The Wilton Congregational Church has undertaken an immensely significant project to renovate a historical home that houses the church’s parsonage. The labor of love, respect for Wilton history and craftsmanship involved has engaged multiple town residents, local businesses and generous donors to make happen–but more help is still needed.

The parsonage house is located across the street from the church, at the corner of Ridgefield Rd. and Belden Hill Rd.. Because it is an antique and a historically significant home, the cost to complete multiple aspects of the project is very expensive. Wilton Congregational has launched a spring capital campaign for funding the Historic 1810 Parsonage renovation.

History with Deep Wilton Roots

The Comstock Parsonage is located in the Wilton Historic District #2 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Wilton Center Historic District. It was built around 1810, across from the church on land owned by family of Nathan Comstock–either by Nathan’s son, Benajah Strong Comstock, or grandson, Nathan II, who lived in the house for many years. The Comstock family played a critical role in the Underground Railroad running through Wilton.

The house was described by an architectural historian in a 1989 report on historic houses in Wilton as “one of the finest examples of the Federal style in Wilton. The interior is as complete as the exterior, and it contributes greatly to the historic character of Wilton Center. The woodwork is of the highest quality. Of particular significance is the superbly detailed entrance bay with an elliptical transom and side lights.”

It’s also located next to the historically significant Comstock Barn that itself has been restored and listed on local, state and National registers.

In 1915, the house was bought by Drs. Andrew and Katherine Winton, food scientists and collectors of Norwalk pottery. The next owner was Thomas Dana, who offered to sell it to the church. Wilton Congregational purchased the house in 1962 with a $40,000 gift received from the well-known politician and philanthropist, Charles Dana (no relation to Thomas Dana). In the succeeding 53 years, numerous minor repairs were made to the home and outbuildings, most done by or under the supervision of Walter Smith, the master builder and longtime building historian and preservationist of Wilton’s architectural history, who personally rebuilt the well house about 20 years ago.

The Renovation

Typically, a parsonage is home for a church’s clergy. But through a series of coincidences there isn’t an occupant of the house at the moment.

Pete Kirchof, chairman of the WCC trustees, said it was rare for the Parsonage to be vacant. “It is a very rare event to have a minister reside in her own home so close to the Church. The Wilton Congregational Church has not completed a major overhaul of the parsonage in over five decades so now appeared to be the opportune time.”

Among the renovations and updates that are part of the project:

  • All new matched historical molding, recast original heart of Pine flooring, and the replacement or refurbishment of all electrical and plumbing fixtures
  • Remodel and upgrade kitchen, three full bathrooms, laundry, new mudroom, and door frames
  • Replace windows to energy efficient yet historically correct models
  • Completely insulate all areas of the home
  • Replace all old appliances to new energy efficient appliances
  • Add a new HVAC system to keep house temperate including Air Conditioning, leveraging the old maid stairwell
  • Replace the main staircase to meet modern building codes (very expensive but necessary)
  • Meticulously renovate the historically significant front entrance door and transom
  • Remove multiple old animal dwellings that church officials were unaware of at the start

Everyone involved on the renovation has worked closely with Wilton’s Historic District and Historic Properties Commission to maintain the structure’s historically accurate exterior detail.

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Given that it’s the first time in over 50 years that significant renovation will be made to the Parsonage, undertaking the project requires significant financial resources as well as a high level of dedication to historical reconstruction and craftsmanship.

Seven local builders provided detailed estimates and the church selected Koellmer Builders based on value and Rick Koellmer’s significant experience working with historical homes. Koellmer says, “Homes like the Parsonage require enormous patience.” To date, he has used literally thousands of shims to true up the walls, floors and ceilings since undertaking the work.

Local tradesmen are completing all the work and some of these businesses have helped contribute to the project. Ring’s End and Servco have stepped up as lead partners on the renovation.

The renovation process started over a year ago, and included the completion of structural drawings to ensure safe construction, multiple meetings with the Historical Board, and three major iterations of design plans from Wilton resident Antonella Cericola-Schmidt.

“This project would not be possible without Antonella. She has been absolutely phenomenal,” says Kirchof, who adds that there have been several other key people working on the project as well. “The renovation committee includes Pam Brown, Antonella Cericola-Schmidt, Peter Tische, Bill Follett and Dr. Ellen Keithline Byrne. The team has been meeting weekly for over eight months. Steve Johnson, who tackled the outside grounds, was aided by the Bolton Landscapes team and has been terrific. And finally, Catherine Stroup focused on key signature areas within the home.”

With the construction and renovation work already well underway, everyone involved is eager for the town to see the results. “We can see the finish line, it’s so exciting,” says Cericola-Schmidt.

An Open House for the community is being planned in the late spring for the public to be able to see the work that’s been done. Town historian Robert Russell will be attending and answering questions regarding the history of the Parsonage.

Fundraising to Complete the Project

To date, Wilton Congregational Church has raised $105,000 dollars in direct contributions. An anonymous donor (who lives in Wilton but who is not a church member), has challenged the community with a $35,000 matching donation. The Parsonage effort has already taken the first step in the matching campaign with its first $5,000 donation.

Church officials welcome any contributions, and say they are helpful and greatly appreciated.

“The goal is to exceed the matching campaign amount of $35,000 over the next three months,” Kirchof says.

Anyone wishing to donate can send checks to the Wilton Congregational Church, 70 Ridgefield Rd. All checks should include “Parsonage” in the memo section. Wilton Congregational Church is a 501(c)(3) organization, and the contribution is tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

All photos:  Karen Morneau