Architectural treasures observed in evaluating Wilton town hall for renovations

WILTON – Who knows what might be lurking behind walls in old buildings?

In Wilton Town Hall, the treasures include elaborate brick-work arches over interior doors, huge block foundation stones bearing the marks of the stone cutters’ drills, and a “secret” hallway between the foundation stones and fairly modern interior walls. That narrow passage provides out-of-sight access to electrical and plumbing systems behind the Town Hall Theater’s first floor ladies’ room and the storage area beside what is still referred to as the “court room.”

Because of a break in a steam pipe behind the ladies’ room wall, the back area of the lower floor is under renovation, part of a years-long renovation of the Town Hall, which opened in 1885 after two years of construction. Two years ago, engineers addressed the problem of groundwater getting into the boiler room area.

The hall is built into the steep hillside, providing ground-level access to the town offices from Main Street, and ground-level access to the theater from Maple Street. Now visible for the first time in many years, the huge foundation stones can be marveled at, causing a viewer to wonder how they were placed in 1883, the year construction was begun.

Above two doors in what is now the ladies’ restroom, are three rows of 20 bricks set into the wall to form an arched doorway. Theater owner Dennis Markaverich would like to keep all of these features visible when the room is redone, but wondered if the ladies would like that kind of atmosphere, even if it is in keeping with the age of the building. In the meantime, women now have use of the men’s room, and the men’s room has moved upstairs.

The interior of the
restroom will be totally redone with new stalls, ceiling and floors, but Markaverich wondered if just refinishing the top and bottom of the stone wall would be enough, rather than hide the marvelous stonework again.

Markaverich also rediscovered what he referred to as “schoolhouse lights,” large globe ceiling fixtures, still functioning in several sealed off areas. Those will probably be moved and used.

Selectmen discussed the renovation with Building Inspector John Shepardson on March 31.

Research has found that all of the asbestos in the building was removed during renovations in the 1980s.

The Department of Public Works has done much of the demolition for the new project.

Town Clerk Jane Farrell has had all of the storage rooms cleared out, boxes of records and papers are stacked in the court room, and she now has the unenviable task of sorting it all.

“We are coming up with a plan for what to save and store,” Shepardson said.

A contractor has been found “who fits into our budget,” he said, “and we will try to phase the work into the budget.” The plan is to work as far as there is money available and be able to stop when it is gone and wait for a new budget.

“We’ll begin with the bathroom. The plumbing and electricity is our priority, they have to be completed.”

Now that the scope of the project is clearly visible, Shepardson will meet with the contractor, get a final quote, and selectmen will write a contract.