$1 million for historic preservation … and counting

$1 million for historic preservation … and counting
Library’s window project brings Festival of Trees full circle

By Steve Whipple
MethuenLife Writer

At the inaugural Festival of Trees, moonlight streamed through the stained-glass windows, helping to illuminate the handful of decorated artificial trees on display in The Great Hall of Nevins Memorial Library.
Now 17 years and a million dollars later, the popular event will remedy those same neglected windows which date back to 1883.
Beginning Nov. 15, the 26 stained-glass windows on two sides of the hall will be removed, sash and all.
The $113,00 restoration project is significant not only because it’s the windows’ first restoration in 127 years, but it also pushes the Festival of Trees’ generosity over the million-dollar mark.
The Festival of Trees Preservation Chair Sharon Pollard has tracked how much money the event raises and where it is spent.
“Since the Festival of Tree started we’ve spent over a million dollars on historical projects, which is monumental because no one has the money for this. If we hadn’t done this, some of these would have crumbled or be non-existent,” said Pollard, citing the library’s windows as the project that took the payouts over the million-dollar mark.
She said the historical projects from 1994 to present – 16 of the 20 are in Methuen – are suggested by Festival committee members or local residents. The committee gathers at a strategic planning meeting each January to evaluate the suggestions and determine which site(s) require work most urgently.
The Festival now draws upward of 27,000 visitors annually. Money from the attendance and sales of raffle tickets for a favorite tree is used to preserve Methuen’s famous stone walls erected by millionaire Edward Searles and significant local buildings and structures.
The first to benefit was the Tenney Gatehouse which received a $272,450 restoration. The stone building adjacent to city hall now serves as a museum of Methuen’s history.
The 1874 chimes of St. Mary’s Church have remained silent for years. That’s about to change; the Festival committee received an application letter three months ago requesting help.
“We were happy to give them the $10,000 because it was a matching grant,” said Pollard. “Anyone who sees a possible historic preservation project should contact us.”
The Festival soon outgrew the library, as well as the Red Tavern and Masonic Lodge, as the number of decorated trees increased and attendance soared. Now located in the office park at 13 Branch Street, Methuen, this year’s event (Nov. 20 to Dec. 4) will feature 219 uniquely decorated trees. Last year 27,000 visitors arrived, generating more than $250,000.
The stained-glass window restoration can’t come fast enough, said library director Krista McLeod.
“As far as we know, they have never been repaired. Once they’re done they will be good for another 100 years. We got some mileage out of them,” said McLeod.
Three years ago, wind-driven rain blitzed the windows and snuck through openings. Plexiglas was soon added to protect the windows and keep out the elements.
Scaffolding will be erected and the arched palladium and flat sections will be removed, placed in trucks and transported to a company that will replace the strips of lead molded between the panes that keeps the colored flat pieces and smaller round “jewels” intact.
The window cavities will then be boarded up during the four- to six-month restoration.
“We were told by the people bidding on the job that these are in dire straits. We’re really grateful to the Festival of Trees; we could never have done this otherwise,” said McLeod.
The Nevins Trust Fund will pay the $113,000 initially, then the Festival of Trees will pay back the trust fund in installments, starting with $35,000 this year.
“The nice twist is this is where the Festival of Trees started, right here in the hall,” said McLeod. “They started with 17 or 18 trees. By the second year, they had 40 trees. The state of the electricity in the building was such that when we plugged in the trees it blew every circuit. When the hall is lit up now (the windows) are so beautiful, and it’s such a landmark.”