An old farmhouse is a lot of work to fix up – but very rewarding

Dave Cotter's favorite book about home restoration gives some wise advice on house hunting: if the b

Dave Cotter’s favorite book about home restoration gives some wise advice on house hunting: if the basement of a prospective abode shows signs of wetness, insect infestation or foundation problems, look for someplace else to live.

The old farmhouse he and his wife, Ruth, looked at on Charlton Road about six years ago had all of those issues.

“We loved it anyway,” he admitted.

“We fell in love with the fireplaces and the summer kitchen, and the summer kitchen wasn’t even used then, but it’s such a nice flow and it’s such a warm feeling,” Ruth Cotter elaborated.

And so they signed on the dotted line.

Built in the 1840s, their home has seen multiple owners and many changes over the years.

“The people who lived here before us did a lot of work to kind of stabilize this thing. They spent a lot of time taking down things that were falling down. They probably saved the house by doing that,” Dave Cotter said.

An attached building that looked like a one-room schoolhouse had been dismantled before they moved in, along with a dilapidated barn.

“The foundation on the garage collapsed into the yard one day, so he had to replace the foundation,” Dave Cotter said, of the previous owner.

Despite the improvements made before they bought the home, the Cotters, who have two children, found they still had their work cut out for them.

The day they were handed the keys to the front door, it was pouring rain outside. They walked in to find it was also raining indoors, so roof work needed to be done immediately.

In the summer kitchen, which is now a cozy sitting area, they discovered that the eves weren’t completely boxed in.

“Birds and everything could come in, right into the house,” Ruth Cotter recalled.

The couple took wood from the attic floor to finish the rustic-looking ceiling and to make trim for the room.

Over the course of time, they’ve done a whole slew of renovations, many of them on their own and some with help from contractors. The house has undergone foundation work, floor refinishing, and ceiling and wall repairs. It’s been painted, skylights have been added, walls have been knocked out and modern insulation has been installed.

“Parts of the house were insulated with bricks,” Ruth Cotter noted.

They expanded the working kitchen by replacing a small porch with an addition. The new space serves as a dining area brightened by many windows that provide a view of the farmland that surrounds the house.

A gas insert, set into the kitchen’s fireplace, adds warmth and charm to the room. The space has a historical feel despite modern updates, which also include an island with a black-and-white soapstone counter top, a built-in stainless steel refrigerator and cubbies custom-made to cradle wine bottles.

The couple also had a new wide-plank pine kitchen floor installed, complete with old-style nails with rectangular heads.

“Where we could, we’ve tried to replicate what should have been in the house,” Dave Cotter noted.

To that end, he fashioned trim and crown molding for the living room to match the antique woodwork in other parts of the house.

outdoor deck

Outdoors, the couple added a deck, a white wooden picket fence, a walkway and a stone veneer on the foundation of the kitchen addition.

To reverse damage done to the attic by a colony of bats, they ripped out the insulation and all of the flooring, let the floorboards weather outdoors for a year and then put them back in place.

“We’ve had our share of pests — bats; bees; bees again; [past evidence of] termites; out in the barn, carpenter ants and powder post beetles; flying squirrels; ladybugs; cluster flies; mice; chipmunks. Every time we think we’re done, something else shows up,” Ruth Cotter laughed.

In his spare time, her husband keeps busy installing built-ins around the house. He built in a bench by the back door, a coat rack, a peninsula in the kitchen, and there’s a long list of other places where cubbies and shelves will be some day.

A college professor by profession, he said he acquired his love of home renovation from his father, who was a woodworker, and also from his grandparents.

“They took a little Cape Cod house and transformed it into a large Swiss chalet,” he said. “Even when they were in their 60s and 70s, they built a vacation house, so my grandmother, when she was 70 years old, was hauling railroad ties with my grandfather.”

There are still many projects on the to-do list at the Cotter home. Next up is a renovation of the entryway, the scraping and painting of the home’s exterior and the installation of more crown molding.

But all of the really pressing projects are done, at least for now.

“I think we’ve finally got the house ahead of the point where the big problems are going to crop up,” Dave Cotter said with relief.

The couple have pieced together snatches of their home’s history.

At one time, they were told, the garage was a carriage barn where community dances were held.

Previous owners found a Freedom Quilt in a now-dismantled portion of the home. African Americans are featured in the quilt’s design, and there is speculation that it could date from the time of the Underground Railroad, but the Cotters don’t know if their house was part of that movement.

Reach Gazette reporter Kelly de la Rocha at 395-3040 or [email protected]

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