GREENFIELD — The Riley Boyhood Home & Museum in Greenfield is closed to winter tours as contractors work to repair structural issues beneath the 170-year-old boyhood home.

Museum director and curator Marissa Purcell said she and her staff of hostesses noticed cracks forming in the walls in various places around the house, indicating signs of possible structural damage.

Because the crawl space was too narrow to crawl through, staff from the Greenfield Parks Department — which oversees the museum — removed historic floorboards to reveal that a stone footer had fallen beneath one of the first-floor rooms of the home where James Whitcomb Riley was born.

The room overlooking Main Street served as the law office of his father, Reuben Riley, a lawyer and skilled carpenter who built the home himself in the mid 1850s.

Purcell said the structural damage is typical for a house that age.

“You’re going to have some things you need to replace over the years,” she said, while emphasizing that stringent efforts are being made to preserve the historical integrity of the home.

Members of the Riley Old Home Society safely removed and stored all the furniture and décor from the law office before the removal of any floor boards, which have also been securely stored during the restoration project.

Looking down at the historic wood beams, brick footers and dirt floor beneath the home this week, Purcell could see the layers of history hidden beneath the home.

The darker brown wood beams were likely installed by Reuben when he was building the home in the mid-1850s, she said, and the brick supports were installed in the 1930s when the City of Greenfield purchased the home. She also spotted newer support beams that were added in the 1980s.

“As far as I could tell no work has been done since then,” she said.

Purcell was impressed to find that the vast majority of floorboards were original to the home.

Once a steel support beam is added to reinforce the original beams beneath the floor, she said, the floorboards laid down by James Whitcomb Riley’s father should last for generations to come.

“We know they’re the boards he put down (when the house was built) because the floorboards went under the walls,” she said.

Reuben Riley built a number of elements in the house, said Purcell, including the main staircase.

The hundreds of people who tour the Riley home and music each year are fascinated to hear that James Whitcomb Riley’s father, a notable attorney, built much of the home by hand back when Main Street was a well-traveled dirt road.

“We found some homemade nails when we were taking up the floors that we can now show guests, so they can see what a local blacksmith made for Reuben to lay the floors,” said Purcell. “That’s exciting because we now have another little piece of history for people to see when they come through.”

Purcell said work on the house was started in 1850 and completed in 1853.

Reuben Riley is credited for building the majority of the home, with some help, but some additions were made to the back of the home in later years.

Purcell credits her team of hostesses for noticing growing cracks in the walls which led to uncovering the structural problems beneath the house.

The curator noticed some of the signs herself, which led to discovering some foundational issues in the cellar beneath the home.

“My dad’s a real estate agent, so he taught me what to look for,” she said.

“We discovered one of the cellar walls is leaning in a little bit, so they’re going to reinforce it and make sure it’s secure.”

Purcell expects the structural work to be done on the house by early March, just in time to gear up for the annual Riley home and museum tour season.

“Typically we reopen for daily tours in April, but we hope to open a little earlier this year,” she said.

Josh Gentry, maintenance operations manager for the Greenfield Parks Department, credits the Greenfield City Council and former mayor Chuck Fewell for supporting the repair work to the historic home.

He also credits Purcell for taking notice of the signs of potential trouble beneath the house.

“Once you’re down there, it’s interesting to see some of the old beam foundation work and how they’ve assessed and made corrections over the years,” said Gentry.

He finds the brick foundation added in the 1930s especially interesting.

“The brick work you can see from the east side of the home and from the front on U.S. 40, that brick was added in the ’30s as well as some foundational shoring, so they were addressing some of the same issues back then that we’re addressing today,” said Gentry.

“That work they did back then got them through nearly the next 100 years, so if this work we’re doing today gets us through the next 100 years, we’ll be very happy,” he said.