“It’s definitely a work of love, but it’s also many, many hours,” said Peggy Sousa, president of the historical society.
With a wrap-around front and side porch and three stories of visiting space, the house, once finished, will be open to the public, according to Sousa. Sousa and her husband Carl, along with past Historical Society president Cleo Ouellette, were on hand Saturday morning at the house, working on displays and getting the rooms ready for the summer season. Carl Sousa, with tools at the ready, was working on renovating a former downstairs bathroom.
The Wylie house will open to the public June 30, at the same time the caboose and water tower open for visitors. The house was so named because the Wylie family was the last to live there, but the house’s history goes back to the late 1800s.
“Back in the day when there were rumrunners, the house was utilized as one of the homes,” Sousa said. On the third floor, just off an alcove and through an unfinished attic area, one can see a round port-style window that looked over the St. John River. There, the people in the house would wave a lamp in the window to signify the coast was clear.
“Whenever you see a house like that with a round window at the top, chances are that was one of the houses,” said Ouellette.
The house was built in the late 1800s, and was registered in 1909. It still has all the original tin ceilings and woodwork. An outbuilding in the back that used to be a carriage house is gone now, Sousa said, but its walls were once papered in newspapers, and those newspapers will be framed inside the house.
The Historical Society has owned the house at 309 Main St. for 3 ½ years and had not done anything with it yet, Sousa said. They decided to go over to the house every Saturday since April 28 to work on readying it for visitors. Hundreds of hours with other volunteers in the society have gone into the restoration, Sousa said.
A sign declaring ”Wylie House” has been erected in the front yard. They have slowly been adding historical pieces, such as a 1926 bedroom dresser.
“Everything is original to the home except for the paneling,” said Ouellette, who played in the house as a child with her friend, a Marceau who lived there in the 1950s.
The Bouchards owned the home originally, she said, then a part of the Marceau family came to live with their grandmother in the late 1940s, and then the Wylies bought it from them.
The effort has been “98 percent volunteer work and out of pocket,” Sousa said, as the historical society received funding but was trying to save the bulk of it to repair the leaning water tower.
In the house, along with an upright piano and a 1920s-era Victrola – donated by Claire Marquis, daughter of Alexandre also features a chapel on the main floor with 1960s and 1980s pieces from St. Luce Church.
An antique bed and a “fainting couch” – so named for when ladies in tight corsets would need a place to land if feeling faint – furnish one of the upstairs bedrooms, each named after a member of the Wylie household. Another bedroom bears the name “Our Darling Room” because of a small stainless-steel plaque the society found inside a dresser when renovating, bearing the words “Our Darling” in engraved cursive script. It may have been a keepsake from the coffin of a child, the group speculated.
There are also many different styles of canes in the house, a tribute to Austin Wylie, founder of the Acadian Festival. Some of the circa-1940s furniture was donated by Vern and Joyce Labbe of Frenchville, which belonged to Ida Roy before them.
The craft room upstairs features a large weaving loom and a silk-lined wooden hope chest, a wedding gift to Ouellette’s mother and father in 1930. On the third floor, a space is dedicated as a playroom with antique toys. Off that space is the attic and rumrunner window. The group also plans to build a shed to display tools.
Sousa said she hopes the area’s youth continue to have an interest in history. “We’d love to have younger generations to our society,” she said.
For this summer, the National Park Service will provide a guide, Holly Dionne of Madawaska, to the Frenchville Historical Society to give tours. While there will be no charge, the society will encourage “free will donations” to help with upkeep.
The Frenchville Historical Society buildings, including the Wylie House and nearby buildings and caboose, are open 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday, through August, or by appointment. For more information call 543-7301 or 543-7309.