A close-up view of one of the decorative fans that grace the windows of Pierce’s Hall in East Putney.
Irene Canaris
A close-up view of one of the decorative fans that grace the windows of Pierce’s Hall in East Putney.

'Cut and fit, cut and fit'

Brattleboro contractor finds his niche in preservation of windows in historic buildings, including Pierce's Hall in Putney

PUTNEY — Historical restoration is an art form that attempts to preserve and connect us with our roots. In Putney, one of our historical landmarks is Pierce's Hall, built circa 1831, which has served as a community center and dance hall for over a century.

A committed group of citizens has kept the hall operative for decades, restoring the roof and providing space for monthly contra dances, potlucks, celebrations, community presentations, and even food shelf pop-ups.

Once upon a time, the Ladies' Aid Society used the building for making care packages for soldiers during the world wars. Recently, building maintenance has been carried out on a shoestring budget with lots of elbow grease.

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When Pierce's Hall was the 2023 winner of a matching grant through the 1772 Foundation and the Preservation Trust of Vermont, Thomas McLoughlin's name was highly recommended for the restoration work involved.

Originally a building contractor from New Jersey, McLoughlin came to southern Vermont in 2007 with his family to join his brother and sister-in law, Charlie and Mary McLoughlin, high school teachers at Brattleboro Union High School.

As a young man, Tom McLoughlin had an early interest in historic restoration. Raised in the New Jersey suburbs, he recalls taking apart the windows in his childhood house, built circa 1920, to see how they worked.

McLoughlin later found a vocation for his interests in the restoration of historical home features for clients, saving them from major expenses in modern window replacements. He worked as a contractor in his home state for 25 years before moving to Vermont.

It took three years for McLoughlin to find steady window restoration work in Vermont. He went door to door distributing fliers and became involved with Efficiency Vermont. Word of mouth and collaboration with local builders gave him a boost.

His focus on energy efficiency made him realize how many people "never opened their windows because they were painted shut or they were really drafty," he said. From 2010 to 2015, he concentrated on energy efficiency through window restoration. Preserving existing windows is a strong sustainability action recommended by Efficiency Vermont. McLoughlin is also a member of the Seon Group, an organization focused on the science of sustainable building practices.

A Vermont restoration architect contacted McLoughlin for a bid on the restoration of the Fletcher Memorial Library in Ludlow through the Preservation Trust of Vermont.

He now divides his time between work for private homeowners and historic restoration. Word has gotten out - today, McLoughlin has contracts all over the state, and he is featured in the Preservation Trust's Vermont Restoration Directory.

In his many years restoring windows in Vermont, McLoughlin has worked on numerous churches, libraries, and historic homes. Lately, he has worked on one-room schoolhouses throughout Vermont and is currently finishing up the historic windows of the Wood Block Opera House in Hoosick Falls, New York.

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Once Pierce's Hall completed its community fundraising efforts, McLoughlin was retained to restore all 11 of the building's windows and the entry door. Each window was removed to his shop, and muntins were replaced. Period glass was restored when possible.

An interesting feature of the Pierce's Hall work is the restoration of the 1831 decorative fans. The work was completed through a matching grant from the Vermont 1772 Foundation and the Vermont Historic Preservation Fund.

McLoughlin's lifelong passion for taking things apart and reconstructing them was definitely put to a test. "It was fun for a while," he says.

There is no template for the mathematical construction of the fan, he said. Each individual blade has its own dimension, angle, and twist.

"Every fan blade is a different length and a different shape," he says. "Luckily, the arch was intact, and it had grooves. The grooves were there, so I just had to work backwards from the grooves to the center, or the sun. Cut and fit, cut and fit. Each of the old blades were nailed in with a little cut nail, which is a really fine nail made by blacksmiths at the time."

The fans themselves served no function beyond the ornamentation of their day, but the present-day bats love them as a place to hide away.

McLoughlin works with his new colleague, Adam Grimes, who has a master's degree in art history and applies his art and historic preservation knowledge daily, in a hands on manner. Grimes and his partner have recently moved to Brattleboro, where McLoughlin and his family also reside.

Irene Canaris is a writer from East Putney and secretary of the board of the East Putney Community Club, Inc., the nonprofit associated with Pierce's Hall and Contradance. The Commons' Deeper Dive column gives artists, arts organizations, and other nonprofits elbow room to write in first person and/or be unabashedly opinionated, passionate, and analytical about their own creative work and events.

This News column was submitted to The Commons.

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