If the portrait of Nellie Chamberlin hanging over the fireplace inside the front door of the Woman’s Club of Concord could speak, it would no doubt share plenty of proud tales of the organization’s prolonged work in the community.
It would also probably ask for a blanket – brrrrrr!
Calling the club cool is not a problem for any of its 135 members; what they would rather not be is cold. But Nellie’s likeness adorns a chimney badly in need of a new lining. It’s also a few steps away from a crumbling front porch and one floor down from a hallway full of drafty windows.
While the historic house at 44 Pleasant St. is often bustling with activity during public events, it has started to boast a repair list as lengthy as its guest list. And the club doesn’t exactly have a “this house is really old, let’s fix it up” fund.
“We don’t have a big pot of gold to repair the building with,” member Cindy Flanagan said.
What they do have is an upcoming New Year’s Eve Gala, to be held Dec. 31 at the Capitol Center for the Arts from 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Tickets are $100, and the evening features entertainment by Club Soda Band, food from the Concord Co-op’s Celery Stick Cafe and desserts by Cafe Indigo. You can ring in the new year with some of Concord’s most happenin’ ladies and help ensure the house they call home will be around to ring in a few more itself. (Tickets for the event can be purchased at womansclubofconcord.org).
“We were given this gift, and we just need to find the wherewithal to maintain it,” Flanagan said.
The gift came from Chamberlin, a member whose family bequeathed the building – the Chamberlin House – to the organization in 1919 to be used as club headquarters. The house does much more than host public events, though, as the club rents rooms to female tenants in need of transitional housing, offering a safe environment for those who need one. Some residents stay for as little as three months; others have been in the house for years and have returned on several different occasions.
Due to the building’s age, keeping up with repairs can be difficult. The club had raised enough to repair the furnace not long ago when a pipe burst on the eve of an event, forcing the group to borrow a neighboring facility for the night. But when repairs began to solve that problem, the front porch had to be removed, and unexpected rot was discovered underneath, which has also raised concerns about the floor just above the porch.
“We want to get it back so that aesthetically it looks beautiful so the community will embrace it and use it,” Lisa Schermerhorn, the club’s president, said.
Money, though, is tight. The group charges only $35 annually for membership dues, and much of the rent collected from tenants covers the cost of utilities.
The house is also on the National Register of Historic Places, which means repairs must be made in a particular fashion that “follow the original footprint,” Flanagan said. An assessment was done about five years ago, Schermerhorn said, outlining all of the things that need to be repaired.
For that reason, the upcoming celebration is an important event. And the members don’t want people to be thrown by the gala tag – this is no tea-sipping evening.
“It’s a good, old fashioned rock-and-roll party,” Barbara Ruedig, a former president and current member of the group, said.
Things have been rocking and rolling for the club over the past few years, thanks in large part to a critical resurgence when things were looking dire. As recently as 2007 membership had dwindled to only a handful of elderly women who were struggling to maintain the house and had stopped recruiting new members, when Ruedig joined the club and started to put recruitment efforts into overdrive.
The house has also come a long way. While there’s certainly work to be done, Marge Pugliese, a resident off and on since 2000, can recall the shape it was in when she first arrived.
“In a 10-year time frame, this house has come alive,” Pugliese said. “If you saw this place when I first got here, you wouldn’t believe it; the shades wouldn’t go up and down. But we’ve come to life. How important is that, to bring something as historical as this back?”
There’s no questioning the building’s history. An ancient wooden intercom system still hangs in the kitchen, and the weathered floors give off a consistent creak with every step. An antique bookshelf in the office upstairs is home to a vintage music box as well as log books from the organization’s meetings that feature hand-written minutes from 1903.
The club wants to rehab the house so it can continue to open its doors to local women, be it for numerous community gatherings or for needed housing.
“Our goal is to really make a statement in the community and really make a difference,” Schermerhorn said.
That’s already happening if you ask most members, who are hoping to see the renovations through to the end.
“It’s been transformational for me,” Barbara Morris, a member for two years who joined after moving to Concord without a social network to rely on. “We’re one of the best kept secrets in Concord, but people need to discover us and get involved with us.”