November 8, 2007

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Back in time at a Concord mansion
Carolyn Jenkins’ legacy
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

What happens when you leave the earth? What happens when you leave the earth and you are the last person in a family who owned a plot of land in Concord, for more than 200 years?

Carolyn Jenkins worked in theater in New York, directing and in costume houses, said Mary Dewing of Durham. Dewing and Jenkins met when they were about four years old in Concord. Before Jenkins died of cancer in 1981, she asked her friends Dewing, Carol Bagan of Concord and attorney Robert Reno of Orr and Reno to act as trustees for the Kimball-Jenkins Charitable Trust. Jenkins left a late 1800s-era mansion and outbuildings at 266 North Main St. for charitable purposes such as encouragement of art or “prevention of cruelty to animals,” according to her will.

“For 15 years, you could walk in there and it looked as if the family stepped out for a moment,” Dewing said.

Trustees have since changed. So has the property.

Originally, tours were offered through the mansion. The trustees borrowed money from themselves to renovate the Carriage House, basically a garage, to rent out for functions. But they could never figure out a reliable way to support the main house operations, Dewing said. “There’s so much to the maintenance,” she said.

Jenkins’ will was challenged by her father’s family, Dewing said. Walter Jenkins had insisted that Wellesley College, his relatives and Saint Paul’s Church were mentioned in the trust. His version was found to trump hers, so there was little endowment left to cover the property’s expenses. “We were stunned,” Dewing said.

After Dewing left the board, the furnishings were sold at an auction in February 2005 through Hap Moore Antiques in York, Maine. Until she left the board, the mansion had not changed in almost 70 years, Dewing said. It wasn’t a museum but there were some rooms that were treated that way when she and Jenkins were children, Dewing said. They were off limits to kids.

A few years ago, Lorrie Carey promoted the idea of using Kimball-Jenkins as an art school. There had been discussion among trustees of “mothballing” the estate, Carey said. She’d volunteered there for a number of years, lived next door, and felt people should have access. Carey had helped with a summer music series on the Kimball-Jenkins grounds. The house also used to partner with the historic Pierce Mansion for historic district tours, Carey said. “Of course, there are no artifacts to show anymore,” she said.

From Jenkins’ will and background, it seemed they should find an arts-related purpose for the estate, Carey said. The one thing Concord didn’t have was a visual art school, she said. Carey has volunteered on other cultural nonprofit projects in the area, including the Concord Community Music School and Capitol Center for the Arts.

“Carolyn’s focus was more with the performing arts, but ... she would not be displeased by this, I think,” Dewing said of the Kimball-Jenkins School of Art, which has since come into being.

“I truly hope that community art school continues because it is the only one of its type in this area,” Carey said. “I commend the students and teachers for speaking out and making the community aware of what they offer and its importance,” Carey said. The current trustees have approached other organizations about partnering with Kimball-Jenkins to cope with the estate’s financial difficulties, they said. The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s leaders have said they were approached and want to transfer their headquarters operations and contents to Kimball-Jenkins. Currently, the estate also hosts the New Hampshire Technical Institute’s growing visual arts program, which projects that 700 students will take courses at the estate this academic year.

Carey was one of the later trustees — or at least she thought she was. She became concerned when about $40,000 had been withdrawn from a trust account and she could not find record of expenditure, she said. After she questioned the discrepancy in 2000, she found a shopping bag left at her front door with a plaque thanking her for her years of service, she said. For the previous two and a half years, she believed she was a trustee, yet had never met with the probate judge who has power to accept resignations and install new trustees. Carey then spent about $5,000 in legal fees to “unravel that mess,” she said. “Because, of course, I didn’t want Kimball-Jenkins to be in any trouble,” she said.

Carolyn Jenkins’ will states that if and when the estate is no longer feasible to function, the trust or proceeds should be distributed for the educational and charitable purposes for the City of Concord.

“If they have managed to make a profit, it seems to me singularly unwise to abandon it,” Dewing said.

“It is true that things were more challenging when we started than they are now. That’s good news. The place is operating well at the moment. The question is, do we have the income to look after the place long-term down the road?” current Kimball-Jenkins trustee Eric Palson said. The estate may be out of debt, but current income isn’t enough to hire a marketing director, development director, grant writer or full-time maintenance staff, trustee Robert Wilson said.

The current trustees, who also include Wilson’s wife, Jill, and William Saturley, are scheduled to meet with a probate judge regarding trust finances at the end of November, Wilson said.


More Kimball roots
Carolyn Jenkins left all the Kimball family’s letters and documents to the New Hampshire Historical Society.

“I remember going over one time to see Carolyn; she said ‘You’ll never guess what I’m doing — I’m ironing letters,’” Mary Dewing said. “It’s an amazing collection.” Dewing spent hours reading them. They mention the Gold Rush and the Trail of Tears, among other major events, she said. In one letter, a woman is visiting with the Stark family in the early 1800s. One of her brothers worked in New York City, and his landlady had sent word that he was ill. Within an hour, the sister was packed and on a stage coach. She was detained in Hartford, Conn., for a couple days because of a storm and had to wade through hip-high snow. When she found his rooming house in New York, she wrote, “He was astonished to see me, and I aghast to see him,” because he was so ill, Dewing quoted. The two spoke for a few hours, and he died in her arms, Dewing said. She wrote that she could have worn a mourning ring, but a lock of hair would suffice. There is a four-inch lock of chestnut-colored hair in the latter, Dewing said.


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