Want to live in Paradise?

SunderlandOlcott

It was John Adams who deemed this stretch of land along the Connecticut River in 1771 Paradise.  “I have spent this morning in riding through paradise,” he wrote in his diary.  “My eyes never beheld so fine a country.  From Bissell’s Tavern, to Hartford Ferry, eight miles, is one continued street, houses all along, and a vast prospect of level country on each hand, the land very rich and husbandry very good.”

The land is still very rich – the meadows with corn, tobacco and squash, and the street with houses that span the evolution of unique and important architecture from the 17th to the 2oth centuries.  There is Wood, a memorial library that offers not only books and story times and gingerbread festivals, but also archives the stories of South Windsor’s people and their times.  Its galleries display art, birds and Indian artifacts, and its people are the kindest, gentlest and friendliest around.  You can buy local produce, meat, eggs, flowers, and more directly from the farmers who live here.  You can walk or ride your bike along this 8-mile stretch of level street.  It is 15 minutes to Hartford, or Bradley Airport.

And that is why, in all our travels over forty years, we have never left.  And why, we had to save the Olcott House for the next traveler who would like to share in this experience.

The house will be for sale at all stages of its restoration, and will be priced accordingly.  It is now at $250K.

Continued restoration will include: sill and foundation work, windows replaced with period true divided light 12/12’s, new chimney stack, new mechanicals, period kitchen,  the original double doors and frame will be reproduced, the coffin door returned and, most likely, new wood siding will be installed.  The interior will be carefully cleaned and repainted.  (The floors will not be sanded!)

If you are, or know of, anyone who longs for an original 18th century home, one that has retained so much of its original fabric – wall paneling, cupboards, wide pine flooring, exceptionally paneled front staircase, a Beverly jog with corner fireplace, and more – call the number above, or email info@sunderlandperiodhomes.com

The house sits on 1.7 acres of land on the meadow and river side of Old Main Street.  The street is the stuff of dreams for history buffs – once a part of Windsor, CT’s first town, there is still much to discover.  If not interested in purchase, come anyway to visit and enjoy our wonderful street, town and Library.

I’ll be happy to give a tour of either!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still peeling away

Here are some pictures of what we have uncovered so far.  We have removed walls that covered original paneling in the keeping room, and removed the layer of bricks that were applied over the surface of the original fireplace.  Of course, the original keeping room fireplace and walls now look like a big mess!  But rest assured, we do know what we are doing.  Cleaned up and restored, all will be well again!

This look had to go!

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before

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after- original brownstone lintel – but hearth is gone :(

It is obvious that this chimney was rebuilt, fooled with, and then some – old bricks were re-used to rebuild the stack.

We peeled away newly framed 2 x 4 and sheetrock walls in the keeping room to reveal original boards beneath – even the door was still in place!

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Keeping room wall, behind it is a staircase to the second floor; to the left is the back of the house.  The door and wall was hidden behind a 2×4 wall with sheetrock over it.  You can see by the green paint that the last time these walls were exposed, they had a kitchen sink and a cupboard applied right over the door!

The wall with the horizontal beaded boards have that awful kitchen window in it – but you can see where two twelve over twelves once sat.  We may remove this wall altogether (between the two posts) and continue the lean-to across the back of the house for a kitchen.  Then this whole space would be ample for a kitchen/dining area or kitchen/family room.

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Horizontal beaded boards are across this exterior wall of the keeping room – you can see the green paint, top right where that cupboard hung over the wall and door. 

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This is the wall to the left of the keeping room fireplace.  The horizontal beaded boards continue into the pantry/borning room.  Can’t wait to clean the paint off!  Where paint has peeled away from the boards you can see the original oxblood red color.

One of the amazing finds in this house is that it has almost all of its original wide pine flooring.  We have peeled away layers (x 10!) to uncover them, but they are mostly in tact.  Some, unfortunately, have been sanded and varnished, but some are untouched and dry as a bone.  How about the colors in this room?!

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white dust – it’s powdery, mildew or something from the underlayment?

and then there’s this amazing paneled wall in here…

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never saw a wall that juts in like this for the fireplace before; and that’s a closet to the left, with featherboarding inside, and some scribbling I can’t quite make out – yet. And, we have the original closet door, and passage door – this one’s a modern replacement

There’s more – but will save for the next post.  I’ll leave you with this – under the front stair (there was a suspicious opening) I found a name written on the stringer – it looks like “Grant” to me – can’t make out the first name (Asa?).  Could be one of the Grants noted for their wonderful CT Valley Doorways.  Have some research to do…

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this is the underside of the front hall stair, going to the 2F; I’ve turned the picture to get a better view of the name on the stringer – if anyone recognizes it – please let me know!

 

Old house dilemma solved – for now…

The only way to solve it was to buy it.  But it will continue to be for sale – to the person who loves it for its history and its features and doesn’t want to knock it down.  We had to buy it to keep it safe.  The restoration will be a long, slow process as we are otherwise engaged in a very long and time consuming project elsewhere.  But little by little we will peel away the awful things that have happened to it – vinyl siding, home depot windows, layers of neglect.  The chimney will be rebuilt.  Because of its location, this million dollar project will be reclaimed for much less and may need fundraising efforts.  I am thinking of selling bricks.  Perhaps for a small fee one can have their name live forever on a brick in the to-be-rebuilt attic chimney of the Asahel Olcott house.

There will be little or no profit here, at least financially.  This is not an upscale neighborhood.  It is a humble farming community, desirable only to the folks sensitive enough to value the quiet ambiance of this street along the Great River, that brought initially the Dutch and then the folks from Dorchester to settle here, Connecticut’s first town.  The profit is to the street, to the neighbors, and to Connecticut’s rich history.  We are doing this out of respect for Asahel Olcott who responded in 1775 to the Lexington Alarm.  Now we’ve responded to his alarm, to preserve the homes of our ancestors, who not only fought for our freedom, but gave us a rich architectural heritage that sustains us physically, aesthetically and psychologically.  We still wonder at, and learn from, their courage, their efforts, their class.

Will keep you posted on the progress.

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!

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/

two story outhouse?

Can you imagine?   Whoever first suggested it had to have been laughed at.  But as houses grew and trips to the loo got longer, someone did, and got away with it.  Someone actually constructed it, and attached it to the back of this house.

It certainly surprised me, when I walked across the attic floor to a brightly shining little room on the other side, to find a small bare space with three lids – just like the one I had seen on the floor below.

Another three-holer – and they were sized small, medium and large!  It took a few minutes to realize how they pulled this off.  I was curious enough to actually stick my camera down into the dark hole to find out.  The flash lit up the answer beautifully, (however gritty the deed, the photo of which I’ll spare you), but with that I discovered how they did it.

(note the added “step” for the child’s seat)

Long vertical wooden planks (and painted by the way) created a shaft that ran just behind the “facilities” below.  Certainly not as sanitary as second floor toilets today, but just as convenient and better than heading outdoors at two in the morning.

We’ve come a long way since these, but sometimes I wonder – with all the plumbing and water and septic and pollution problems.   There have been some modern “simple” solutions, like the “Clivus Multrum” (I always wanted one – but family said no!).  They are definitely stuck on modern plumbing and our more civilized porcelain potties.

So the closest I can come to emulate the old is to install a lot of wood in the room and a half moon on the door :)

Whitehall

While it’s the architecture that lures us to these houses in the first place, it’s discovering the unique  stories of the original builders that enliven the experience.  From heiress to sea captain, revolutionary soldier to merchant, post rider to pig farmer, all who had a hand in the birth and direction of this experiment, make every visit an adventure.  While the home of George Berkeley, 18th century theologian and philosopher, was not  open when we were there, it was still a treat to view the unique architecture outside, and impetus to discover the fascinating history of the man responsible for it.  A man after my own heart, in his love for art, philosophy and architecture.   One of the books in his vast library was by a British architect named Inigo Jones, who had studied the architecture of Palladio in Italy, a style that obviously struck a chord with everyone as it began to be reproduced in England and here in America in the 18th century.  George Berkeley thought it the perfect addition to his little cottage as well.   Only thing is, to achieve this double doorway on his center chimney house with tiny front hall, one door would have to be false.

I love knowing that someone of his substance was willing to sacrifice convenience for the sake of good design.  Good design is everything.  And he was willing to live with the minor annoyance that he would never be able to open the door on the left.   But it was worth it.  I imagine that every time he walked up that pathway his new doorway reminded him of his travels through Europe and the magnificent architecture he had witnessed there.  He must have been excited to bring it here to this new land.  Thank goodness he did.

Whitehall,  what once sat on a hundred acres, now sits on one.   That it exists at all is a miracle.  Divine intervention, perhaps, since its owner was a famous clergyman.  Dean George Berkeley was a minister, teacher, philosopher, one of the leading thinkers of his time, who counted among his friends Alexander Pope and  Jonathan Swift.  He was considered one of the big three 18th century philosophers with Locke and Hume.  His philosophical work Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge made him famous at home and abroad, he entered Newport in 1729 a celebrity.   He was attracted to Newport for its forward thinking and religious freedom.  Here he planned to establish a plantation, a home base, from which he could furnish crops and supplies for the college he planned to establish in Bermuda where the sons of the colonists would be trained to become clergymen.   The promised funds never materialized, and he would soon return to London, then to his native Ireland where he was appointed Bishop of Cloyne.

His influence in just three short years here, from 1729 to 1731, was grand.  Before he left he donated most of the thousand books he brought with him to Yale, the rest to Harvard.  The divinity school at Yale was named after him.  University of California Berkeley was also named after him, inspired by a line from one of his writings – “Westward the course of empire takes its way…”  He influenced King’s College (Columbia) and Brown University.  He helped found Newport’s Redwood Library and the Literary and Philosophical Society.  He donated his house and land to Yale, the proceeds were to fund scholarships for students studying Greek and Latin.  Now a scholar in residence spends a few weeks a year in the apartment upstairs – amidst the books and spirit of the great mind that once inhabited it – how glorious!