Bringing power to the Gingerbread House an enlightening experience for apprentices

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NORWAY — A portion of the historic Gingerbread House on Main Street soon will be lit up for the first time in years, but getting there won’t be as easy as it seems.

The 19th century house — which has balloon-frame construction and horsehair interior plaster — must be compliant with 2014 electrical codes.

“This type of work is very exciting and it’s a great educational tool for these young apprentices,” said Allan Shepard, training director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers apprentices program who are volunteering their time to wire the house.

Members of the Friends of the Gingerbread House said the apprentices will wire the house for electricity in the basement and place temporary outlets in some of its first floor rooms. The 200-amp electrical service will make it possible to do future projects on site.

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The apprentices, many of whom are fire fighters, emergency medical technicians and other first responders, are required to do 290 hours of community service as part of their training.

On Saturday, the apprentices laid the pipe and conduits which were donated by the E.S. Boulos Company, eletrical contractors out of Lewiston, after Scott Roberts of Roberts Excavation dug a trench.

The volunteer effort by the IBEW was initiated several years ago by Don Berry, the former training program director, when the 165-year old house was moved from its site behind the Advertiser Block up the street about 950 feet to its new home by Butters Park.

The idea was readily picked up by Shepard, who works out of the IBEW Lewiston office.

“I thought it was a wonderful, wonderful building. The history is just palpable,” Shepard said in a phone interview this week.

Shepard, whose apprentices have been involved in other historic restoration projects such as the 1801 McLellen House in Portland, said the old construction is a challenge.

“The big thing is the balloon construction and the horsehair plaster,” Shepard said.

In balloon framing, the the studs extend the full height of the building from foundation to the rafter, as contrasted with platform framing, in which each floor is framed separately. Wiring around the horsehair plaster, which was used in the building process of interior walls until the 1950s, also presents the apprentices with a unique challenge of trying to fish the wire through the material.

“It’s a great experience for apprentices,” Shepard said.

The work is being coordinated with the Gingerbread House carpenters and other restoration tradesmen.

Once the apprentices return to install the lights, the building will be ready for its next series of projects such as the continuation of the window restoration. The steam wood box, which is used to steam paint and putty the windows, will be hooked up to electricity at that time.

“To maintain the (historic) integrity we’ll have to match the beautiful work inside the house,” Shepard said.

The 80- by 20-foot house was built in 1851 by Richard Evans and later bought by Charles Bradley Cummings, founder of the C.B. Cummings & Son dowel mill on Pikes Hill Road, according to a report by Andrea Burns of Norway to Maine Preservation in Portland. Elaborate trim was added in the late 19th century by John Hazen for Cummings.

Robert Sallies and Howard James eventually took ownership of the building while they were publishers of the Advertiser-Democrat, Burns wrote.

In 2008, C’s Inc., a real estate holding company affiliated with Sun Media Group, publishers of the Sun Journal and Advertiser-Democrat, agreed to delay demolition of the house if someone could move it from next to the Advertiser building. A volunteer group known as Friends of the Gingerbread House, who later formed the nonprofit Norway Landmarks Preservation Society, banded together to save it.

In 2011, the house was moved up the street to near Butters Park. Since then, the roof has been reshingled and other restoration work done.

Shepard said they intend to be on site for the long haul.

“There were neighbors walking their dogs (on the day the trench was dug),” said Shepard. “They’re talking excitedly about how (the project) will enhance the neighborhood.”

More information on the overall restoration project can be found at http://gingerbreadhousenorway.org/.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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