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CONDITION OF MERIDEN'S OLDEST HOUSE WORRIES LATE CURATOR'S HUSBAND

By Molly Callahan, Meriden Record-Journal

Goffe House

   MERIDEN — With the oldest house in the city only getting older, one former city resident is concerned that not enough is being done to maintain the house his wife worked so hard to preserve.

   City native Richard Kirschner said Monday that the 1711 Solomon Goffe House “needs a little T.L.C.” Kirschner is the widower of Bernice Shelberg, the former curator of the Goffe House, who was instrumental in restoring the building to its 18th and 19th centuries condition. Shelberg died in 2010, after 35 years at the Goffe House helm.

   The house, now listed on the National Register of Historic Houses, was set to be torn down to put a gas station in its place when Shelberg intervened, saving it, Kirschner said.

   She petitioned to have the house sold to the city by its previous owners, the Napier Jewelry Co. Shelberg worked for a decade to renovate and refurbish the house, ultimately opening it as a living history museum in the late 1970s.

   A brochure for the Goffe House states that it was originally built in 1711 by a Wethersfield man, Solomon Goffe. The south end of the home was built in the early part of the 18th century. An extension was built on the north end close to a century later and the building served as a restaurant and inn.

   After its restoration, members of the Meriden Heritage and Cultural Commission used the building to show what life was like in early Meriden, staging the rooms with volunteers in century-appropriate garb. The house remains open on the first Sunday of the month from April to November.

   The care of the exterior of the house and the lawn falls to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, and the city earmarks $500 of its annual budget toward that maintenance, said City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior. Last year, $420 of that was used, Kendzior said.

   “The Goffe House and (the Andrews Homestead) are two of the oldest in the city, and the city is certainly committed to keeping them in good condition,” Kendzior said.

   Kirschner is concerned that it is not enough.

   “The paint is peeling off, and the fence needed to be fixed,” Kirschner said.

   Both Kirschner and current curator Karen Keene also said that the water was shut off in the building for the past three months, Keene said.

   Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Chris Bourdon said that the department “handles maintenance on an as-needed basis.”

   “Just a couple weeks ago we fixed the fence, which had a couple slats missing,” Bourdon said.

   Bourdon tours city-owned properties at least once a month, he said, adding that sites are seen much more frequently by Parks and Recreation personnel.

   “Between our grass crews and our maintenance crews, we’re probably at places every week, and especially at the Goffe House much more,” he said. “That’s right on the way to the Parks and Recreation building, so we have people driving past it probably daily.”

   Bourdon was not aware of an issue with the house’s water and Parks and Recreation Director Mark Zebora was unavailable for comment.

   Keene is part of a four-person group of volunteers called “Friends of the Solomon Goffe House,” who take care of the interior of the house. Their budget comes from selling admission and goods during the 10 Sundays per year they’re open.

   “It’s probably less than $200 per year,” Keene said. “Probably closer to $100 sometimes. But it’s a gem in the city,” she said.

   For Kirschner, however, concern runs a little deeper.

   “My wife was the curator of the Goffe House, that was her pride and joy. She would be heartbroken if she could see it now,” he said.


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