WINCHESTER — Between $15,000 and $20,000 is needed to return a replica of the Old Jake weather vane to the top of Rouss Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company, according to company president Vernon Clark.
The money would be used to “get everything up to [building] code,” Clark said recently, after a worker from Winchester-based Vintage Restoration was seen inspecting the historic firehouse’s turret to determine what improvements need to be made so the replica of the iconic fireman weather vane can be restored to its perch overlooking downtown.
More than four years have passed since the 6-foot-tall copper replica was damaged in February 2013, possibly by wind, and removed from atop the 19th-century firehouse at 3 S. Braddock St. for repairs. The replica had been in place since May 2011, according to previous accounts in The Winchester Star.
The Old Jake replica has been fixed and is being stored inside the firehouse, Clark confirmed.
For Martha Bartlett, great-granddaughter of city benefactor Charles Broadway Rouss, for whom the firehouse is named, Old Jake can’t return to the Winchester skyline soon enough. Bartlett, of Washington, D.C., paid $9,000 to have the replica weather vane made after the highly valuable original was taken down in 2008 by the fire company and sent to Sotheby’s in New York to be auctioned.
“Needless to say, I’m a little disappointed that it’s not on the skyline,” Bartlett said when reached by phone Tuesday.
She said she hasn’t heard from the fire company, but suggested that if it can’t afford to bring the turret up to code for the weather vane, it should consider giving the Old Jake replica to someone else.
“It could be on top of another downtown building,” Bartlett said, such as Rouss City Hall at 15 N. Cameron St., which also is named for her great-grandfather, who was a successful businessman.
“It’s sort of fun and wonderful,” Bartlett said about the weather vane, which depicts a fireman pointing toward danger with one hand while holding a horn in the other. “It deserves to be up there in the sky.”
The original Old Jake, circa 1850, became part of Winchester’s skyline when it was made for the Union Fire Hall.
In 1895, it moved to the new Charley Rouss Fire Company after the Union Fire Hall was destroyed by fire. Originally called Tom TurnAround, it later became known as Old Jake, possibly because it may have been made by local carriage maker George Barnhart for his son Jacob.
Constructed of molded copper and standing 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide, the original Old Jake is considered a rare and important piece of American folk art. Bartlett, an avid antiques collector, said she intervened when she heard the fire company was going to sell the weather vane for several hundred thousand dollars, telling fire company officials it was worth much more.
In 2008, the original Old Jake went on the auction block at Sotheby’s, but the high bid of $2.1 million didn’t meet the undisclosed reserve price, so Old Jake returned to Winchester, where it has remained on loan to the Museum of the Shenandoah on Amherst Street. Sotheby’s officials had expected the weather vane to bring $3 million to $5 million. The fire company planned to collect the auction proceeds, possibly to use to build a new firehouse, according to sothebys.com.
The loan to the museum, originally for three years, is renewable, museum spokeswoman Julie Armel said.
Bartlett said she offered to have a replica made of Old Jake so it would remain atop the firehouse bearing her great-grandfather’s name and part of the city’s skyline. Artisan Jeff Greene, of Woodbury, Conn., crafted the replica and repaired its outer skin when it came apart at the knee and thigh.
According to Bartlett, her gift was made informally.
“Nothing was in writing,” Bartlett said. “The money came out of my own purse.”
Anyone interested in donating funds to help return Old Jake to his perch should contact the fire company at 540-662-5529.
— Contact Cynthia Cather Burton at email@example.com