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Work continues on historic Rocks Village Hand Tub House

HAVERHILL — Members of the Rocks Village Memorial Association are not quite ready to celebrate, but they are excited about the progress they’ve made in restoring the historic 1829 Hand Tub House, once the center of firefighting efforts in the village and a place where villagers gathered. They are also transforming the tiny Toll House that sits closest to the Rocks Bridge into a museum that will tell the story of the village through various informational displays.

Over the years, various Rocks Village residents have made repairs to the Hand Tub House, but were unable to keep up with the mounting damage caused by wind and rain and time, Association members said.

Then in 1996, the association began raising money to preserve and restore the structure, which sits close to the Haverhill side of the Rocks Bridge.

Members have made tremendous progress, but there is still more to be done.

“Getting to where we are with the restoration of the Hand Tub House took more than a village,” said association President Cindy Dauksewicz. “We are very grateful to all who have helped us.”

The Hand Tub House once housed a piece of firefighting apparatus called a “hand tub,” which required manual pumping of water.

A comprehensive restoration of the red and white structure began in 2012, and since then the association has overseen a number of projects including shoring up the basement, replacing the roof, updating the electrical system, replacing wooden trim and re-glazing windows.

So far, about $100,000 has been spent but another $40,000 to $50,000 is still needed to complete the project.

Recent work involved replacing bowed and weathered clapboards on the back side of the building, replastering of second floor ceilings and walls that had suffered extensive damage from roof leaks, re-plastering staircase walls and refinishing wooden stairs and trim, and restoring the cupola, as woodpeckers had gouged dozens of holes in the trim.

Wooden floors still need refinishing, a project that will require more funding, members said.

“Vallant plastering and McKallagat Painting did a beautiful job on the second floor walls and ceilings, while Wordell’s Home Solutions tackled the restoration of the back of the building – ensuring the building is weather tight,” said Christine Kwitchoff, the association’s treasurer.

The entire building received a fresh exterior coat of paint as well, including the cupola.

“This is the first time since I moved into the village 22 years ago that all four sides (of the building) have been painted at the same time,” said Lydia Harris, the association’s vice president. She noted that the city provided $5,000 towards the painting work.

“The Museum Festival of Trees through their partnership grants has been a major reason for the progress that has been made on the building,” Harris added.

The Rocks Vi l l age Memorial Association was appointed by the mayor and the city council as administrators of the city-owned building in 2009.

The nonprofit Historic New England has also been part of the restoration project, association members said.

“Through their grant program, we received money towards the roof replacement,” Harris said, adding that Historic New England partnered with the association to create a walking tour fundraiser through the village, speaking on its architecture and history.

“The goal is to finish the inside of the building within the next three years,” Dauksewicz said. The Toll House, which sits on the same site as the Hand Tub House is being converted into a museum, with the help of a grant from the Essex National Heritage Commission.

The tiny 10-by 12-foot building, built by students at Whittier Vo-Tech, is a replica of the original Toll House/shoe shop that was purchased by Henry Ford and is on display at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan.

The little building was designed to allow a toll keeper to stay out of the weather and provide enough room to continue working as a shoemaker in-between taking tolls and raising the drawbridge. Tolls were collected until 1868, when Essex County declared all highways to be free for public use, effectively assumed authority over the bridge, but not maintenance, association members said.

Items that will eventually be on display in the Toll House Museum include old shoes and shoe lasts from the village’s early shoemaking days. A sign on the outside of the tiny building tells visitors how much the toll would have been to cross the bridge in the 1800s.

The Toll House Museum will be open during the Association’s annual community spring yard sale, which is planned for June 2 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and June 3 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The sale will feature vintage glassware, furniture, decorative items, tools, kitchenware, books and more.

Proceeds go to the preservation and restoration of the Hand Tub House, which is located at the corner of 1 River Road and East Main Street, next to the Rocks Bridge.

For more information, call 978-374-2119 or visit online at

The historic Hand Tub House — a firehouse dating to 1829 — continues to receive improvements with efforts from the Rocks Village Memorial Association.

AMANDA SABGA/Staff photos

Cindy Dauksewicz and Christine Kwitchoff stand in front of the newly completed Toll House, which is being transformed into a museum.

The second floor walls and ceilings were replastered and painted. These 10 wooden benches are in need of expert restoration.n

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