Sallie Way hands me two photos of a charred center-hall colonial — glossy 4×6 glimpses of a nightmare — now smudged with fingerprints, curling slightly at the edges. The once-stately home pictured there, she tells me, is the Kalinkewicz farm, which stood for close to a century here in Galway.
Sallie, her husband, Greg, and their two children called the 54-acre farm home from 1998 until a chimney fire set the house ablaze on a frigid March night in 2006. The old structure burned quickly; very little could be salvaged. But this isn’t a story about what was lost.
“Immediately, right off the bat, we just knew, we’re fine and we’ll be fine. Right away your priorities just get slammed into place,” says Sallie.
The Ways weren’t the first to live through a fire on this property; the original Kalinkewicz farm, built in the mid-1800s, burned in the late 1920s and was subsequently rebuilt.
“When the house burned, the entire family of five lived in that little white building,” says Sallie, pointing to a tiny structure by the road, now used as a shed. “If you look in there, you can actually still see the curtains and the stovepipe hole,” she notes.
Eight decades later, when history repeated itself, the Ways were fortunate enough to be offered other housing options. Taken in immediately by friends, one day later they were offered the use of an apartment owned by Joe Kalinkewicz, who had grown up in the original farmhouse and had weathered the first fire’s aftermath.
The Ways took up residence in his apartment, right down the street from their ruined home, for a month before securing a 70-foot single-wide mobile home, which they placed close to their still-standing barns, determined to rebuild.
Neighbors pitch in
Neighbors from up the road took in the Ways’ three horses until power could be restored to their barns; Sallie’s church had a spaghetti supper fundraiser in the family’s honor; a neighbor who is a master stair-builder offered to build the staircase for their new home.
In the days following the fire, friends from Shenendehowa, where Sallie teaches, showed up with truckloads of donated clothing.
“I’m still wearing it all,” Sallie says, pointing to her blue fleece jacket and faded jeans. The pastel plaid shirt beneath the fleece is one exception, she notes; she salvaged it from her wrecked home. “This was one of my favorite shirts. It was frozen solid and I threw it out the window,” she says.
Not long after the fire, the Ways were out cleaning their paddock when a neighbor stopped by. He knew Greg and Sallie were thinking about building a post-and-beam house and offered to let them come take a look at the one he had recently built. The Ways immediately fell in love with it, so he offered them the design plans.
“He had done the research, he had picked the frame company, he had done all the hard work, all the legwork, so it went so much faster,” says Sallie.
The outpouring of community support overwhelms the Ways to this day. “We’ve made lifelong friends through this thing,” says Greg. “We’ve gotten very close to a lot of people in the community we never would have known,” Sallie adds.
Home-design plans in hand, Sallie, an art and photography teacher at Shenendehowa High School, drew up her own design for the home’s windows and exterior. “We really wanted a traditional farmhouse look from the outside,” explains Greg.
As those who built the original Kalinkewicz farmhouse likely did, the Ways logged a portion of their property for lumber for the build. They hired a forester to mark the trees that should be taken down. “The forester had a very good idea of how much lumber we would need,” says Greg. He also gave them an accurate estimate of how much timber they would need to sell to cover the cost of processing the lumber for their new home.
The excess lumber was sold and the rest was kiln dried, milled and made into kitchen cabinets, trim, balusters, stair treads, floor boards, a countertop and a mantel. “There was some chewing of nails and waiting for the wood, especially at the kiln,” admits Sallie.
“The timing worked out perfectly, but there was a lot of anxiety,” Greg agrees.
Another resource culled from the property — this one unexpectedly — was used during the construction as well. Stromatolites, 490-million-year-old fossils that resemble cross-sections of a petrified tree trunk, were unearthed when the electrical lines were dug to the new home site. They were used to create an eye-catching retaining wall to the right of the house.
It took the Ways until June 2006 to finalize their house plans. The old driveway was extended to a hilltop pasture where the horses once grazed and the foundation was dug there that August.
“We built the house with no contract at all,” notes Greg. “It was built on a handshake.”
Much of the interior work was done by home-grown craftsmen. The cabinets were crafted by an artisan who lives on Galway Lake; the staircase built, as promised, by the neighbor from up the street; and the floors finished by a crew from Gloversville.
Long short time
The Ways moved into their new 2,300-square-foot home on March 10, 2007 — almost exactly a year after the fire. Although the timeline was surprisingly short, to Sallie and Greg, living with two grown kids and a black lab in a single-wide, it seemed to take forever. Recalls Sallie, “I remember saying to the builder, am I going to have to put Christmas lights on my trailer? He looked at me and didn’t want to say, ‘yeah.’ I just wanted so badly for it all to happen so quickly.”
Although the home was built with the look of an old farmhouse in mind, the interior has a more modern feel. The common area contains the kitchen, dining area and living room. A hammer beam truss gives the post-and-beam construction a rugged, yet graceful, look. Radiant heat, a woodstove and the sun’s rays warm the space.
The rustic interior doors, hung with wrought-iron strap hinges, were all handmade by Greg, a dairy cattle hoof trimmer with a knack for construction.
“Watch this; isn’t that cool?” Sallie asks, with the glee of someone used to crooked, old, cranky construction. She opens a cabinet door, gives it a small nudge and it closes completely and quietly on its own. The kitchen drawers, she demonstrates, do the same thing.
The entire common living space is brightened by a wall of south-facing windows that reach nearly as high as the cathedral ceiling and offer a view of three winter-fuzzy horses gazing in the nearby barnyard, and the rolling farmland and forest beyond. The location of the old house is visible from the windows too.
“It was there, to the side of the barns, right next to the road,” explains Sallie. “We had a view of the pond across the street, but not much else.”
The downstairs master bedroom is furnished simply, with a four-poster bed and two antique dressers, all of which survived the fire. Char marks still darken the top of one of the bedposts. The birdseye maple highboy in the corner looks too dainty to have weathered the blaze. “I think it actually looks better since it’s been refinished,” says Sallie, “When the refinisher brought it back we thought, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s more beautiful than it was before.’ ”
A full downstairs bathroom holds a clawfoot tub the Ways found in one of their barns. They had it refinished and Sallie painted the exterior green. “We had the bathtub done way before the house was even up,” she notes.
A sweeping open staircase leads to a second bedroom, another full bath and a loft that will one day be Sallie’s art studio.
Standing in the golden pine warmth of their new home, it’s hard to imagine that fire ripped through the Ways’ lives less than two years ago. Their abode is well furnished with a comfortable collection of furniture donated by friends and family, antiques picked up here and there, a computer desk Greg fashioned out of plywood, a wooden coffee table Sallie made in high school.
Around the old wooden farmhouse table in the dining area sit four chairs: a green, molded plastic one, a chunky maple one that once belonged to Sallie’s mom, and two antique, elegant cane-seated ones — a gift from a friend. I chose to sit in the green plastic chair; Greg took a seat across from me on one of the cane-seated ones while Sallie fixed us tea. Moments later Greg is on the floor; his chair in pieces. “It felt really solid when I sat down on it,” he says with a laugh, then begins trying to decipher the puzzle the chair has suddenly become.
“Before the house burned down, Sallie got me a gift for my birthday I went to New Hampshire for a chair-building course. I learned how to make chairs,” Greg says, his voice trailing off as he concentrates on which leg and spindle goes where.
No doubt, this chair will be better than ever once it’s rebuilt.
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Categories: Life and Arts