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Helping at home

Native daughter returns to rebuild piece of local history

Saturday, January 25, 2014
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Helping at home


Jessica Loden-Kirby and her husband, Ian, discuss their plans for rebuilding the historic former Highland House Bed & Breakfast, which was built in 1802.
Jessica Loden-Kirby and her husband, Ian, discuss their plans for rebuilding the historic former Highland House Bed & Breakfast, which was built in 1802.

— A Schoharie family is embarking on a post-flood rebuilding project to bring an historic home back — and they’ll be doing it the hard way.

Jessica Loden-Kirby was born in Schoharie but was living in England when Tropical Storm Irene overtook her hometown.

Though Jessica and her husband, Ian, can’t receive disaster benefits, they plan to restore the former Hyland House Bed & Breakfast on Main Street, a 212-year-old house, and turn it into their home.

Jessica and several of her skilled family members are preparing for the challenge, and they’ll be sharing their progress on her new blog, “High Trees House.”

The large, two-story Victorian home is hard to miss — it was painted pink years ago, and the home takes up the entire corner of Main and Fair streets.

It’s not a likely draw for the average homebuyer, situated in a 500-year floodplain and inundated by three feet of water in August 2011.

It’s been gutted to just above the high-water line by volunteers, and there’s no kitchen or other appliances. It needs slate roof repairs, interior walls and insulation, a heating system, a water heater and other things, like a bathtub.

But Loden-Kirby isn’t deterred. Her husband is a structural engineer, her brother a general contractor and her father an architect — three of the “main people you need” when embarking on a major home rehabilitation, she said.

“It’ll be a fantastic family project,” Loden-Kirby said.

Well-known house

Ian Kirby has been researching the history of the house at 255 Main St, and learned it was the birthplace of Gen. Thomas Lawyer, a member of the New York State Assembly during the 1800s and a brigadier-general in the New York State Militia. It was later the home of former Schoharie County Judge Jonas Krum, and his son Hobart, who served as a delegate to the state’s Constitutional Convention of 1867 and in the New York State Senate from 1896 to 1902.

Loden-Kirby realized over the past year the home is known by many in the Schoharie Valley.

“The more people that we talked to about us being interested in this house, the more people we found who said ‘Oh, I stayed there,’ ” said Loden-Kirby, who found a person who grew up there and another who sheltered there after a fire.

People call it “that pink house on Main Street,” she said.

“There’s so many people in the community that have an attachment to that house that it’s really cool to be able to bring it back to life,” she said.

Village Trustee Ed August said news the home will be restored is “wonderful.” He’s lived a few doors down on Main Street, running his Wedgewood Inn Bed & Breakfast, which was also inundated by Irene’s floodwaters.

He was good friends with the home’s former owners, Patricia and the late Robert Hyland. Patricia moved after the flood and put the home up for sale. It’s been vacant and untouched for more than a year, and its future was in question.

Restoration is good news, August said, because it would be a shame to see it lost.

Historic restoration

The home features detailed molding and stained-glass windows in some doors, including the wooden, 10-foot-tall front doors.

“We’re very keen on keeping all original features. We don’t plan on taking away any of the history or the character of this house,” Loden-Kirby said.

They’ll probably change the exterior color, but she said she expects to include the color pink in some of the detail.

Built around 1802, the wide-plank hardwood floors survived the onslaught of the Schoharie Creek’s flooding over two centuries.

“It’s been through at least four floods,” Loden-Kirby said.

The energetic 31-year-old moved to England in 2009 to live with her husband, but they moved back to Schoharie in 2012 after the flood so Loden-Kirby could take over running the family business — the Apple Barrel Country Store on Route 30.

Active in post-flood recovery efforts as a board member of the Schoharie Valley Association, Loden-Kirby sees plans to post her family’s rebuilding progress on a blog as a way to show people it’s possible.

The project will be mindful of the chance — or certainty, in Loden-Kirby’s mind — that the creek will flood again.

“We do know there’s a chance, and we are going to take proper precautions,” she said.

That will mean ensuring the heating system and other critical components are installed on raised platforms on the first floor, instead of in the basement. This will make the project even more expensive.

“If you’re only doing it once and you know that there’s a possibility that it could flood again, you just have to take those things into consideration,” Loden-Kirby said.

People can follow the family’s progress online at http://hightreeshouse.blogspot.com/.

 
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