Historian offers blueprint for researching houses

BENNINGTON — Every house has a story to tell, and sometimes the smallest detail can help a homeowner unearth that story.

Historian Robert "Bob" Tegart detailed in his own experience's in unraveling his house's history, and provided tips on how homeowners can begin their own searches, during a presentation this past Sunday at the Bennington Museum's Paresky Education Center.

Titled "Whose House This Is, I Do Not Know," Tegart's presentation was part of the Bennington Historical Society's February meeting.

Tegart said people should begin their research by looking at its setting and learning about the history of the neighborhood —who settled in the area, local folklore, and the architecture of the surrounding houses. He noted that one should see how the house fits in with the others.

The look of a house can be a key component in a house's history. Tegart suggests that people take a walk along their premises and observe the surroundings, noting the presence of depressions in the ground and any other clues that might show how the house has changed.

"Finally, there's the paper trail. This is to verify all of the things you're finding out," Tegart said. "This is the way to find out what's true you're going to look at your deed, if you have it. It will tell you who lived there and when. The deeds do not mention houses, just property, so you have to be careful."

Local ancestry can be looked up in the Bennington Museum's Research Library, he said, where census data, obituaries and more can be found. The Bennington Free Library has this information available as well. Tegart suggested that local historical societies, too, can provide useful material.

When Tegart began his research on his Elm Street home, he started by looking at maps, beginning with 1856 to see what was in the area before his street was established. By 1869, Dewey Street and Elm Street had been added to Bennington's map. He discovered a fairground and railroad were located in the area, according to the map.

The oldest house on Elm Street was built in 1924, and the newest in 1970, Tegart explained. Most houses were built in the 1920s, and a number of styles, such as Dutch Colonial, are represented.

In his research, Tegart even found out that Grandma Moses had lived on Elm Street with some relatives, and had a closet full of artwork that was at some point thrown out to make room for a nursery.

Elm Street was once home to residents who made their livings in a variety of ways, such as: an assistant manager of a phone company, machinists, laborers at a mill, clerks, a railroad conductor, a chiropractor, and more.

"What we can conclude is that Elm Street, my block, was predominantly put in the 1920s, and it was kind of a white collar, blue collar, professional neighborhood, and that's how my house fits into the street — that's the setting," Tegart said.

In his research, Tegart also found that his house had at one point belonged to a prominent Bennington businessman, who owned a furniture store downtown. He found the homeowner's name when he found an old TV Guide that had been sent to the house in the homeowner's name.

In addition to presenting his findings on his Bennington home, he talked about the history of his former home in Clinton, N.Y.

Tegart suggested that anyone interested in researching their own home and needing help to get started could reach out to him or to the Bennington Historical Society.

Tegart is a New York native who moved to Bennington in 2016 and volunteers with local historical organizations and taught classes at the Mohawk Valley Institute for Learning in Retirement.

He is interested in learning about the social impact of modern warfare on small communities and has contributed to historical books. Tegart studied history at the University of Rochester and attended the graduate school at the State University of New York at Geneseo.


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