`Frosting on the cake'; Widow's walk returns to Asa Waters Mansion.
MILLBURY - When Asa Waters 2nd, a prominent gun manufacturer, built his stately mansion here in 1829, the original Federal- and neoclassical-style structure included elaborate ornamentation, such as a colonnade of classical columns across the east entrance, but the plans for the roof left it unadorned.
Photographs from 1860 show the addition of three delicately carved widow's walks and decorative railings around the rooftop platforms. Since then, architectural detail typically associated with coastal homes has been a defining feature of the mansion.
New England weather, however, took its toll on the mansion's most recently constructed widow's walk, built in 1999 by students at Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School, and the peeling, rotted structure was removed in 2009 for repair.
So when Carol A. Vulter took office last spring as co-president of the Friends of the Asa Waters Mansion, a volunteer organization dedicated to preserving the historic home, she was determined to have the refurbished widow's walk put back in place.
"This is the frosting on the cake of the Asa Waters Mansion, this widow's walk," Ms. Vulter said.
The Friends of Asa Waters Mansion embarked in May on an ambitious fundraising campaign to restore the widow's walk and recreate "the most beautiful home in all of the Blackstone Valley," as Ms. Vulter described it in a press release, for Millbury's bicentennial celebration in 2013.
Custom builder J.A. Gemme of North Grafton was hired, and the Friends group sent letters to local businesses asking for support.
"We had no idea how much it would cost," Ms. Vulter said. The contractor provided some services as a contribution to the project, resulting in a roughly $13,000 bill. But, as with any building project, unforeseen problems and expenses cropped up along the way.
"This has all come from fundraising, completely. It was overwhelming, the response we got," Ms. Vulter said about the community's help in financing the project.
Millbury Savings Bank and the Millbury Women's Club signed on as major corporate sponsors to bring back the widow's walk. Goretti's Supermarket, UniBank and Wheelabrator Millbury also became corporate sponsors. Diane Hill, D.F. Hill Contracting, the Millbury Lions Club, Mulhane Home for Funerals and Ray's True Value contributed as sponsors, and several other donors from throughout the Blackstone Valley have provided support.
A yard sale netted more than $1,400, but the group still has to raise a few thousand dollars more before the project is paid for, according to Catherine T. Elliott, executive director of the Asa Waters Mansion and co-president of the Friends group with Ms. Vulter.
The group hopes to meet its fundraising goal with a six-course Samuel Adams Beer dinner at the mansion on Oct. 23. The Boston Beer Company, brewer of Samuel Adams Beer, will pair samplings of different beers with each course prepared by executive chef Michael Banks of Banks Catering in Grafton. The main course features short ribs braised in beer, with Yukon gold mashed potatoes. Tickets are $55 and are available by going to www.asawaters.org or by calling (508) 865-0855.
"This is something that guys are homing in on a little more than the wine tastings," Ms. Elliott said, comparing the beer dinner to previous events the mansion has hosted.
Although money for the widow's walk is still being raised, the builders replaced the spruced-up balustrade in mid-September, beginning with the front of the mansion, facing Elm Street.
"When (the widow's walk) was down, it just wasn't the Asa Waters Mansion anymore," Ms. Vulter said. "That first piece was set in, and it just came alive again.
"It's such a visceral thing for Catherine and me; that's what architecture is."
PHOTOG: T&G Staff /RICK CINCLAIR
CUTLINE: (1) Workers install a widow's walk on the roof of the Asa Waters Mansion. (2) The reinstalled widow's walk on the Asa Waters Mansion was built in 1999 by students at Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School.