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Wilson H. Faude, Historic Preservation Activist And Former Old State House Director, Dies

Wilson H. Faude, the crusading preservationist who oversaw the renovation of the Mark Twain House, then transformed the Old State House from a site targeted for demolition back to its rightful place as Hartford's centerpiece, has died. He was 71.

In 1971, Faude was just two years out of college when he was hired as the first curator of the Mark Twain House. By the time of the landmark's 1974 centennial, Faude and others had not only completed a scholarly restoration, but also crafted a splashy marketing effort designed to connect Mark Twain, Hartford and the house in the eyes of the nation.

Faude, known as Bill, stood as the embodiment of that effort, which included appearances on "The Today Show," "To Tell The Truth" and other shows, along with magazine spreads.

In 1974, he became a leader in the group that saved the Old State House, which, then as now, faced a funding crisis. Its $10,000 allocation was cut from the proposed city budget and some city officials, along with a majority of the chamber of commerce board, wanted to raze the building to make way for a parking garage.

Faude died unexpectedly at home in West Hartford Monday from health complications including heart issues, his family said.

To the end, Faude was the person perhaps most closely identified not only with the life of the Old State House but also with the ecosystem of local history, with the 1796 landmark as a central beacon. He was its executive director from 1978 until the end of 2001, except for three years in the early 1980s, bridging scholarly research with showmanship that led to comparisons with P.T. Barnum, who himself was a lawmaker in the Old State House.

Faude launched daily firings of a cannon. He levied a "tax" of $10 per window in buildings that had a view of the building. He brought in costumed re-enactors and interpreters and mounted exhibits of artifacts from around the world and subjects as sensitive as Hartford street gangs.

He re-created the 18th century Joseph Steward museum of curiosities, 200 years later, complete with a two-headed calf and a two-headed pig. In 1987, he fought back a city plan to take the east lawn of the Old State House for bus lanes, a battle he later called his proudest achievement.

And he was always ready with a pithy, often blunt comment to back up his passion.

"The inmates aren't running the asylum here. They are the only ones left," Faude told columnist Joel Kotkin in 2002, speaking of Hartford.

"We drove a lot of people nuts, but that was the point. We made the Old State House relevant again," he said to Hartford Courant reporter Zeke Miller in 2009, when the building was once again threatened with a loss of funding — this time from the state. "The reason the Old State House had a cannon was to make sure everybody didn't forget us."

With his trademark bow ties, well-tailored suits and a mischievous streak, Faude was hard to forget.

"He was a brilliant man," said former U.S. Rep. Barbara B. Kennelly, who fought to save the Old State House as a new member of the Hartford city council in 1975. "His sense of humor was wonderful. He would say controversial things...but Bill was very well liked in the community."

"He was sort of an entrepreneur in a bureaucratic environment that wasn't used to having entrepreneurs and he was good at it," said Robert M. DeCrescenzo, a Hartford lawyer and former East Hartford mayor who was chairman of the Old State House board of directors in the 1990s and early 2000s.

"The Old State House was a great asset but he was able to get people through the doors that otherwise wouldn't go through the doors," DeCrescenzo added. "He was a promoter the likes of which we haven't seen since ... He wasn't promoting a building. He was promoting a building as symbolic of what it means to Connecticut history."

Wilson Hinsdale Faude was born six months after the end of World War II, in February 1946. Raised in Bloomfield, his father, an Aetna lawyer, died when he was 11. He graduated from the Junior School (soon afterward renamed Renbrook School) in West Hartford. He then went to the Darrow School in New Lebanon, N.Y., then Hobart College, graduating from both with a strong record of leadership.

Early on, Faude showed independent thinking for a heartfelt cause. He was drafted into the Army in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War and soon after sought and received status as a conscientious objector to combat, but remained in the service. He was honorably discharged in 1971.

Faude earned his master's from Trinity College in 1975. He was the author of 14 books. His wide interests included needlepoint, for which he won awards at the Eastern States Exposition, and among his many volunteer activities, he was a licensed lay reader in the Episcopal Church.

Faude fought for public funding for Connecticut history, including the Old State House, long after he left as director. "We are about to come up on the 375th anniversary of the founding of Connecticut," he said in 2009, "and do we want to mark it with controversy over our most important building?"

Faude, who stayed away from partisan politics, often opposed the popular wisdom, as with his advice in 2002 that Connecticut should "forget regionalism," and his occasional disagreement with efforts to save some old buildings.

"He was also good at explaining why people should care about Connecticut history, and giving context to what it means to be a Connecticut citizen," DeCrescenzo added, referring to the state's current fiscal and economic crisis. "We need more of that. We need to remind ourselves of why Connecticut is a special place."

Faude leaves his wife, Janet Bailey Faude; their children, Sarah Hinsdale Faude and Paul Bailey Faude, and his sister, Ann Faude Newbury. A memorial service will be held on June 2 at 1 p.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church, 679 Farmington Ave., West Hartford. Burial will be private.

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