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Winchester Historical Society board members Bill Swanton and Susan Turpin at the Sanborn House. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/JOYCE WESTNER 

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A historic building owned by the town of Winchester needs a lot of maintenance and repair, and two Winchester Historical Society board members get the work done. 

Susan Turpin and Bill Swanton are in the Sanborn House three or four times a week, making sure plumbing problems get fixed, or the interior gets repainted, and right now getting the chimneys repaired.

A Prospect Street resident, Turpin has been doing this for years, and everybody who’s ever renovated a house knows how hard it is to find contractors. But for the Sanborn House, it’s a lot more complicated. 

Because the building is on the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s list of “important and endangered properties,” the rules about how to hire contractors are quite specific, according to Turpin.

Construction company workers hoist materials onto the roof of the Sanborn House. COURTESY PHOTO/SUSAN TURPIN

“The commission requires us to use the lowest bidder,” she says. 

And Swanton points out that it’s not easy finding bidders who are willing to work on an old house and for a non-profit. Plus, “it might take six months between putting out a request for proposal and getting enough money to pay for the project,” he says.

And who puts up the money? Folks who donate to the Historical Society, and grant-giving organizations. For the chimney work, for instance, the Massachusetts Cultural Council awarded a grant of $33,000 which had to be matched by donors. 

According to Turpin, Winchester Historical Society has been responsible for the restoration and maintenance of the Sanborn house since 2006, making over $677k worth of improvements to the house and surrounding property.

Swanton has been on the facilities committee for a while and is now on the board after retiring from a software company in March. He and his wife renovated a 14-room Victorian on Church Street, which they sold and moved to Cambridge Street. He knows how to do a lot of repair work himself and has fixed some of the ten sets of double screen doors, saving the fairly high cost of getting them fixed professionally. 

And while Turpin isn’t doing repairs herself, she learned how to deal with contractors when she was on a Belmont Day School Committee to build a $13 million addition back in 2000. She knows a lot of contractors likely to do the chimney work, and she sent them information about how they’d have to match the exterior colors of the chimneys, including the chimney caps.

The money was available in November and the Select Board voted to accept the grant money. 

“We are so blessed to have Susan and Bill as co-chairs of our facilities committee,” says Historical Society President Electra Govoni. “It is through their dedication, ingenuity and blood, sweat and tears that the Sanborn House remains a beautiful historic and cultural asset for the town.”

Chimneys being repaired at the Sanborn House. COURTESY PHOTO/SUSAN TURPIN

The two say they’re looking forward to getting the columns on the exterior repaired — right now six of the capitals are boxed up, the balustrades on the roof.

“We have the pieces,” says Swanton, “and we’d like to put them together), and maybe even getting air-conditioning so the house could be rented in the summer for parties and other events.”

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