CONCORD — Monday was the official groundbreaking for the planned restoration and renovation of Bridges House, the official governor's residence, but behind the 1835 brick structure, a barn used previously as a garage and most recently as a meeting place, was already largely demolished.
The house, just off Interstate 93 in East Concord, was given to the state with all its furnishings by the family of the late U.S. Sen. Styles Bridges, whose family owned and lived in the house from 1946 until Bridges' death in 1961.
The groundbreaking ceremony, complete with hardhats and gold shovels, was the official kickoff of the Phase 1 plan for turning Bridges House into “the People's House.”
The goal is preserving the history of the house, creating a place for meetings with potential job creators and representatives of other states or governments, educating children and serving as a site for state functions.
George Lagos, former executive director of The Friends of Bridges House, said the project is an example of private/public cooperation.
Lagos said Dr. Susan Lynch recognized in 2005 what needed to be done and the non-profit Friends of Bridges House was formed in 2006.
Dr. Lynch saw “what it could and should be,” said Lagos. As a result of her drive, motivation and passion, he said, the project is under way.
Gov. John Lynch said: “This is really more than just a renovation of a building. . .it is a gift to the future of New Hampshire.” Lynch said he could personally testify to his wife's passion for the project and the time and effort she put into it.
When it was her turn to speak, Dr. Lynch said: “It is a day I've only dreamt of.” Every year, fourth grade students come to Concord to learn about the state's history. “What better place to bring that history to life,” she said.
Phase 1, which will cost $900,000, includes the renovation of the great room, kitchen and porch/dining area on the first floor, with the second-floor renovation postponed to a later date.
The total cost of the project is $2.7 million and Dr. Lynch said she hopes that as people see the work beginning, they will be motivated to contribute the necessary funds to complete the project.
“I first saw this home when Governor (Jeanne) Shaheen was in office,” Lynch said Monday. “It was a lovely old house, but tired and shabby.” Lynch said she decided then that if she were ever in a position to do something to restore the house and its furnishings, she would. And she has. “We got it started,” she said.
Dr. Lynch said she learned just desperate was the need to have the restoration and preservation work done when she picked up a Hitchcock chair that was stored in the basement and it crumbled in her hands. The project envisions restoring the home's period authenticity and showcasing the historic furniture, silver and other contents, which requires security and climate controls to protect both the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and its valuable contents.
It has been more than 30 years since governors used the Bridges House as an residence, even part time. Gov. Walter Peterson and his wife, Dorothy, were the first to live there in 1969. Two North Country residents, Gov. Meldrim Thomson and his wife, Gale, from Orford, and Gov. Hugh Gallen and his wife, Irene, from Littleton, used Bridges House as a residence.
But succeeeding governors including the Lynches, because they lived within reasonable driving distance, had families too large to be accomodated, or simply preferred their own homes, used Bridges House only for meetings and ceremonial events.
Dr. Lynch said she expects future events, like the Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony and barbecues for returning New Hampshire National Guardsmen, will continue to be held at the house.
In addition to seeking more large contributions from businesses and individuals, Friends of Bridges House have two fundraisers planned in the next few months: a celebrity golf tournament will be held at the Wentworth by the Sea Country Club in Rye Aug. 28 and there will be a Designer Show House at Bridges House Nov. 11-25.
For more information about the capital campaign and events, visit the website at: www.friendsofbridgeshouse.org