summer reading

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For old house lovers, and for all who wonder what it’s like to do the dirty work of taking them down, taking them apart, saving and stockpiling their materials, preserving or restoring them  – you’re sure to enjoy this romp through Anne Baker’s life.  This may be her first book, but it reads like her tenth.   This passionate preservationist knows how to weave a tale.   From growing up in her grandmother’s old manse in Warren, RI to the house that “disappeared” overnight, her adventures in saving old structures are broad and captivating.

We met Anne a long time ago while in college.  She introduced herself as “Pete.”  Said her dad always wanted a boy.  We were up on the porch roof puttying the 2nd floor windows of the 1800’s house we’d bought in our last year of college.  (It had no heat, plumbing, electricity, a pump outside for water, and a bucket in the shed for when nature called)

Pete drove her big black antique car right onto our front lawn.   A petite blonde, with a pony tail, weighing all of about ninety pounds, spilled out of the driver’s side.  She wanted to welcome us to the neighborhood, thank us for fixing up the old place, and invite us to see her own labor of love just down the street.  We were used to people stopping by when we were working on old houses, but not used to meeting anyone who knew much about them, so we thanked her kindly but passed on the invitation.  Initially.

A few weeks later we decided to check out her project.  Needless to say we were stunned.  A whole new world opened up for us, and these neophytes were even further hooked.  She and her husband became valuable advisers in our next steps.   One of our finds was an ancient house nearby with a massive chimney that you could access and walk between the fireplaces via a cubby through the staircase – how exciting!  But it was in a terrible location.  We deliberated whether we could live there – then Anne and her husband Bob suggested we dismantle and move it.  What?!  We hadn’t heard of such a thing.   The rest was history.  We’ve dismantled, relocated and restored many since then.

You can read about her own house project along the banks of the Westport River, and many others, in this book.  What a storied life, what a woman.  Sadly, she passed about a year and a half ago, at the age of 82, still learning, always researching.  Sorely missed, but by example, forever inspiring.  Before there was women’s lib, this determined, confident, adventurous, passionate and independent woman was already doing what she wanted, in a man’s world.

Enjoy!

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