Old House Dilemma cont’d

Now it’s for sale!  But if it doesn’t sell before the end of July, the owners will tear it down.  They are showing what they think are the worst shots of the interior – nothing old house enthusiasts haven’t seen, or fixed, before!

Anyone want to live in a peaceful, quiet historic neighborhood along the Connecticut River on almost two acres of land in an 18th century home for $249K?  Of course you will first have to reveal the original treasures to be found beneath peeling paint, later walls,and  do some sill work and other restoration, but in the end you’ll have a historic gem.

http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/1091-Main-St-South-Windsor-CT-06074/57773260_zpid/

or you can weigh in at the save the Olcott House page –

 

Old House Dilemma

It’s been a while – but I wanted to write about a dilemma that my neighborhood is facing now and that many neighborhoods will be facing in the coming years regarding the preservation of our old homes.

An 18th century house that was in the same family for years and not properly maintained, is in danger of being demolished.   We used to find these houses somewhere in the countryside, some half standing, some collapsed into their cellar holes.  But this one stands proudly in a neighborhood of other historic houses and is a prominent member of a National Historic Register District.

We work hard to maintain our own homes.  How do you politely ask your neighbor to please maintain the integrity of his?   Can you ask – when was the last time you checked your sills?  Can you say – your brownstone foundation is lovely, but it’s caving in a bit here, can you fix it???

No one ever does that.  Then the house goes on the market for a song and someone buys it because they just want to live on Main Street because it has all the charm and character they want.  But then it turns out they don’t want the house after all because it will cost too much to fix to their liking and lifestyle, so they decide to knock it down.  Next thing you know, another plastic spanking new maintenance free, history free, house is in its place.

If everyone did that with the 18th century houses that need work, well, goodbye history, goodbye charm.

And so here we are.  The dilemma.  How do we reach the soul of the new owners, teach them to be sensitive, to feel the wonder and awe that we  have for the character and charm of the old house whose every hand planed board we cherish?  Whose paneling and plaster walls and crooked floors mean more to us than a neighborhood of Toll Brothers homes????  Those homes are FINE for people who want to live in new and shiny, and only want to visit ours!

But our neighborhood is a part of American history.  It is packed with the stories of farmers and furniture makers, merchants and theologians, governors and silversmiths, stories that are kept alive and proudly displayed in the architecture they created, the houses they lived in!   For every house we lose, we lose another essential piece of the history of who we are and how we got here.

So I pose our dilemma to anyone who may read this.  The new owner of the Olcott House, circa 1750 – 1781 – a center chimney colonial with wide pine floors, fireplaces, raised paneling, and a Beverly jog that has a beautifully paneled corner fireplace – has decided that the cost to fix it will be more than the cost to knock it down and build a new one.  They decided it must go.  The brownstone foundation in one corner in the basement is “caving in”, the sills are rotted, interior alterations too many.   Sounds like a typical restoration to me.  If I had examined the house before buying it, I would have weighed these issues before handing over a check.  I would have known what I was in for.  Or I would have walked away and left it for the next guy who wanted this old house, wanted to be a part of its history more than anything.

What do you think?  It is a tough decision, that many neighborhoods will have to tackle.  At some point, is an old house just a total loss and we have to let it go?  Yes, sometimes.  But this one is restorable.   So, if the cost to restore is more than the cost to knock it down and build new – do you think we need let it go?  Feel free to weigh in.  Here’s a link to a Facebook page called Historic Hartford – a wonderful resource – for info, tours, workshops, history – in the Hartford area and all of New England.   Just scroll down to Olcott House – and let us know what you think!

a hidden gem – for sale

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Posts are few and far between these days, but came across something so special I just had to mention it to whomever might still be checking in to this blog.  We recently were invited to tour an old home on the market in the Mystic, CT area.  The realtor sent me the link to the listing and when I saw the photo I couldn’t believe it, we had to see it in person.  The 2 story front vestibule, if original, is a rare feature and certainly a sign of 17th century provenance.  The homeowner has done the genealogy and traced it to 1664.  The Culver house, sitting on over 42 of its original acres, still maintains the features and atmosphere of the original owners.  The front entrance mimics its New London neighbor, the Hempsted house, and because the large cooking fireplace in the rear is so close to the back wall of the house it makes me wonder if, like the Hempsted house, it too had a lean-to at the back.

Either way, the large stone fireplace, the exposed beams throughout, the plaster walls, wide board floors, front staircase with stone chimney wall exposed – will tempt you to move to this hidden 17th century paradise!

Yes, it will need some work – but for $399K and 42 acres – goodness, it’s a deal!  It is liveable now, and lived in lovingly by its delightful and knowledgeable owner.  But for most folks, it will need a new kitchen.  There are other items we would address to bring it back to its true original look, but they are optional.   Apparently, it can be subdivided, but gosh, would hate to see that happen.   We did not walk the entire property, but there’s a little bridge and I’m told there are stone walled open meadows beyond.  It may not be in the most popular, and pricier, location close to downtown Mystic, but that can be a good thing!

If you know any purists looking for such a gem, please spread the word.  If anyone needs advice, consultation or restoration for the house – just call us, we know exactly what to do with it.  While we LOVE our own 17th century house, one like this sure was tempting.  It’s a pretty rare find.

http://www.seaportre.com/listing/m9147959-279-colonel-ledyard-hwy-groton-ct-06355/

history adventures

Finally, Spring.  Time to ready the garden, clean out the cobwebs and best of all go on an adventure.  A simple, New England style one, in search of country ambiance and colonial architecture.   A pleasant drive on a sunny day, at the ready to detour down forgotten roads – what could be better?  Roads with names like Old County, Horse Hill or, like one in my own town –   Beelzebub.  You’re bound to find a story there – a building, a church, a landscape, to stimulate the senses, tickle the imagination.

On a recent drive to Brooklyn, CT, a place we’ve been so often, we decided to take a road never traveled, and happened upon this.

Old Trinity Church How sweet the lines, how bittersweet the atmosphere.  Old Trinity Church.  Google has provided some history, (there’s way too much about hauntings), but I found there several good reasons to return:  Putnam Farm,  Putnam Elms, The Israel Putnam Monument (and grave) and of course a visit inside these gates.

Happy Spring!

http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WME0DV_Putnam_Farm_Brooklyn_CT

http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMDZDY_General_Israel_Putnam_Brooklyn_CT

http://www.putnamelms.org/

german engineering – circa 1778

My dad was a prisoner of war in WW II.  From his camp, he and fellow American soldiers watched as the Germans tested a new “jet engine” plane.  They laughed that a plane without a prop  would never get off the ground.

Had they seen the engineering in this chest, built circa 1778, with only hand tools and imagination, they might have thought otherwise.

Enjoy.

Roentgens' Berlin Secretary

https://www.youtube.com/embed/MKikHxKeodA?rel=0

this new england

001

just when I thought I’d had enough of winter, it takes my breath away.

old house fancy

Antiques and old house lovers like me always have their eye out for interesting architecture.  Going for a drive somewhere is elevated to a journey of discovery.  Whether it is the excitement of finding something unique in old house design or the satisfaction of coming across one that is well preserved and loved, there’s bound to be something interesting or new.

On a recent visit to Newport, driving around some of its tight streets where houses are knitted together within an inch of each other, I noted how clever the early colonists had to be in expanding their homes for growing families.  The juxtaposition of styles could be quite peculiar.  Considering the bit of land they had to work with, it’s no surprise that some expansions might look a bit odd – like this one:

Newport_charm

Whether old or new, odd as it is, it works for me.  There’s still a charm and fancy to it.  That collision of gable roof into gambrel, old materials and primitive odd chimney, the mix of clapboard and shingle, proud and sturdy window frames, crooked old door – this quirky little corner house, for me, just feels right.  It’s not just the materials – which are certainly key – but the proportion, balance, the weight of it.

Unlike some thoughtless additions done to old houses today, this one was thought out, each detail considered.  Down the street from me there is a late 19th century home that for the past year or so has undergone renovation (I use the term ‘undergone’ as in a patient who’s undergone a terrible surgery).  In original form, it was a simple, graceful, symmetrical little thing, but the new owner needed double the size.  Thankfully most of it went off the back.   All things considered, it could have been worse.  But then, out of the blue, out of necessity to house many vehicles, a garage the size of Mount Vernon arose.  Smack in line with the front of the house and dwarfing it, the three large bays face the road.  Really?  Wouldn’t you want to hide that?  Attach it behind the house if you must, or site it in the back forty, but don’t compete with the house.

There’s so much we can do to wreck the ambiance of a lovely home, to wake you from that dream glimpse into the past – but a major one that is hard to change is to build a garage (a giant one) with many bays of overhead doors and plop it right up front and next to your house.

How quickly this “acceptable” renovation went awry.  The builder/homeowner made a decision for convenience rather than aesthetic.  When a lovely old home lies outside of historic districts, there’s not much we can do.  There are no architectural police.  The old house doesn’t come with directions.

In the old days, their hands were tied, designs were few and fairly typical.  Carpenters tools were limited, their knowledge came from a few books, and there were rules.  They did their best to observe them, and when they stretched them the results were still “quaint.”

Now we have new tools, books and ideas – but no rules.  For old houses, that can only work in the right hands – the hands of those who have studied those old rules and are passionate about them.  Thankfully there are many.  There are experts to consult – for free!  Historians, historic district commissions and preservation groups – local, statewide, nationwide – all want to help.  Even museums to visit.  For any area outside of our own bailiwick, we need to put egos aside, and just ask.  Go on a journey of discovery – and may you find many surprises, fashioned by the “right hands.”