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Old stone homes dating as far back as the 1700s, like a Siren’s call to sailors at sea luring them to their death, is a tantalizing lure for buyers interested in homes with history only to get buried in restoration expenses, maintenance work and updates.
Tim Miller, T. Miller Masonry, Topton, believes in practical solutions to restoring these homes and preserving their essence.
On a ride through the hills of Longswamp, Miller pointed out various farms with old stone homes he had worked on. Being a bit of a history buff, Miller enjoys working on the older homes and tries to learn about the era they were built in and about the people who lived there. Sometimes these sites have a history filled with intrigue. One such site, Hawk Ridge Farm, was established in the 1700s and has an ambience that the owner’s children, now grown, described as feeling like they weren’t alone in the original section of the home, but the allure of Hawk Ridge Farm wasn’t just in its interior, but in the land surrounding it as well.
Diane and Peter Carpenter always wanted an old house, but could not afford one that was already restored. It was while recuperating from surgery that Diane was able to spend time searching for the right home.
“I knew every single, For Sale by Owner, and this one popped up. It described eight acres of land with an old stone and log farm house covered with stucco,” said Carpenter.
Braving an ice storm in a Honda Civic all the way from Bethlehem to Alburtis (no GPS), the Carpenters fell in love and put a $50 deposit down.
“We saw such potential,” said Carpenter.
Doing a little at a time, they expanded and renovated the log and stone structure while keeping much of the original knotty pine. It was a labor of love that took 13 years to complete. Hawk Ridge Farm was an eclectic mix of time.
“I don’t know any history about this house,” Carpenter said as she produced papers tracing her home’s roots back to the 1700s. “And I’m finding out more. Tim just told me that there’s Indian burial grounds right back here.”
Although people from the area are familiar with the history of the mountaintop, it is with uncertainty if the sites were burial or ceremonial. According to ‘History of Berks County, Pennsylvania’, the Delaware Indians left the region beyond the Blue Mountains in 1749.
Today, groups and organizations are working to document and preserve these historical sites. The Carpenters were drawn to the home as if it spoke to them and purchased it without knowing its history or history of the area.
“I love it. It’s so historical,” said Diane Carpenter. “It makes me want to learn more.”
Although the Carpenters had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into additions and renovations to preserve the old home, Miller had to repair stucco, repoint stone, rechink logs, reseal a chimney and even remove a tree.
“Tim has seen so much here that I have to do, but he’s helping me do it in small increments. I wished Tim would have been around for my first log restoration when they took off the stucco,” said Carpenter. “It was leaking all over. I would have water gushing in that front window when it rained. Tim said they used too much sand. You could just pull out chunks.”
Miller believes in using sealers to prolong the life of the work he does. He said that at one time, sealers weren’t used and after a while the work that had been done would start to deteriorate.
When asked how long she could expect this new work to last, she was quite confident in saying forever. The home is also registered as a Bed & Breakfast should they ever decide to open their home to travelers.
After a visit with the Carpenters, Miller continued the journey to a nearby barn.
“This barn was in sad shape,” Miller began, “Morris Kinder wanted me to give him a rough idea of what it would cost to repoint the barn and once we were in he said, ‘hey, can you do the gutters, the soffits, the windows, the doors. . .’ and we just kept on going and we ended up restoring the whole barn. We even put a new cupola on top. Yes, we’re a masonry company, but we do restoration from top to bottom.”
A stone home with a date marker of 1879 is a definite marker for anyone interested in old homes.
“If you look on the peak of the house, on the stucco up there, that’s the date of the house. They think the barn was built before the house because that’s the way they generally did it back in those days,” said Morris Ginder.
Digging a little deeper, this property can be traced back to the early 1800s. It had been in the Rohrback family up until 1945; the Ginders purchased this property in 1988. Miller repointed the stone on the barn and included a large square plaque featuring a hand painted quilt pattern as part of the barn’s refacing.
“There was epoxy concrete floor paint on here and what that did was cause a big problem taking it off the stone,” said Miller. “It was 90 degrees out and we had to sandblast; we try to stay away from sandblasting.”
Miller also repointed the house and an old spring house fed by a pond filled with pet bluegill, bass, catfish, algae eaters and goldfish. When Sara Ginder starts tapping a bucket, these fish gather at the pond’s edge for a free meal.
“This place between three and five is filled ,” said Ginder. “There’s a big goldfish that we raised from a baby.”
Old homes are filled with stories waiting to be unearthed. Researching a timeline is like a treasure hunt; you search through old documents for clues to the next. You have to be able to read handwritings and understand the language on these old documents. Names are often misspelled and dates entered on the contract may differ from actual filing. Sometimes there are several dates to reference. There may be sales agreements with provisions for survivors. If you are lucky enough to find a property that has been in the family for years or the neighbors know of the property’s history, then oral storytelling will prevail which is how Miller learned about many of the properties he has worked on. He knows the people and has taken the time to listen. Although Miller believes in the preservation of old homes, he also understands his client’s needs to do repairs economically and maintenance free. Miller also believes in giving credit to the skilled people who work alongside him.
Miller headed back to work and as he passed an old farm, he noted that he is friends with the owner. The man is 80 years old and continues to work cutting wood and utilizing his carpentry skills. Miller has used these skills on projects restoring old doors.
“This place is awesome; look at the old fence, the piers. And the old barn, look at the wood on there.”
With Miller, every place along the way has some point of interest.