Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Hebron Historical Society

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Eagle Project Spruces up Old Town Hall 
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When it comes to challenges, Hebron’s Boy Scout Troop 28 is never afraid to step up to the plate.  Connor Sabia is one of those scouts who joined the move to preserve Hebron’s many historic properties.  He decided to call his Eagle project “Operation Observation,” a fitting title to his plan once you hear the story!

As many know, the historic World War II Civilian Observation Post has resided at the Church of Hope (formerly the Hebron Congregational Church) for decades.  But that was not its original location; it was originally built in 1942 and moved to “Post Hill” on the Robinson Farm because of the land’s higher elevation.  Robinson Farm was located on the far eastern border of Hebron, adjacent to the Columbia town line; the little building was known as “Freeman Observation Post #52.”

Local resident Dorothy Brehant Taggart has been actively involved in preserving the post for many years; according to letters she has received from the U.S. Air Force and the Air Force Museum, Freeman #52 is the last known civilian observation post still in existence (many military observation posts still stand, but civilian posts were either torn down or deteriorated beyond repair following the war.)

Following the war, one of the post’s directors, Lucius Robinson, moved the structure to the Hebron Volunteer Fire Department, and then again to the Hebron Congregational Church (where he served as Senior Deacon) when the fire department decided to expand their facility.  “My mother, Ethel Brehant, and Al Billard used the building as a Sunday School room occasionally,” said Taggart.

Over time, the building became used for storage.  “Connie Jones and I were leaving the Congregational Church one night in September 2003,” Taggart remembered.  “She commented that it was a shame the little observation post was in such ill repair.  When I agreed, her comment was ‘Well, you’re the historian, why don’t you do something?”

That one comment motivated Taggart to put the post’s restoration on her bucket list.  She cleaned the inside and started collecting memorabilia from local residents, many of whom had a wealth of items to contribute.  “I opened the Post at Maple Fest in 2004,” said Taggart.  “Jennie Billard, Debbie Morrow, and I took turns as docents and many people came.”

But, according to Taggart, it was an article by Steven Goode for the Hartford Courant, published on July 12, 2004, that reached a broader audience and resulted in Taggart receiving many inquiries – and subsequent donations of World War II items – and that brought the existence of the post to national attention.  “Some of the contributions came from as far away as North Carolina and California!” said Taggart.

Taggart’s brother, Fred Brehant, submitted a copy of his Certificate of Recognition. “Boys in the eighth grade at Hebron Elementary School attended classes and were trained in first aid, including stretcher bearing, in the event of an attack.  He was only 14 years old at the time,” recalled Taggart.

Even though this determined woman did her best to clean up the post, its longevity was a challenge.  “Winston Averill and his son, Trevor, visited the museum one day and asked if Trevor could repair the post as an Eagle Scout project.  I firmly believe that Trevor saved the post,” Taggart said emphatically.  All foundation boards were replaced, as well as the side boards.  Paint was scraped to bare wood and repainted with two coat of high quality paint.  Averill also placed a professional sign on the front of the building.  For his efforts at the post, as well as his other community and scout work, on August 16, 2008, Trevor Averill became the 91st Hebron Boy Scout to receive the Eagle ranking.

Time sometimes seems to recycle itself, and the building again started to be used for storage.  Taggart became determined to relocate the building to town-owned property so that the artifacts in the post could be preserved in perpetuity.  She approached the Hebron Historic Properties Commission, which, especially through the efforts and dedicated time spent by member Mary Ann Foote, eagerly took on the project.

Also stepping in was Connor Sabia, who worked tirelessly with both the Historic Properties Commission and Hebron Historical Society to make Taggart’s dream come true.  Sabia decided that “Operation Observation” would be his Eagle project, and relocating the post to town property the primary goal.  After much discussion among board and commission members, it was decided to relocate the small building to the north side property owned by the Town of Hebron, adjacent to the Hebron Town Office Building.

Town officials also required a long term maintenance agreement should the building be moved to town property.  In a first-ever binding agreement, the Hebron Historical Society entered into a joint partnership with Troop 28 Boy Scouts to maintain the property in the future.

Does any of this sound easy?  It wasn’t, as Sabia’s own project plan reveals.

“The main effort of my Eagle Project involved the construction of a new foundation for Observation Post #52.  In leading the project I planned each step, then worked with volunteers, scouts, and adults to complete the following:

  1. 1. Obtain the correct permits for my project which included DOT approval because the building would be moved across a state road [Route 85], an approved site plan, Planning and Zoning approval, and a Building permit.
  2. 2. Prepare the site and excavate the area for the post (below grade) – we saved the dirt for backfilling and finish grading after the construction.
  3. 3. Dig holes for six concrete piers (each pier was 8 inches in diameter and 42-48 inches deep per code requirements.)  One pier in each corner and two in the middle (two rows of three piers each) were installed; with each pier using sono-tube forms.
  4. 4. Mix concrete to fill the piers and backfill each pier with pea stone.  We also put down landscape cloth, gravel and pea stone under the entire Post footprint to reduce moisture underneath the structure to protect it from future water damage.
  5. 5. Construct three carrying joists of 2x8 inch pressure-treated wood 12 feet long.  These pieces were cross bolted and sit in metal 'saddles' atop the concrete piers.  The carrying joists match the Post's footprint.
  6. 6. Attach hurricane straps from the piers to the carrying joists.
  7. 7. Prepare the post for the move after the foundation site work was complete.  The physical move was done by Country Carpenters; they donated the use of a forklift and professional operator Chipper Massey to move the post from the church, down Route 85, which stopped traffic from both directions for only a very short period of time, and place it on the foundation.”

The building traveled approximately 650 feet from its current location to its new and permanent resting place. “We prepared the post for the move by emptying all items, cross- bracing the interior, and removing the windows,” said Sabia.  “We also put up heavy duty plastic up in the window spaces to reduce water damage to the interior, and installed interior bracing to limit and hopefully prevent any structural damage during the move.”

The ground was extremely wet from the October 29 storm, and the forklift had to be substituted by an even larger forklift, again courtesy of Country Carpenters. After a few heart-stopping moments by the many in attendance, the post was finally placed on the foundation.  The scouts and volunteers then backfilled the foundation, repaired the foot-deep forklift tracks in the mud, and spread grass seed.  

“We also built a small porch for the Post with a pressure-treated wood base and a cedar top, based on a graphical reconstruction of the original 1942 porch,” said Sabia.

The inside still requires a significant amount of the inside work, a project that was recently undertaken by Boy Scout Mike Amato as part of his Eagle Project requirements.

“When I started Operation Observation, I thought of it as a project - like a Merit Badge – something that I had to do,” said Sabia.  “But now, when I look back and consider the planning, the effort, the people who willingly stepped forward to help at every step of the project, I feel honored, humbled, and proud. -I could not have done this with out them.  Operation Observation is as much their achievement as it is mine.  I'll remember the lessons I learned forever.”

“It is projects like this that allow Boy Scouts of all ranks to put into practice our Scout Oath, Law, Slogan, and Motto,” he said.

More importantly, he said that “moving the Observation Post definitely presented me with challenges and learning opportunities.  I learned there is more than one way to do something, that it is important to solicit ideas from multiple sources, get advice and on the pros and cons of each, make a decision on what to do, and then act on your decision.”

“The people in Town Hall were very helpful, as were the adult leaders in Troop 28.   My project helped me develop and strengthen skills in leadership, planning, organization, and also enabled me to better understand an important part of our town’s history.  I also learned a lot about carpentry and foundation building, which can be an important skill as an adult,” he said.

“I am very grateful to Mr. Winston Averill and Mr. Dan Huppe for donating building materials to my project. This entire process has been an excellent learning experience for me,” said Sabia.  “I worked firsthand with Town Boards and officials to organize my plan and select a site.  I want to thank Mr. Mike O'Leary and Mr. Joe Summers for their help and guidance as I worked on permits and plans.  I also want to thank Ms. Mary Ann Foote, Ms. Donna McCalla, and Ms. Dottie Taggart for their enthusiasm and support.”

Sabia, whose documentation reflects that the project involved over 60 individuals, 350 volunteer hours, and approximately $2,300 in expenses and materials (nearly 70% of which was donated), also wanted to also thank and acknowledge former Town Manager Bonnie Therrien, Ed Rothman, Freddy Brehant and absolutely everyone at Country Carpenters, members of the Hebron Historic Properties Commission, the members of Hebron Historical Society, the Hebron Board of Selectmen, the Hebron Planning & Zoning Commission, State Trooper Sam Izzarelli and Hebron Resident State Trooper James Nolting.

“The little World War II Observation Post Mini-Museum represents an important period in the history of Hebron, and in the history of our country,” said Taggart.  “Although there have been advances in technology since that time, the need for vigilance, security and protection from those who would seek to cause us harm was the same then, as now,” she said.

While the post will unfortunately not yet be ready to open during Maple Fest, keep your eyes open for news of the date of its Grand Re-Opening!