Then you get to stand back and look at it and just think, ‘Wow’”
The irony of the new widow’s walk was that it came the same week that the two large elm trees in front of Town Hall were taken down. Most people who noticed it assume that maybe it had always been there, but was just hidden by the trees, Marconi said.
Either way, he added, it’s been a welcome addition back to the building.
“It’s a crown on the jewel of Main Street,” Marconi said.
Unlike the wooden original, Wise said the cellular PVC, aluminum and steel version will likely last for decades. The only maintenance will be someone to check on it every few years or maybe add a new coat of paint, he said.
As for how it feels to see it done after 10 years?
“You saw how excited Dave was when he saw that it was done? — that’s how it feels,” Wise said. “You can’t do better than that.”