Old houses are
At Worth Preserving, we identify properties in need, rally the resources to rehabilitate them (with plenty of sweat equity), and return them to productive use.
321 Main Street
Germantown, New York
Here’s what we’re up to right now… Everyone approaching Germantown from the east along the county route that turns into Main Street had noticed this little house. Right up close to the road, it was the ramshackle “eyebrow Colonial” or “that old place up by the cemetery” (noting its proximity to the Reformed Church burial ground). Inside, it looked as though its owners had thrown up their hands one day and simply left. Beneath the piles of yard-sale tchotchkes, furniture and sports gear, we discovered a historic gem. Friends from the New York State Historic Preservation Office came to evaluate its significance, declared it a fine circa-1800 example of “New World Dutch Vernacular” architecture, listed it on the State and National Registers of Historic Places and guided us as we put together a Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit project.
We gathered everything we’d learned from previous projects (see below) and took it to the next level, meticulously documenting every detail of the house, figuring out the least invasive ways to insert 21st-century necessities into a 200-year-old structure with idiosyncratic 19th- and 20th-century additions. We preserved not just historic character, but actual fabric—plaster, remnants of wallpaper, old paint and, of course, wood windows (even though they don’t all match). We removed a relatively modern bathroom downstairs and solved the mystery of how the circa-1800 house originally connected to the 1860s lean-to addition (the steps had been covered over by the bathtub). A scalpel serves better than a sledgehammer.
285 Main Street
Germantown, New York
With one rehabilitation project under our belts (see Our House), we were looking for a challenge. This house on Germantown’s Main Street, slightly outside of the hamlet center that was just beginning to crackle with new energy (thanks to Otto’s Market), frankly frightened us. Over 3,000 square feet, broken up into three apartments and before that dentists(!) offices, covered in vinyl siding, languishing on the real-estate market for several years, sitting on a slight rise near one of the primary approaches to town…there would be no place to hide and no option to fail.
Fortunately, Kate’s mother Ethel, equally committed to the goal of rescuing “hinge” properties like this one, stepped up and funded the project. Kate’s brother Chip (the architect) drew up the plans to restore the main floor to a semblance of its original configuration (following ghost lines found on the old hardwood after layers of plywood and carpet were removed), peel back layers of wallpaper and restore plaster where it survived, reveal and repair the exterior clapboard siding, restore all of the double-hung wood windows and 1940s steel storms, replace the asphalt roof with more appropriate standing-seam metal, rebuild and extend the front porch (after finding old footings that suggested its original footprint), reuse existing bathroom fixtures and introduce some vintage fixtures, and open up the house to the back yard with new exterior doorways (the doors themselves are salvage!).
Host to many Wood/Sprouls family gatherings and shared with guests via AirBnB and HomeAway/VRBO, the house now contains two apartments (downstairs and upstairs) that can easily be combined into a single home by opening up the pocket doors in the main stairhall.
109 Half Circle
Linlithgo, New York
Our Hudson Valley adventures began here in Linlithgo: an abandoned ca.-1900 house, probably built for workers at the nearby Hudson River waterfront, once a busy landing and railroad depot, or the mine at Iron Mountain (now the global document-storage facility). While modest, the house was a time capsule, its layers revealing a history of working-class interior decoration up until the 1960s, when its previous owner—Alice Rockefeller—did one last round of improvements (indoor plumbing and a knotty-pine kitchen with atomic-pattern linoleum).
In our first go at hands-on rehabilitation, we preserved and restored what we could (original doors, box locks and tiger-eye knobs, double-hung wood windows), introduced things we loved (vintage clawfoot tubs and pedestal sinks, a 1946 Chambers stove), replaced the asphalt roof with standing-seam metal, made the agonizing choice to replace the badly damaged plaster with sheetrock (after documenting all of the many layers of wallpaper), and settled for leaving the mid-20th-century asbestos exterior shingles intact, even though we know the original clapboard is underneath. One day…