A Sane Way to Save a Neglected Stone Home

Something about underdogs and things on the verge of extinction speak to me. Even when things look bleak, shouldn’t we always cling on to that last kernel of hope?

When I see a dilapidated stone home, I see only the possibilities, where others see only “money pit”. Are these love pangs just a flight of fancy? Sometimes I wonder. But then the logical side of me jumps immediately to the defense. If it weren’t for the dreamers, we’d have no Monticello, no Grand Central Station … no lasting historical monuments. Nothing but parking lots and convenience stores.

And so this story of a Germantown, Wisconsin, couple really speaks to me. They went about their daily lives, content to live in their 1970s ranch-style home. Until, one day, on a commute to work, they noticed something: an old stone home. Sure, a tree was growing up through the porch and the rubble foundation beneath the home was crumbling, but they saw only the what-could-bes. “One day, wouldn’t it be nice to live in that place?” they mused. And then, fate stepped in and placed a for-sale sign in the front yard. Eureka! The couple wacked through weeds and overgrown brush to make their way to the windows for a look inside. Love at first sight.

After taking a deep breath, they bought the property and then spent the next 25 years of their lives bringing the Greek Revival-style home back to its former glory. What a smart way to make historic preservation more bearable – both emotionally and financially. Take baby steps, do what you can, step back, reassess and pivot where needed and when your pocket allows.

Do you know someone who adopted an old stone home and worked wonders to renovate it? We’d love to hear your story!

Three Fabulous Mid-Atlantic Fixer Uppers for Sale

“Diamond in the rough”. “Fixer upper”. “As is”. Sure, there’s more than one way to spin the description but only one way to make a neglected stone home livable again: a lot of elbow grease, patience and plenty of padding in the mortgage for renovations.

But these three historic properties may be worth the extra effort it takes to modernize and mend poorly thought-out “improvements”. Take a peek and tell us how you’d update each home if you had the means to take on ownership.

Federal Style Stone Home, Pottstown, Pennsylvania, Levengood Farm, 548 Manatawny St
This stately circa-1808 Federal-style home is located in historic Pottstown, Pennsylvania, a borough just 32 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The home was built by a prosperous farmer in the Levengood family and originally sat on 130 acres of land. Evaluated by architect Daniel T. Campbell in late 2012, the home features a stucco-over-brownstone exterior and boasts its original paneled wood doors and cabinets, lathe-turned stair woodwork and hand-planed moldings, chair-rails and floorboards. The five-bay, center-hall plan with two through-parlors, a north-south gable roof and gable-end fireplaces features both a basement and spacious attic, plus summer kitchen. What’s not to love?

Old stone home, Hampton Township, New Jersey
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, and we see so much potential in this old stone beauty, located in Hampton Township, New Jersey. Yes, the interior needs a major overhaul, but the exposed beams and open basement hearth provide such wonderful inspiration. Plus, this circa-1790 home offers four bedrooms and sits on 25 acres of land.

Old Limestone home, Moravian home, Hope, New Jersey
Oh heaven, will someone please adopt this home? This circa-1830s three-story limestone home is situated within the historic Moravian village of Hope, New Jersey. Close to an old stone gristmill and a meeting house, the home boasts original trim and two original fireplaces. The property would require vision and someone with a passion for historic preservation but the pay-off could be priceless.

The Mystery of the John Shopp Farm

John Shopp Farm, abandoned farm house, Camp Hill, Industrial Park Rd., Route 581

The John Shopp Farm, located along route 581 in Camp Hill, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, dates back to the late 1700s. After passing through several members in the Shopp family, the property was acquired by the Bohn family.

If you live in south central Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, to be exact) on what’s called the West Shore, you’ve probably traveled along Route 581 more times than you care to remember. And if you’ve traveled east-bound, you may have seen the crumbling limestone home that abuts the beltway as you near the 83 and 11/15 split. If curiosity gets the better of you (as it did this blogger), you probably go home, do a bit of research on Google Maps to discover that the home actually sits on Industrial Park Road, a quick turn off of St. John’s Church Road.

If you make the trip to the home site, you notice first that the property is overgrown, shaded by pine and oak trees. But the home, springhouse and adjacent barn seem at peace in this protected setting. Cedar Run meanders right through the property, fed by a spring that bubbles up from beneath the ground. The mind then wanders: Who built this home? Was it a dairy farm? Who owns it now? Are there plans to restore? And then comes that sad realization that property may be too far gone and the home razed by the time you pass by this way again.

Getting to the bottom of the home’s history took some digging through old deeds, an email to the Cumberland County Historical Association and a quick note to the folks at Hampden Township. Finally, some concrete info, via a Pennsylvania Historical Resource Survey Form! The property is known as the John Shopp Farm. The Georgian-style limestone and brick home was built in stages. The stone portion came first, circa 1775-1800, and the three-bay, side-passage double-pile house with a six-bay brick ell came next, circa 1850-1875. And then there are the outbuildings: A two-story brick kitchen sits behind the home, a stone springhouse with brick cellar sits to the south of the house and, across a gravel path, rests a large frame bank barn (which once served as a furniture store).

John Shopp House, Camp Hill, PA, Abandoned Farmhouse, 3824 Industrial Park Rd.

The John Shopp farm comprises an original limestone home and an addition. Outbuildings include a kitchen, barn and springhouse.

So who was this John Shopp? John was the son of Ulrich Shopp of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Ulrich purchased 209 acres of  the original Louther Manor in 1774 from Conrad Manismith. John inherited the land from his father and most likely built the stone structure himself. The home became a center of United Brethernism in the area until a church was built in 1827. The property was passed down through several members of the Shopp family, some of the earliest settlers of Cumberland County. The property then passed through the hands of a few development/mortgage companies and landed, finally, in the possession of the Bohn family, which owns it today.

What will family members do with the land? No one seems to know the answer to this burning question. In the meantime this lovely old stone mansion sits (quite sadly, might I add), waiting for someone to make a decision.

If you can fill in some blanks or know a bit about the farm’s history — or future — please share with us!

Historic Stone Landmarks at Risk

Saving old buildings seems a struggle, a tug of war between individuals who seek to preserve our heritage and those in charge of the structure, the land it sits on … or the purse strings.

Right now, two stone structures are at risk as groups involved in their care work to reach compromise.

Steuben House, Dutch Colonial, sandstone building, George Washington

The Steuben House in River Edge, New Jersey, is an excellent example of Dutch colonial style. The sandstone structure served as General George Washington’s headquarters in 1780. Source: Ken Lund.

The Steuben House, located at Historic New Bridge Landing in River Edge, New Jersey, is a Revolutionary War landmark, as it witnessed an important retreat from British forces led by Gen. George Washington on November 20, 1776, and also served as Washington’s headquarters for a time in 1780. The sandstone building, an excellent example of Dutch colonial architecture, is long overdue for repairs; talks are ongoing amongst parties involved: the Bergen County Historical Society, the state of New Jersey and the Department of Environmental Protection. Difficulty in raising funds to make repairs and improvements and disputes over types of improvements that can be made at the park have delayed progress.

Newburgh Dutch Reformed Church, Greek Revival Style, Alexander Jackson Davis, fieldstone church

The Newburgh Dutch Reformed Church is a fine example of Greek Revival style. The endangered fieldstone building needs a new roof. Source: Abandonedhudsonvalley.com.

A New York state historic site in desperate need of TLC, the former Newburgh Dutch Reformed Church is an outstanding example of Greek Revival style. The church, designed by famed American architect Alexander Jackson Davis, was built in 1838 on a hill overlooking the Hudson River. The structure, reminiscent of the ancient Greek temple at Illissos, rests on a five-foot-high podium, features four 37-foot-tall columns and fieldstone walls that were once covered in stucco and painted to resemble stone. In recent years, wall and ceiling collapses have left the building vulnerable to decay and vandalism. Funds to stabilize a failing roof are desperately needed; the city of Newburgh and the Newburgh Preservation Association have reached out to Newburgh’s Community Land Bank for assistance.

Do you know of a historic stone structure that can’t seem to catch a break? Share with us!


An Early German Stone Home Too Far Gone?

Endangered Old Stone Home Christian Herr II House Lancaster County

Christian Herr II House, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Photo, Lancasteronline.com

The Christian Herr II House, a two-story stucco-over-stone home located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was just added to the 2015 Watch List of Most Threatened Historic Properties in Lancaster County by the Lancaster County Preservation Trust. The oldest portion of the home dates to 1734 and was built by the son of Christian Herr I, an early settler who built the Hans Herr House, the oldest original Mennonite meeting house still standing in the Western Hemisphere.

According ot owners Randy and Christine Andrews, who have been renovating the home for the past six to seven years, the home suffers from two bowed beams (one significantly cracked), deteriorating stone and mortar and the effects of poorly handled additions/alternations. The couple would like to demolish the home and build new, a plan recently approved by their local planning commission. The Andrews said existing details and materials would be salvaged for use in construction of the new home.

Local historians hope to come to a compromise with the couple: to save the oldest portions of the home (circa-1734 and 1760) and/or the most important architectural details, namely the original attic beams, entrance and cellar.

“Situated on the southern portion of the original 530 acres purchased from William Penn (1644-1718), this house is one of the oldest still standing of those built by the second generation of Lancaster County’s earliest settlers,” says the trust. “Even though changes have been made to this house over the years, it still reflects the Germanic architectural style of its roots.”

What would you do? Bear the financial burden and restore at all costs or raze and build a new home that reflects the past?