After months of planning, major restoration work has begun at the American Independence Museum that will “transform its one acre campus,” according to Executive Director Emma Bray.

“It’s not just the aesthetics of our property, but some of the actual nuts and bolts of our Ladd-Gilman House,” she noted.

These “nuts and bolts” include concrete skirt removal around the Ladd-Gilman House (c.1721), repointing the foundation and replacement of rotten sills at its front.

“We will move to the drainage and re-grading portion of the work in August, weather-permitting,” said Bray, who said one outcome from this portion of the project will be quite noticeable.

“There will be a new path from Governors Lane and the brick patio of Ladd-Gilman House to Folsom Tavern [on Water Street],” she explained. “There will also be substantial improvements to the front yard between the caretaker’s cottage and gift shop entrance.”

That entire area, Bray noted, will be lowered to provide for a 6″ foundation reveal, which she described as “best practice in historic house preservation.” 

“Currently, our sill line for that portion of the house sits below grade, which contributes to our issues of water in the basement and rot for those clapboards below grade,” she said. “The front yard space will also be lowered, yard drains installed and entry pathways re-laid.”

In addition to $80,000 grant from the NH Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP), the project is funded by the Lewis Family Foundation, Samuel P. Hunt Foundation, William W. Treat Foundation, and private donors.

“We received a tremendous amount of support for this project, which is critical for the museum’s future and our ability to best care for our collection,” she said.

The museum’s collection includes one of only 26 surviving copies of the Dunlap Broadside of the Declaration of Independence and two rare drafts of the U.S. Constitution.

According to Bray, the project began in mid July with the removal of several trees, one of which included a dying ash located adjacent to People’s United Bank staff parking lot. 

“The removal of this and other trees were important for many reasons, but done so only after careful consideration and consultation,” said Bray.

In looking ahead, Ozzie Ayscue, president of the museum’s Board of Governors, said the project “puts a literal foundation under the 1721 Ladd-Gilman House and American Independence Museum collection.”

“We feel like we have a solid new platform for launching diverse experiential programs for an expanding community,” he said.

Bray agreed and added, “We are but stewards of this property, so it is very gratifying to prepare for the future, especially as we look to the Ladd-Gilman’s 300th anniversary in 2021.”

Even with the financial support received so far, Bray said it is clear more funding will be needed to successfully accomplish all aspects of the project.

“It is important we take this opportunity to do all we can right now to ensure the integrity of the Ladd-Gilman House and our collection, so future generations may enjoy it far into the future,” she added. “This is an exciting moment for the museum and the Town of Exeter.”