'This exquisite architectural gem': Pequot Library restores 127-year-old roof in Fairfield

FAIRFIELD — The Pequot Library’s 127-year-old roof is fully restored — a big undertaking that sought nearly $1.5 million in donations to complete.

The library began working on restoring the roof in 2020 after a 2019 study by architecture firm Pirie Associates, of New Haven, listed the structure as “an urgent priority.”

General contractors Kronenberger and Sons Restoration, a company that specializes in historic building restoration, began the construction about 10 months ago and completed it this summer. A ribbon cutting was held on July 14 at the library to welcome the new roof.

“The outstanding support of the Southport-Fairfield community has been tremendously inspiring,” said Stephanie J. Coakley, the library’s executive director. “Pequot Library’s dedicated patrons and business supporters as well as the Town of Fairfield generously helped us care for one of Fairfield’s most revered public buildings and for that we will be forever grateful.”

During the comprehensive conditions assessment plan, which was supported by the State Historic Preservation Office, the study identified repairing the historic roof not only to preserve the entire structure, but also to protect the library’s special collections of rare books, manuscripts and archives, the library said.

The original red-tile roof was built in 1893, four years after the Pequot Library was founded by Southport residents Virginia Marquand Monroe and Elbert B. Monroe. The library’s building was designed by American architect Robert H. Robertson and opened to the public in 1894.

It is on the National Register of Historic Places and the Connecticut chapter of the American Institute of Architects recognized the library with a Connecticut Treasures Award in 2018.

Its history will again be celebrated in due time. A time capsule was placed in the attic eaves during the construction, which included letters to future library staff and supporters as well as mementos from this last year. The time capsule is to be opened in 2071 to commemorate the new roof’s 50 year anniversary.

Kronenberger and Sons Restoration is no stranger to old roofs. It has worked on many historic buildings, including the Stowe House, Mark Twain House and Center Church in Hartford, Gillette Castle in East Haddam, and the Florence Griswold House in Old Lyme.

“We were honored to guide the renovation that burnished this exquisite architectural gem; its robust texture, color, and detail are a perfect reflection of the unique treasures found within,” said Laura Pirie, with Pirie Associates, which directed the entire roof repair and restoration.

Pirie Associates has extensive experience in historic renovation projects of its own, including the Amos Bull House and Butler McCook Carriage House for Connecticut Landmarks’ Headquarters.

“We would like to acknowledge the team of talented architects and engineers that gave this building the attention it deserved,” Pirie said. “As well, Pequot Library leadership and community should be commended for taking the long view, investing in and preserving this beautiful and historically significant structure for future generations.”

This project wasn’t without its challenges though.

The actual construction of the project entailed replacing the Ludowici tiles to keep the longevity and historical integrity of the building.

The layout of the historic roof also consisted of four different intersecting shapes, as well as dormers, gables, pyramids and chimneys functioning to make the exterior watertight. The roof’s original underlayment also had to be replaced, along with gutters and flashing.

The total $1.6 million project also supported restoring the upper-tier of stained-glass windows in the auditorium and strengthening the foundational elements beneath the front steps and portico.

While the library receives a percentage of its annual general operating budget from the town, Pequot was responsible for raising the money to cover the remaining operating costs and the full percentage of its capital expenses.

The roof funding caused some controversy during the budget process, as the town discussed giving $100,000 to the library for the project. Town officials were on both sides of the fence. Some worried it set a bad precedent for funding a nonprofit’s capital project, while others believed it was a unique funding opportunity.

Ultimately all three town boards approved the $100,000 to garner the private match.

The bulk of the project’s funding came from donations and library fundraisers though.

A total 355 gifts helped support the library’s fundraising campaign with more than 200 donors participating in the “Sponsor-a-Tile” program in the last six months, according to a news release.

The Southport Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and restoring unique and historic buildings and property in Southport, and the Connecticut Neighborhood Assistance Act Tax Credit program also helped fund the project.

The library is seeking grant opportunities for other areas of needed capital improvements identified in the conditions assessment report.

Visit www.pequotlibrary.org to learn more about the library. For information call 203-259-0346 ext. 115. Follow Pequot Library on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.