About a year before we were married, my wife Lauren and I bought a little house in New York State in the Hudson Valley. The tiny hamlet of Lafayetteville, to be exact. A saltbox Greek revival, it was charming as all get-out and, more than likely, one of the two or three oldest houses in the area, which – if you know your American history – says a lot in that region.
Parts of the stone basement, and the original massive hand-hewn beams that spanned the original parts of the house, dated back as early as the late 1600s and early 1700s. Surveys, census studies and the first available almanac maps of the county showed a farm in that spot going back at least that early, clearly to the original Dutch settlers.
The house had undergone many owners over the centuries, and many changes, and never had a historic designation. I wanted to try and get one for it, but in a part of the world with so many historic homes, the list was long and many more spectacular homes were competing for the same.
Did I mention how run down the house was when we bought it?
The couple we purchased it from were in their early 90s, and hadn’t opened the windows in the house for at least two decades. We knew we had our work cut out for us, but the charm of a water pump out back, a woodstove in the kitchen, and a perennial garden of forsythia and peonies – not to mention a little pond with blackberry creepers, spring peepers and migrating herons – was too much to pass up.
We had our wedding rehearsal dinner in that backyard, on a gorgeous, clear October night that was one of the best in my life; second only to the next night when we were finally hitched, and the night my daughter came into the world.
In the three years that we lived in that magic house, we put in countless hours re-doing the kitchen, the living room and the upstairs. It cost us a pretty penny, and the old woodstove crumbled in my hands.
When we finally sold the place you couldn’t see much of the work we had done from the outside. Nonetheless, we were proud, and would have stayed had there been better employment opportunities around.
I mention that house because, with this issue, AT features its first historic properties section (page 10). We plan on it being a monthly feature. One of the houses featured in this first installment is a charming Victorian cottage in upper Indiana, that’s available for a steal and which will easily take more than double its price to fully restore.
Looking at it, though, and thinking back to those charmed days in that rickety, drafty, unbearably charming place in New York State, I’m half-tempted to give it a go.