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BROOKFIELD Preserving Brookfield’s past

January 18, 2019

BROOKFIELD — Howard Lasser was driven to become executive director of the Brookfield Craft Center primarily because he wanted to preserve its historic buildings.

At the time, the center was struggling to get back on its feet after nearly closing for good in 2013 due to financial difficulties.

“I did not want to see these buildings destroyed,” said Lasser, who became executive director in 2014.

Part of his plan to make the craft center financially sustainable was to highlight its historic nature.

More than four years later, that vision is coming to fruition as the town explores designating the craft center as a historic district.

A five-member committee is working on a report on the various historic buildings at the center’s campus on Whisconier Road.

The report will highlight the historic nature of the buildings and be submitted to the Board of Selectmen, who will decide whether to designate the center as an historic district. The state also must approve the report, Lasser said.

This would enable the center to become eligible for grants to restore the buildings, he said.

“The major issue is the preservation, (so) they don’t fall prey to the developers’ bulldozer,” Lasser said.

Designating the craft center as an historic district was also a goal in the town’s 2014 Plan of Conservation and Development, he said.

The craft center’s campus includes the mill building, where Brookfield residents met in the 18th century to bring their grains and share gossip, according to a book on the center.

“It’s my goal that again this should be a meeting place,” Lasser said. “The historic nature will enhance that aspect of it.”

The original mill was built in 1748 by Abel Barnum, but it later burned down and was rebuilt in 1780. New York City schoolteacher Nancy DuBois bought the mill for $5 in 1952 and started the craft center in 1954, according to the book.

Also on the property is the faculty house, which was built by the Miller family in 1798. The home is now used for storage, but was once where visiting faculty would stay when they taught at the craft center, Lasser said.

He said he would love to refurbish the building using grant money, so traveling faculty could once again stay at the center.

Other goals include planting an herb garden, which would have been a common site in the 1700s and 1800s, for residents and restaurants to use.

“(The building is) almost an eyesore at this point, but my goal is to make it an example of historic renovation,” he said.

Lasser also hopes to restore the early 19th century carriage barn, which has been covered in cardboard.

“We want to bring that back to what it looked like in its heyday,” he said.

The buildings are exemplary of classic New England-style design, and Brookfield needs that in its “Four Corners,” Lasser said. The town has spent millions to install sidewalks in front of the craft center and the surrounding area to revitalize the downtown.

“It’s hard to build a New England-style town center if you don’t have New England buildings,” he said.

Recently, the craft center opened a new technology center, which offers a 3-D printer and video conferencing equipment, among other capabilities.

The organization also hired an artist-in-residence/education director, Ben Rosecrans, who said he aims to attract more people, especially youth, to the center.

“I see the ability to grow into a number of different demographics,” Rosecrans said. “We have a wide variety, but I think we could do better.”

Lasser said 2,000 students have taken art classes at the center over the past four years. About 300 classes were offered last year, but he hopes to add more. The organization also holds art shows and runs a gift shop.

But the center’s past remains an important piece of its future.

“My vision is this is a place for people to learn about the history of Brookfield,” Lasser said.

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