When a drunk driver crashed into the parlor of Marrett House (1789) in Standish, Maine, the staff of Historic New England was able to see first-hand how well their disaster plan worked!
The damage was serious: clapboard smashed, wall studs snapped, wainscoting was knocked out, and furniture was displaced inside the room.
Local staff were on the scene quickly to secure the area. A team drove up within hours of the crash, to add temporary supports for the 2nd floor and to board up the hole in the house. The insurance company was called, and the policy was able to cover some recovery costs.
With such extensive damage, recovery was not straightforward. The floor carpet (dating to 1857) was undamaged, and due to its size, it was rolled and boxed to remain in the room during construction work. Furniture and objects had been removed from the room immediately, to be treated and stored. The house remained open for tours during the entire process.
The conservation and restoration of the structure was carried out with the goal of maintaining as much of the original materials as possible. The 1857 wallpaper and paint finishes were protected in situ. Where new support beams were needed, the modern additions were marked with copper tags to identify them as non-original. Plaster, lathe, and wainscoting were replaced; in the end, only spot retouching of the paint on the paneling was necessary.
Only three pieces of furniture were actually damaged (two chairs and a card table), and one vase fell during the crash. No pictures fell off the walls, and the rug was totally fine. Overall, they feel lucky that the damage was not worse.
Here are some tips they shared for disaster response:
-photograph the damage before starting recovery: this is good documentation practice and can help with insurance claims
-don’t throw anything away: a small bit of veneer from the damaged table was later discovered among the wood splinters and debris swept up during recovery (and saved in a box), and was able to be reattached
-make sure the emergency telephone tree makes sense: HNE is geographically far-flung, and in this case the first people called were NOT the closest to the scene