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c. 1709 Victorian: Folk
Slate Hill, New York
National Register Home includes tax credits
The house -- 70 miles from New York City -- was enlarged over many generations from a single room settler's home c.1709 to a twelve room collection of Early Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival and Victorian architectural styles and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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|Heated Sq. Ft.||2,882|
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Craig Morrison, Architect
160 East 38th Street
New York, New York 10016
November 4, 2011
I enjoyed very much my return visit to your now-fully-restored home. Since I first saw it, I have looked upon it as an amazing place. It is like a piece of theater. The outside is pleasantly typical, but once standing within the wide porch, one is struck by the extraordinary woodwork surrounding the front door.
Stepping inside, one can only gasp. The entry hall, with its wide elliptical arch and carefully restored grained doors, not only matches the fine craftsmanship around the door, it is fully comparable to what one sees in the great mansions of 18th-century Virginia.
This is only the start of the story–and, yes, your house is a story-teller. Opening the panel that you so cleverly concealed in the hallway one sees that the fine woodwork came only in the house’s second generation. It had been smaller, a bit simpler. Its original wainscot and doorpost, perhaps dating from the mid-1700s, came to be concealed in new walls added in about 1800. Then, to the right, the parlor was trimmed elegantly in the Greek Revival style of, perhaps, the 1830s. Outside the porch, bay window, and Gothic Revival front gable came still later.
For generations, this house has grown with its generations. Each has treasured it while adding the best of their own time. Together they have made it a veritable museum of architectural styles. Your loving care has continued the tradition in the finest possible way.
Best wishes, and thank you again for your hospitality.
Craig Morrison AIA
Available state tax credits
As a nationally registered "historic place" personal income tax credits are available for appropriate improvements of house and property.
Two rare vintage house furnishings
Two of the mahogany wood grained center hall doors are original to the house dating back to the 1800s. Wood graining the doors then was a highly prized addition to a home's decoration which today is a highly expensive undertaking. The three other doors in the center hall are recent reproductions in the same construction and wood graining as the original doors and make a striking statement in the hallway. Besides the wood grained doors the wallpaper and "colonial floor cloth" are even more rare additions to the room and house.
The "Gunston Hall" wall covering may be the only reproduction wall covering from the estate of George Mason, friend of Thomas Jefferson and a signer of the United States' Declaration of Independance. The hand painted "Colonial floor covering" in the hall was the best of floor coverings at the time before the introduction of oriental rugs from the East. Colonial floor cloths then were hand painted in "marbleizing" patterns on canvas. This particular floor cloth was painted in thirteen layers for durability, one layer on top of another much as ancient icons are created.
The house contains many other vintage features, chandeliers, wall sconces, door locks and other assets.
Home owner's restoration journal
A homeowner's journal of American house architecture & restoration of an old American house from early Colonial, Federal, Georgian & Victorian architectural periods.My journal of the history, architecture & restoration of an old American house began more than thirty years ago when I bought the house. Before that the house was for a time a summer and weekend home for a couple of attorneys from the city. When they purchased the house it had been abandoned and long separated from its homestead of a 160 acres stretching from Ridgebury Road to US Route 6 North of the house. Some of the original architecture and assets of the house were gone when I arrived as the new homeowner. Enough of the original house architecture remained to tell a story and to rebuild the architecture of this historic house. In the end the architecture and restoration story was as much about the families who lived here as it was about a house which began as pioneer one room house in the 1700s.
When I first entered the house all that was apparent were the make-do renovations, but it was at least clean and liveable. Much of its integral architecture was hidden from sight. I liked the floor-to-ceiling 8 foot tall window encasements in the front rooms and the wide plank wood floorboards throughout the house, discolored and marred as they were. The large fireplace in the kitchen was impressive, built with large field stones which dominated the kitchen. Later, I was told that the kitchen was actually a "keeping room", a second kitchen of an old farmhouse. All the dirty work of plucking and butchering took place in another room once attached to the house but now gone. After passing through the keeping room I entered a large center hall and what a surprise. The center hall, Greek Revival architecture style, stood in sharp contrast to the recent renovations of the keeping room. Like the rest of the house the room cried out for attention, repairs and fresh paint. The room opened into five other rooms besides the front door. Only two doors remained, one to the keeping room and to another room opposite it in he hall. The hall itself, however, had a presence about it, graceful and an imposing, especially the pilastered columns and center arch architecture and intricate woodwork. I remember just standing under the arch and saying to the agent, "I'll take it." I didn't even quibble about price. I thought, Well, it needs a lot of work, but all I need is a place to sleep and have my meals. That was more than thirty years ago.
I knew that the house had a story to tell and decided to contact an historic architect. Craig Morrison, AIA. This proved to be the most important decision I made about the restoration of the house--marking the time of my education in Colonial American history and house architectures.
The house is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a rare example of single home with many major periods of American architecture within its walls -- early Colonial, Federal, neo-Classical and Victorian architecture spanning over three centuries.
As the house grew from a one room to twelve it preserved within its space the prevailing architecture styles of the day. All these periods of architecture are now permanently restored. Where I could identify the original house structural elements I restored their architecture including original paint colors.
The process began with what historic contractors and architects call "reading the shadows", peeling away wall surfaces to discover what first existed there. The architecture of the keeping room which I described above revealed a room entirely different from the one I first encountered, the placement of windows, doors and wainscoting from an earlier era. I made many other historical discoveries while restoring the house's architecture such as a pre-existing wall within the existing hall wall. Since then I installed a moveable panel to reveal the remnants of an older architecture, room and a pintle hinge for a Dutch door where another entrance had once been. The two extant original doors in the center hall, one to the keeping room and the other to a room across the hall, were covered in crackled old varnish. A contractor suggested that something else may be underneath the vanish. He knew a museum curator who could take a look. The curator came and took both doors to his museum to make what possible restorations he could. When he returned I was dumbfounded by the beauty of the doors and the brilliant wood grained mahogany they revealed.
I can not tell the story about the discovery of a twenty pound clothes iron I found in the keeping room and have wondered how many shirts could a woman iron with such a weight?
The house is a home of doors, twenty-five altogether. You can not go from one room to another without opening a door or two, a primitive means of containing the heat of the fireplaces. Of course, the sun could not be controlled but the alignment of house took full advantage of the sun's heat and light. The house lies high on a knoll directly facing the winter sun early in the morning to catch the light through its tall windows. In the afternoon the setting sun bathes the front parlor in light through an alcove of five five windows in the Federal parlor which faces West. All old houses, I have learned, are built on the north side of a road and have their fireplaces inside the house, not attached to its outside walls. The chimney in the center of the west wing of the house has back-to-back fireplaces, the enormous keeping room fireplace and the Federal parlor fireplace. The chimney was constructed first in the basement up, and the the rest of the house around it. On the east side of the house another fireplace once stood which was removed when the east wing of the house was renovated sometime in the late 1800s. With the advance of coal stoves and furnaces in the 19th century fireplaces were not the only means of heating a home. The old black iron grates on the floors in the east wing attest to this. The third fireplace off the chimney is in bedroom upstairs. It had a stove flue chiseled into the brickwork and later covered up. When the original one room house was converted into two rooms the fireplace was removed and new floor boards were laid down where the fireplace had been. The replacement floorboards fill the space where the removed fireplace lay between the two rooms. The front room became a second parlor Victorian in style and all the bedrooms on the second floor were reconstructed in Victorian architecture.
What I found most revealing in the house was its arrangement of bedrooms upstairs, originally six. At one time three of them were children's bedrooms. They would be too small for adults. One of the children's bedrooms sits between two larger adult bedrooms off the second floor hall and sitting room. The two other children's bedrooms lie across the hall. All three rooms now serve other purposes, a store room, laundry room and two bathrooms. The adult bedroom in the center of the hall has a second door inside the bedroom to a child's bedroom. Inside the adult bedroom is also a wall cupboard decorated with animal figures. This indicates to me that the grandparents slept in the hall's center bedroom where they could "look in" on the child in the small attached bedroom after the child's parents had left for their work on the farm early in the morning. The "give-away" clues are the small cupboards decorated with animal figures inside the grandparents' bedroom. "Here, play with this toy, Johnny."
At that time there were no nursing or retirement homes, grandparents lived with their children and grandchildren. Everyone in the household had their role to play on the farm. There were no starter homes two and three hundred years ago. In the 18th century it would take two years to build a homestead, one year to clear the land and cut the wood and another year to build the house with ax and hand saw. Back then houses were built to last. The superstructure and architecture of the house is entirely made of ax-hewn oak and hemlock beams joined by mortise, tenon and large wood dowels. No nails, just wood on wood. The floor boards are hand sawed one inch thick wide-plank hardwood boards. Just read the "shadows" and see. Nearly everything then was hand made and therefore too valuable to be discarded. There were no large landfills as we have today. When floor boards were removed they were stored away for another day as were the floorboards I found stored in the attic which now occupy the keeping / dining room. They are white oak boards and have darkened with age. The new kitchen floors next to the keeping room are also made of white oak and are a much lighter color.
We have a saying still true today, "Home is where the heart is." This journal speaks not only about the architecture and restoration of an historic house but more importantly of the families who had built the house they lived in. Sharing the same home with their children and their children's children makes a house a home and a better family.
The house after all has lasted from one succeeding generation and architecture to another for over 300 years. Something to think about. In Colonial America children who grew up in same home were married in the home with the bride coming down the staircase into the center hall for all to see. After living full lives they passed on in the same house where their funeral preparations were made and where their remains were displayed in the center hall. Their adult children would prepare their burial and personally carry them to the small farm cemetery down the road. It is about a quarter mile away. Another local cemetery is a half mile east on Ridgebury Hill Road. Our history, traditions and home architectures, the important things we take into the future, prepare the next generations for lives they will live. Every day I have lived in "this ole house" I am reminded of that. I hope that the new residents who buy the house will have their lives enriched in this house and appreciate the memories it holds within its walls.
Archived in November, 2014
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