Ever since elementary school, I have loved vintage homes. I can recall the exact house that inspired me. It was right across from my elementary school. It still stands today, though funny how it now looks so much smaller than I remember.
What captured my heart was a secret passageway from the upstairs bathroom down to the basement. Legend had it that it was part of the Underground Railroad. I have no clue if this was true, but my little friend who lived there swore it was.
The mystique about old homes carried me into my first home buy, a Queen Anne Victorian built in 1893, and my second and current home, The Manse built in 1835.
I call the Manse’s history “Her-Story” because from the first time I saw it, she just spoke to me like an ancient girlfriend. Also, I think there are some female spirits still watching over the house–maybe we can teach them to clean my son’s room!
It was 2012, and we made a really difficult decision to move out of a home we’d owned for 20 years – The Queen Anne.
It was a home that we renovated top to bottom. Our kids were older, and my daughter was about to start high school. My husband and I wanted more peace, a little more room to breathe, which included paying less of the crazy property taxes we were paying. I also wanted more of a rural existence, a more mellow environment.
We didn’t want to move too far outside the New York metro area because we both worked in NYC a good deal of the time.
When I finally settled on a town that ticked most of the boxes, it also happened to be a town with few older homes, and even fewer homes built before 1920, which is sort of my sweet spot.
Add to that most of the homes in the area cost $800,000 or more for anything decent, unless you were willing to do some serious renovation. I knew I would never want to live in a “McMansion,” or really any sort of development home. It just wasn’t me. I much preferred the idea of a Fixer Upper with good bones than a cookie cutter home.
We put the Queen Anne on the market, and before we could say open house, it sold in 48 hours. While this was excellent news, it also made it that much more real: I HAD to find a place FAST.
Then one day… I saw her. A local church was selling their manse, the pastor’s home. The church had owned her since 1900. The house stood empty, the pastor had moved to a different home after much debate on the part of the neighbors and the township over the question of knocking it down and building new.
The neighbors started a “Save the Manse” campaign. They fought against the church real estate board who argued that it would be more expensive to renovate versus tear her down, that she had suffered a fire that left her weak. That her bones were old and not worth keeping. The neighbors prevailed, and the house went on the market.
Despite all of the debate about her old “unworthy” bones, the house was in fact move in ready.
What we know from searching local records, looking under the floor boards and the National Register of Historic Places is she’s a bit of hodge lodge architecturally. Here’s what they say about her:
The Manse- 1835 – a 2-story, 5-bay frame “I” house built on a rubblestone foundation. A single internal brick end chimney extends through its gable roof, which “is covered in asphalt shingle. The balanced, symmetrical facade features 2/2 sash and a center door below a hipped-roof porch supported by four slender Doric columns. A shuttered, possibly false, round-arched window is visible in the west gable end. The house retains many simple original features, as well as an integrity of setting. A 2-bay addition to the rear dates from the mid- to late-nineteenth century.
There was also something she had that very few homes will ever have: The Manse backs up to preserved farmland, with a vista that takes your breath away.
As I looked around the overgrown property and listing all of what it would take to bring her back, I asked my self: Was I willing to do it again? Dive into a whole house renovation?
The minute I walked into the place I could feel it: This was our next home. We’d figure out what she needed and bring her back.