Kim Terry and her friend Pat Williams walked around the governor's living room Saturday continuing a debate that has flared intermittently since the state first bought a governor's residence nearly 50 years ago.
"I was just at a soup kitchen last week and people there often go without food. Yet look how this guy lives," said Williams of Coventry, as her son admired the electric Lego trains rushing around one of Lowell P. Weicker Jr.'s four Christmas trees.
"Not many people live like this. But not many people are governors," Terry said. "You should provide a place for the governor to live that has some dignity."
The two were among several hundred who lined up in the rain Saturday to see one of three floors of the Georgian colonial in Hartford's West End. The state has just finished replacing plumbing in the seven bathrooms and removing some asbestos and old wiring. Many interior walls are replastered and painted. The renovations cost $318,000, more than four times the original estimate.
Darren Cugno, the building superintendent, said Saturday's open house was the first since the late 1940s, when Gov. Raymond E. Baldwin, the first governor to live in the 19-room mansion, welcomed more than 1,000 curious taxpayers.
The 12 governors who have lived in the mansion have occasionally opened it for receptions for groups such as the Salvation Army or the Boy Scouts. One woman who visited Saturday, Lilian Swanson of West Hartford, said she met Gov. John Lodge during a public event at the mansion in the early 1950s.
"I wish they could fix up the economy of the state of Connecticut as well as they fixed up this house," she said.
Weicker and his wife, Claudia, had left a letter greeting visitors, but they were not home. The two are in Washington this weekend for a Redskins game.
The mansion was built in 1908 for a local doctor. The state bought it for $38,928 in 1943 and then spent another $75,000 on repairs. During the renovations, taxpayers and the press questioned why, while the country was at war, the state was spending money renovating a mansion, according to a state history of the home.
One person suggested the state put the money into war bonds, another that the governor move into a log cabin.
Visitors Saturday generally said they were impressed with the home and glad to see the state had decided to fix it up. There were no anti-income tax protesters or other demonstrators.
"They are not being over-extravagant," said Jane Godfrey of West Hartford, pointing to chipping paint on the governor's shutters and flagpole. "I don't like to see anything deteriorate."
The state police officers and residence staff pointed out to many of the visitors that all but one of the trees and most of the flowers and Christmas decorations had been donated. And two poster boards filled with photographs of the rundown rooms during the renovations were on display in the entrance hall.
The visitors were ushered through six rooms near the mansion's front entrance. Large oriental rugs cover the wood floors. The furniture and paintings in the mansion come from the William Benton Museum at the University of Connecticut, Yale University museum and the Weickers' own home.
The woodwork in the mansion's grand entrance hall was draped in wreaths and bordered with poinsettias. A set of the official state china was set up on the 12-foot long Duncan Phyfe dining room table. The 19 dining room chairs each have crewelwork covers depicting historic scenes.
The Weickers' piano sits at the entrance to the living room, which also has two lamps set on bases designed to look like old rum and brandy drums. A table in the sunroom is filled with family snapshots.
In the library is a tree Weicker cut down in Canterbury, some decorated gingerbread Claudia Weicker made, as well as the framed front page of a newspaper the day Weicker was elected governor.
"I look around and I see the charge of a residence that reflects Connecticut," said Elaine Orzech of Glastonbury. "When you think of Connecticut, you think of a traditional state. This house is not staid, or static. It nicely combines the old and the new."
Dan Kogut of Southington brought his wife and three children for a visit. He used to drive by the mansion every day on his way to the University of Hartford, wondering what it was like inside.
"We pay for it," he said. "We should be able to take a look."
Terry's son, 7-year-old Travis Terry, had a chance to try out one of the governor's bathrooms.
"Fancy place," he said after his visit. "A Lego train set, good wide TV, a swimming pool. I'd stay here."Copyright © 2015, CT Now