History of 144 West Main – “The John Root House"

John Root house

The age of any colonial-era house is usually difficult to ascertain. The original builders are long gone, and building permits which might have provided a public memorialization of age, were not around at the time of construction. Deeds frequently omit whether buildings were on the land that the deeds convey. Moreover, most colonial buildings were not built all at once, but instead grew with additions made over a period of fifty or a hundred years to accommodate a growing family and growing needs. That is certainly the case of the building currently standing at 144 West Main St. in Plainville, referred to in the historical annals as “the John Root House”. The building was reportedly completed around 1828. Some of John Root’s predecessors were found in the early 1700s in “Farmington,” the southern reaches of which are now Plainville. This is the structure currently owned and occupied by the Jainchill & Beckert, LLC.

The building was substantially restored between 1959 – 1962, at the direction of Milton and Gertrude Koskoff. Milton Kokoff, together with his partner, Edward J. McMahon, purchased the building for $18,400 in 1959 as a future office for the law firm of Koskoff & McMahon. They retained carpenter Frank Steffany to execute the project. Steffany had extensive experience in restoration of antique buildings, and had been an apprentice to Axel Johnson, who is also noted for specializing in such work. He was sensitive to all the possibilities and restrictions within which he had to work, and he undoubtedly restored the building back into its original condition to the extent that it was humanly possible. During the course of the restoration, much was learned about the history of the building.

Construction of the house commenced on the North Washington side, before the America Revolution. The North Washington portion constitutes a typical colonial house, with a center hallway and a center stairway leading upstairs. Examination of the underside of the roof, which has huge wooden pegs affixing the rafters to the main horizontal beams, is also consistent with that theory. The West Main Street extension of the structure was probably built in two stages: the first ending with the fireplace just to the left of the current main entrance to the building. When Koskoff and McMahon acquired the building, that fireplace was hidden behind a wall, but Henry (Harry) Castle, the town historian who had been in the building many times, said that there was a grand fireplace hiding behind it, and in reliance on his recollection, Steffany broke through the wall and uncovered the fireplace.

Some time after construction of the first West Main Street extension, the building was again extended and another fireplace was backed up to the one in the entrance room. The rooms with the back-to-back fireplaces probably became the winter and summer kitchens of the house, as both have ovens that were used for cooking and baking. In all, five fireplaces were in view in 1959 and, during the course of renovations, evidence emerged indicating that there had been a fireplace in every room.

When Koskoff and McMahon acquired the building, it was being used as a rooming house, but after the restoration was completed in the early 1960s, they used it as office space for five lawyers plus support staff. Many lawyers who became active in surrounding communities got their starts with the firm. Koskoff & McMahon, then known as Koskoff, McMahon & Condon, ceased operation in 1991 with the retirement of the last surviving partner, D. Thomas Condon. For the following four years, the building was unused. In 1995, Attorney David Koskoff began using the lower floor as law offices for himself and Attorney Roger G. Neilson. They converted the upper floor to a residential apartment. With the retirement of Attorney Koskoff in 2009, a newly-formed law firm, Jainchill & Beckert, LLC set up offices on the lower floor of the former home, ultimately expanding its operation to the upper. Attorneys Aaron Jainchill and Bill Beckert take great pride in their historic office space, only making minor changes to the layout of the upper floor to better suit their needs.

David Koskoff, whose father Milton Koskoff, passed away in 1997, said that his father would have been very pleased that “his” building continues to be occupied by attorneys — especially Aaron Janchill and William Beckert, distinguished trial lawyers who, like the original Koskoff, specialize in personal injury litigation.