Josh Stratton is supervising a crew that is giving a fresh look to the circa 1855 house that puts Janesville on so many maps.
“It’s more fun to work in. It’s a part of history,” Stratton said Wednesday as he gave The Gazette a tour of the work, which will give a fresh look to the mansion-museum called the Lincoln-Tallman Restorations
Stratton, of the Janesville-based American Paint & Paper, figures his crew has patched and taped miles of wall cracks.
The work includes repairs to plaster and decorative moldings—and a lot of paint.
The last time the first- and second-floor rooms were painted was the mid-1990s, said Tim Maahs, executive director of the Rock County Historical Society.
Maahs wrote the grant that is paying for the work: $68,000 from the George Kemp Tallman Charitable Trust.
It’s important work to keep the house where Abraham Lincoln slept in good shape, in part because it is Janesville’s heritage and in part because it will attract tourist revenue.
“This type of project feeds right into that because this is not like anything you typically see, to this perfect level of restoration, so it absolutely is a major draw for a lot of people who are into touring historic homes or just have a ‘Downton Abbey’ fantasy of all that stuff,” Maahs said.
The main attraction, of course, is the room and bed where Abraham Lincoln is believed to have slept when he visited Janesville to give a speech in 1859
Maahs has visions of ways to make the house a bigger part of community events while increasing revenue. But first, the place needs to look ship-shape.
The walls in the rooms and halls had been white since the 1994 paint job. The ceilings and moldings will remain the chalky color, but the flat expanses of the walls will be a darker hue, what Maahs called aged white.
The color scheme, believed to be authentic, follows research by the late Maurice Montgomery, who was the historical society’s historian for many years, Maahs said.
The color contrast is subtle, but people who have seen the old and renewed walls have remarked about the difference. Maahs said it makes the architecture “sing.”
Stratton’s crew is attending to details such as the original wooden front doors, which had split so much that they let in daylight. Screws and epoxy pulled the doors back into shape.
The drawing room, ladies’ parlor and library were completed last year. Current work includes other rooms, including the master bedroom.
Heating vents—cast iron coated with white porcelain—had been painted white. Stratton’s crew stripped the paint so the porcelain—painted decoratively in some rooms—glows as it did when the Tallmans moved in. Remarkably, the cast-iron vent mechanisms still work.
The grand staircase, the steps of which had been painted white, will be repainted to give a wood-like appearance.
The furnishings and artwork—original pieces the Tallmans used—were moved across the hall until each room was completed.
Upstairs, paint is peeling from spots on the ceiling—the result of water damage when the copper roof was replaced.
The third floor, which was damaged when the roof leaked, has not been on the tour for some time and will not get attention from this grant. Maahs hopes to find the money to restore the floor sometime in the future.
Maahs keeps a list of projects that will need to be done sooner or later, including tuck-pointing the 165-year-old exterior brick, a massive task.
The city owns the Tallman House, as it is commonly called. The historical society runs it as a museum, full of the actual furniture the Tallman family used.
The city provides $45,000 a year and has in the past chipped in more, including $1.2 million in the 2010s to replace the roof and the heating system, among other improvements, Maahs said.
Now, Maahs said he would prefer to keep repair work funded by grants.
“We want to stay completely away from asking anything of the taxpayers except that they come for a visit,” he said.
The work began in March 2020, when the drawing room, ladies’ parlor and library were refreshed. Work on seven additional areas in the house began in February and will be completed soon.
The historical society plans a fundraising campaign for the remaining work at its annual Summer Solstice celebration, set for June 23. It will include hors d’oeuvres, drinks and music in a tent on the grounds and the opportunity to see the completed interior work.
The house is not open for tours until May. Plans are to continue tours through Christmas instead of the past practice of closing from September through November.