BROOKLIN — The Oddfellows Hall, with its mansard roof and gabled dormers, stands tall at the corner of Reach and Center Harbor roads. The towering landmark is in good hands and on secure footing now thanks to several civic-minded collaborators in town.
Robert A. Baird, whose Utah family’s business Historical Arts & Casting Inc. recently restored the cast-iron dome at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., Brooklin Boat Yard owner Steve White and architect John Ike took on and recently finished stabilizing and renovating the 145-year-old structure, which is considered one of the most architecturally significant buildings in Brooklin.
Baird and White jointly own the three-story, Second Empire-style edifice constructed in 1896 by local builder Ralph Bent. Ike, a seasonal resident, became their third partner and the project’s architect.
White had been interested in the rambling, former Oddfellows lodge for a while.
“My interest was the first floor for boatbuilding, which we have been utilizing for more than a year now, after lifting the floor and shoring up the underpinnings, installing a new radiant heat floor and installing a big I-beam down the center to straighten the building and allowing us to remove the centerline wall and two supporting walls,” the boat builder said. “Now it is essentially an open-floor plan and the big windows let in great light for working.”
Baird’s family roots are in Utah, where his father, Steven Baird, was a restoration architect. In the early 1960s, the elder Baird moved his wife and children to Europe, where he started a building program for the Mormon Church. He and his three sons David, Richard and Robert would become one of the nation’s first cast-iron restorers.
“All we do is make old things new,” Robert Baird said modestly. He and his wife, JoDee, and their four children and their families have made Brooklin their permanent home after spending summers here for 20 years. They like to sail.
“We love Utah,” Baird said. “But we’re sure happy we’re here.”
After his work in Europe, Baird says his father was hired to oversee the restoration of the old Mormon community of Nauvoo in Hancock County, Ill. Nauvoo is sometimes described as the Williamsburg of the West. The small city resembles a 19th century village on the banks of the Mississippi River.
For Mormons, Nauvoo holds significance because the Mormon Church’s founder, Joseph Smith, settled there for a time. Smith changed the town’s name from Commerce to Nauvoo. In Hebrew, nauvoo means “beautiful.”
Back in Utah, Baird and his young-adult sons took on restoration of the ZCMI Department Store’s cast-iron façade in Salt Lake City. For the challenging job, they assembled a team of foundry workers to recreate the historic castings. Old methods of sand molding and lost wax foundry processes were revived to cast the intricate pieces.
The Baird family’s firm, Historical Arts & Casting Inc., was founded in 1973. The Bairds specialize in the fabrication and restoration of historic findings and fittings for cast-iron buildings.
While Brooklin’s Oddfellows Hall may be a far-cry from the U.S. Capitol dome in terms of challenges, it was equally satisfying to preserve and repurpose a historic building held dear by community members.
“It was a lot of fun,” Robert Baird said. “We had to do a lot of things.”
Baird’s daughter Eden Cowart has worked with her father for 20 years. She equates the Oddfellow Hall’s transformation to creating three separate, 2,600-square-foot homes. The project took three years.
“It was a lot of work,” said Cowart. She and John Ike converted the second and third floors into open-loft apartments for summer rentals. The second floor, which belongs to the Bairds, is comfortable and inviting with touches like the Deer Isle granite-lined shower stall. The top-floor loft is quite modern and furnished with mid-century finds from Italy.
What next? Cowart says an old Sedgwick home may be their next house call.
“Our goal is to keep any project we work on as historically accurate while using modern, safe materials,” she said. “We love history and staying true to that will always be important to us.”