In the early 1900s, Isabel Howland inherited her father's home in Sherwood. The niece of abolitionist and suffragist Emily Howland, Isabel expanded the home on Route 34B, adding a third section on the north end. And she opened it up to the community, leaving its doors unlocked, earning it the name Opendore.
For years, Howland's home played host to figures from the national women's rights movement, and the family's house and store were stops along the Underground Railroad. However, as Opendore changed hands throughout the mid to late 20th century, it began to deteriorate, and it was fully abandoned in 1975.
Now, for the first time in four decades, the home will open its doors once more.
On Saturday, July 29, the Howland Stone Store Museum will host an open house at the historic home, which has undergone major renovations in the past few years.
Located roughly 200 feet from Opendore, the museum acquired the property from the county in 2008, and in 2011, HSSM received a grant from the state to restore the home.
"That was the beginning of this long adventure about what to do with (Opendore)," said Patricia White, a Howland descendant and member of the board.
That adventure is not over yet.
While construction began in 2013, the first phase was not complete until last summer, as much of the home had to be torn down. Phase one focused on stabilizing the north wing — the last section that Isabel Howland added in 1910.
Now, phase two of the project is nearly finished, HSSM Board President Larry Buffam said, and it's all thanks to a volunteer effort from the community.
"Last year, the bids were put out for phase two, but they came in very high," he said. "The board talked about it and decided that we would try to do some of the work ourselves ... and be more frugal with the funds we've been given."
The second phase expanded Opendore, adding a two-story quadrant to the south side of the home. Volunteers also put up siding and gave the north wing a fresh coat of light yellow paint.
All that's left to complete is a chimney, roofing and a handicap ramp, Buffam said. Then, contractors can begin phase three, installing electrical work and plumbing throughout the building.
"We hope to finish phase two and begin phase three by the end of 2017," he said. "Then our hope is that we will be able to complete much of the inside work with volunteers."
Inside, Buffam said, the goal is to restore as much of Opendore's original material as possible, including trim from the main entry hall and drawing room. Upon completion, visitors would be able to explore the first and second floors, as well as a full basement.
"It's a historical restoration," Buffam said. "It will differ in some ways, but I think it's a plan that is in keeping with the way it was. ... We will keep it as original as we possibly can."
White added, "I'm interested in the local history and I like to see the stories saved so people understand how we got to where we are. ... My ancestors were involved in abolitionism and other social justice, including women's suffrage, and I just think it's important to tell those stories and to keep moving forward so we can make society better."
The board hopes to complete construction and officially open the Howland home in the spring of 2019, which would coincide with the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. But for now, the community can visit Opendore this weekend to see the progress that's been made.
"We've come a long way, but we have a long way to go," White said. "We couldn't have done this without the support of a lot of people, many of them local. ... This is our way of saying thanks for the support."