By Kathryn Willis
Published in the September 2015 edition of Front Porch Fredericksburg Magazine
Over Chatham’s long existence, its windows have witnessed the gaze of generations. From genteel Colonial guests viewing the docks and rooftops of a growing mercantile center, to Union leaders whose piercing focus was riveted on the town they were commanded to subdue, the windows of this noble home have framed the drama that shaped this nation.
The mansion has weathered its nearly three centuries with grace. Inevitably, however, long decades and weather have compromised those windowpanes, mullions and sills. And now, it is time that we, the caretakers of this national inheritance, come to its aid.
The National Park Service has restored the shutters to its 65+ windows, but the windows themselves are in danger of failing, and the Park Service has no funds to address this need.
Enter Friends of Chatham. Having championed the restoration of the Summer House, and having established a fund to help maintain its grounds and gardens, this intrepid group of dedicated volunteers has perhaps its most challenging task to date: refurbish and stabilize the windows and doors of this majestic silent witness.
In September, Friends of Chatham will launch its campaign to have every one of those windows and doors “adopted” by folks who understand the importance of this noble home, both to our area and to our national heritage. The Window and Door Repair Project hopes to raise funds for each window and door. The cost for repairing and stabilizing each window ranges from $725 to $875, and a pre-launch gathering has resulted in nine windows already finding sponsorship.
“This is not a true restoration project,” explains board member Nancy Fahy. “Restoration of each window requires taking the windows out of their frames, and the repair and replacement of the inner-workings—a much more costly undertaking.” But, as Lynda Baer, the group’s president, adds, “This stabilization project will repair and protect the windows and doors against far worse, and inevitable, deterioration.”
Because Chatham is under the aegis of the National Park Service, regulations are strict about the project’s management: the goal is to maintain the NPS’s high professional standards for historic preservation and donor recognition. Friends of Chatham works closely and harmoniously with NPS staff to assure that the guidelines are followed.
The launch of “Chatham Windows: Witness to History” campaign is slated for Tuesday, September 29, at 6 PM, at Brock’s Riverside Grill. Dinner, door prizes, a 50/50 raffle, and a live auction are planned.
Friends of Chatham invites all to come hear more about this new endeavor, and to take an active part in investing in its future by investing in its past.
Chatham’s magnificent profile now clearly commands its Rappahannock riverside hill, renewing interest in this jewel in the region’s historic glory. Its gardens and surroundings are sumptuous in trellis roses, lilacs, and wisteria vines. But its windows and doors need imminent attention.