Washington County

Old farmhouse yields joys and challenges

I can't image living somewhere else
Our home the day we closed, November 23rd, 2014. The brush in the foreground were vines that were slowly growing up the building
Our home the day we closed, November 23rd, 2014. The brush in the foreground were vines that were slowly growing up the building

Living in an old home out in the country isn’t for the faint of heart.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some great things about it as well. When we walk out our front door, it always feels like we’re on vacation.

Our home is a brick colonial, built in 1760 on a hillside in Washington County overlooking the Green Mountains. When the trees turn color in the fall, it truly is magic to be where we are. My wife and I joke (somewhat seriously however) that we live in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and expect a visit from an unruly group of dwarfs and a mischievous wizard one of these days out on an adventure.

The Milky Way is visible most clear nights and when it’s a full moon you can walk without a flash light (did I mention we don’t have street lights out here?).

While not numerous, we have friendly neighbors that look out for us and make for a close knit community. I truly can’t imagine anywhere else being as fun to live, and we have more amenities than you would likely imagine for a rural area. Surrounded by farms, we have a short drive to get fresh milk from Battenkill creamery, visit a farmers market and more at GardenWorks, two general stores and numerous other small businesses to choose from if we need groceries or a meal made from meats, cheeses, and vegetables grown locally.

Our property has over 13.5 acres of land, most of which is still farmed for corn and hay by a local dairy farmer. We keep an acre open for growing vegetables, fruits and other produce for fresh eating in the spring through fall, and we freeze or can more to hold us over for the winter. Three acres are covered in trees, where we have a small maple syrup production that we do as a hobby. With 80 taps, we make all we need for friends and family for the year from the maples found on our property.

Our house is a work in progress. They say that you don’t truly own a historic home, you’re a caretaker for it. Well ours is in need of a lot of care.

It has good bones though as they like to say. Almost all of the original horse hair plaster is still in the home, along with trim, doors and hardware from at least the 1850s.

It’s fun to see the marks of prior owners around the home; a hand water pump at the top of the basement stairs from the days before plumbing. Height markers scratched on one of the doors for the children living here in years gone by.

While removing drop ceiling and rerouting electrical in our living room, we found the 1937 farmer’s truck registration that had floated between the old pine floorboards on the second floor. We also found some Dutch coins from the 1950s. The funniest find so far was Teen Beat’s heart throbs of 1994 still hanging on a bedroom wall, hidden beneath a layer of paneling.

Peeling back six layers of wallpaper revealed a stenciled pattern in ochre red paint that graced the top of the living room walls two centuries before.

You feel a connection to those that have given a soul to this old house on a hill for so many generations. We spent the last two years removing garbage and fixing up the 200-year-old barn and got married on the property there this past fall. We couldn’t have imagined a better spot to tie the knot than beneath our apple trees.

At the same time, there are times you want to tear your hair out over the cobbled together fixes that fill a house this age.

When we bought the house, we had a fun rush to meet the fuel oil delivery for the empty tank in the house. The furnace in question that this tank was attached to was a lovely 1958 coal unit that had been converted to fuel oil in the 1980s. In use it belched smoke, smelled, and was a general health hazard. To say it had outlived its usefulness is an understatement; it went after that first chilly winter in the home.

We had to toss the 30-year-old water heater; I learned a lot about plumbing, since none of our septic drain pipes were glued in place, merely hand fitted.

I’ve become a fixture at the local hardware store searching for parts to fix unexpected problems. We hope to tackle our kitchen this summer, which currently has cheap drop ceiling panels and vinyl wallboard from floor to ceiling and turn it into something worthy of the history of our home.

Electrical wiring thankfully wasn’t added to the house until the late 1950s, so none of our wiring is terrible or as dangerous as what some homes have from the early 1900s. What is frustrating is finding out that the “new” wiring from the 1990s really just ties into old wiring all over the house, hidden in junction boxes far away from the breaker box. Of course almost nothing is labeled properly anyway, so finding the right fuse while working on the house is a matter of chance.

1890s linoleum covers the wide plank pine floors in several rooms and is a chore to chip and sand through. To add to the workit, some of the walls have literally been patched with concrete instead of plaster over the years, making repairing them a mining expedition. Fixing broken and missing support beams and rotten floorboards in the barn is a story in and of itself.

I stand by what I said before though that I can’t image living somewhere else. While it’s easy to gripe about the problems you run into while restoring a home to it’s former glory, what gets left out is the pride that comes from knowing that you’re the one saving a piece of history. It doesn’t cover the joy you have when you get to see the finished product. Our home stood here before the Revolutionary War. It has seen so much love, happiness and life over the years it would be a shame to let it disappear into dilapidation, to rot into obscurity.

There’s an old wallet sized print of a woman in a metal frame tucked away on the wall in the barn, near where the cows would have been kept in the 1940s. The stalls were long ago taken down. I look at it when I go in there sometimes and wonder who she was; a sweetheart to a farmhand gone by? A sister or mother to someone that needed some re-assurance in their daily tasks? I see it as a reminder that this property is more than just land, a house and a few outbuildings. It tells me that keeping this place going has and always will be a labor of love.

Categories: Life and Arts

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