Richardson-Bates’ finial removed; renovations planned

Local contractors last week removed the finial atop the Richardson-Bates House Museum to start repairs to the finial’s base, marking the second time the building’s decorative crown has been removed since its installation more than a century ago. Pictured, Dave Bock of Minetto Painting, John Pauldine of Everoof Standing-Seam Metal Roofing, and another local contractor place the finial on the ground after removing it from the top of the historic building. 

OSWEGO — Local historians this month removed the decorative finial from the top of the Richardson-Bates House Museum after high winds rendered the building’s crowning feature unstable. 

The finial has graced the city’s skyline since its original installation in the 19th century, but as high winds and poor weather compromised the integrity of the finial’s base in recent years, local historians were forced to swiftly respond, according to Oswego County Historical Society (OCHS) President Mary Kay Stone.

“One more windstorm and we might have had a disaster,” Stone told The Palladium-Times last week. “The fiberglass structure on the bottom failed when the wooden base rotted out beneath it.”

According to Oswego County Historian Justin White, the finial’s original wooden base was replaced in 1975 during a building-wide restoration project. The seven-foot, 46-year-old finial resting atop the building is a replication of the original, however, the updated wooden and fiberglass hollow base caused the finial to rock during windstorms and crack the bottom after decades of wear, White and Stone said. 

“We decided to recreate it how it was originally designed by architects (in 1975),” White said of the now compromised replica. “In recent years we realized it was leaning and we didn’t want it to get damaged or damage anything else, but we want to keep it close to the original.”

The county historian said the finial’s unsteadiness was “an important thing to address” because the winds that lash throughout the Port City will continue to whip and cause more damage if left unchecked. 

OCHS personnel said they’re “hoping the finial base remains durable” after the project is completed. 

“The finial was in dire disrepair and gradually disintegrated and we got super nervous about the finial tipping,” White said. “Every decade, it is our responsibility to take care of what needs to be addressed. We are very proud of how the building looks and a lot of people give us credit for how the structure looks.”

When asked if any alterations will be made to strengthen the final base’s stability, White said the project entails an evaluation of the finial’s base on top of the tower and the decorative top itself. They would evaluate it and make the needed repairs, then reinstall the decorative piece back on top of the building. 

Stone said the finial would remain lowered until the OCHS “can find someone who works with fiberglass” and can repair it. She anticipates the finial’s to return to its home as early as spring of next year. 

White said finding a contractor trained in handling historical preservation — such as a project like this — is hard to come by due to the uniqueness and the “very unusual situation” historians are in.

“You’re not going to have a lot of contractors familiar with this setup,” White said. “This pertains to everything when it comes to a historical building because of the building’s historic and one of a kind nature.”  

The local landmark dates back to 1867, but construction was occurring on the site as early as the 1840s. Built originally as a residence for the Jacob and Naomi Richardson, their son, Maxwell, inherited the property and built additions onto the building, giving the structure its colossal look today, according to the museum’s website (www.rbhousemuseum.org).

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