1881 Pioneer Engine House tower on Washington Street in Penacook gets a makeover

  • Santiago Rodriguez of Bill’s Roofing places the weathervane on top of the 1881 Pioneer Engine House tower on Washington Street in Penacook on Nov. 3.

  • Rob Zielinski of Z Design puts his hand on the bell on of top of the 1881 Pioneer Engine House tower on Washington Street in Penacook on Wednesday, November 3, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • From left: Santiago Rodriguez, Fred Reagan, Jose Rodriguez, Jhon Rojas have all worked on the restoration on of top of the 1881 Pioneer Engine House tower on Washington Street in Penacook on Wednesday, November 3, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Santiago Rodriguez of Bill’s Roofing places the weathervane on top of the 1881 Pioneer Engine House tower on Washington Street in Penacook on Wednesday, November 3, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Fred Reagan at the bell on of top of the 1881 Pioneer Engine House tower on Washington Street in Penacook on Nov. 3. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • The 1881 Pioneer Engine House tower on Washington Street in Penacook on Wednesday, November 3, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Althea Barton looks down on the center of Penacook from the bell tower on Wednesday, November 3, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Santiago Rodriguez (left) and Fred Reagan have both worked on the restoration on of top of the 1881 Pioneer Engine House tower on Washington Street in Penacook on Wednesday, November 3, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The bell tower on the 1881 Pioneer Engine House on Washington Street in Penacook on Nov. 3. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • The bell tower the 1881 Pioneer Engine House on Washington Street in Penacook on Wednesday, November 3, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

For the Monitor
Published: 11/29/2021 3:26:48 PM

When Santiago Rodriguez carefully replaced the weathervane on top of the 1881 Pioneer Engine House tower on Washington Street in Penacook, it capped off seven years of coordinated effort.

Rodriguez, of Bill’s Roofing in Manchester, was one of several workers who helped restore historic aspects of the building, which is now used by the Merrimack Valley School District’s Facilities Department. Decades ago, the city of Concord sold the old firehouse to the Merrimack Valley School District for one dollar, a purchase price that came with strings attached.

“The deed requires the school district to maintain the building and keep it authentic,” said Merrimack Valley Facilities Director Fred Reagan. “It has historic value and we’re legally required to take care of it.”

In 2014, members of the Penacook Historical Society were looking over the village skyline and taking photos. Someone noticed the slate roof and some of the wooden trim on the hose tower, an 85-foot-tall structure once used to hang fire hoses to dry, was looking rough. They called Reagan to initiate a plan of action.

MVSD funded the restoration, which was done to the highest historic preservation standards, according to contractor Rob Zielinski of Z Design.

The work took five months to complete with Zielinski and Paul Donaghey of Canterbury doing most of the carpentry. Day after day, laborers and historic preservationists climbed the blue scaffolding to get to work. Bill’s Roofing of Manchester did all the slate and copper work using reclaimed slate to match the original. Preservation carpenter Mark Hopkins replicated the triangular vents in his Canterbury workshop. And restoration mason Krystal Fortin cleaned and repointed the bricks, carefully matching the color and content of the original lime mortar.

Much of the crew had worked together in Concord last year on the 1882 Kimball Jenkins mansion restoration. That project won a Preservation Achievement Award from the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance.

The arrangement between Merrimiack Valley School District and the city stipulates that when the school district stops using the building, it goes back to the city.

The 1,500 pound brass bell, made by William Blake and Company of Boston, Massachusetts, still hangs in the tower. Historian and Penacook Historical Society board member Ruth Speed learned that the bell, which was used to rally volunteer firefighters, was lifted to the peak of the tower by a team of horses. In 1883, the residents of Penacook raised $760 during a two-day fundraising fair to buy the finely-crafted bell, according to Speed.

However, the original bell clapper – the part inside that swings to make the bell ring – is missing, replaced by a pivoting hammer. “We think we know who might have the clapper,” said Reagan. “If we find it, we’ll put it back in the bell and ring it for everyone.”

And that weathervane on top? It, and four metal vent finials, were carefully replicated by William Day of B.D. Welding & Fabrication in Boscawen. The originals, too fragile to withstand another hundred years, will be donated to the Penacook Historical Society for public viewing.

Historian and filmmaker Althea Barton is a board member of the Penacook Historical Society. She is also the  director of outreach and development for Kimball Jenki ns.




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