Topton mason shares passion for historical preservation

Patriot photos by Roxanne Richardson Allison Broadbent with her 158-year-old barn in Oley Valley, scheduled for restoration by Topton mason Tim Miller.
Patriot photos by Roxanne Richardson Topton mason Tim Miller restores chimney at the 158-year-old home of the Broadbents in Oley Valley.

A person passionate about working with old homes, Topton mason Tim Miller’s newest project takes him to an 158-year-old Oley Valley home.

“I’m excited to be down here sharing my love and passion for the historical preservation and to be a part of this,” said Miller, of T. Miller Masonry, Topton. “By using my techniques and my materials gathered by local farmers, I’ve been able to keep preservation affordable as I see the most significant setback to preserving these structures is financing and funding.”

His latest restoration project brought him to a home now situated as part of Glen Oley Farms. This farm began with a stone barn in 1856 and then two years later, William and Mary Nine built their home of brick not far from the homestead of the famous American pioneer, Daniel Boone. By the late 1800s, the Mt. Penn Trolley (also known as The Gravity Railroad) passed along the farm’s borders for scenic rides through the mountainside to dancing and entertainment at Tower Hotel where, according to berkshistory.org, there was the grandest dance floor and music by famous bands such as the Reading Symphony Orchestra. The years came and went and the home fell vacant and deteriorated.

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In summer of 1993, Allison and Rich Broadbent planned on moving from New Hampshire to Berks County. Although their hearts were set on owning an old stone home, their search led them to something they hadn’t expected, a brick house once the home of William and Mary Nine with a marker dated 1858.

“I’ll never forget the day I saw the house. I called my husband; I said this is it. It’s an Eden. I found it,” said Allison Broadbent. “It was just a little dirt lane and it was all overgrown; actually the trees, everything. Grass was growing up through the middle of the driveway.”

“When we first got in the house, we could see the potential in it, but it was so dark,” said Broadbent. “No one had lived here for two years. It was just dark; no light was coming in.”

Overgrown lilac bushes and shrubs and a wall of pine trees had extended all the way around the house. “My dad came down the next week and I made them cut trees down and they cut them all down because I said I’m not living here.”

Once the trees were down, the rooms filled with sunlight.

“It’s a passion. You’ll never finish working on a place like this as Tim knows,” said Broadbent as she looked at Miller.

Miller restored the flagstone-capped chimney, repointed all the brick, painted the wood around the windows and was in the process of working on restoring a second chimney. He will also be rebuilding a walk-in fireplace that had been removed at one point.

“That’s how all the houses are around here,” said Miller, as he referenced summer kitchens and the placement of walk-in fireplaces. “They’re vernacular. The barns are made of stones; we have stones. They’re functioning homes and not just monumental.”

“We raised our kids here. They grew up on the farm. The barn was full of animals. It had up to six horses here at one point. It’s just the privacy and to be with the land. I think to feel that other people lived here before us and what went on, we just love the charm of an old house,” said Broadbent.

The couple love to sit in their sunroom or on their patio in the evening and watch the sun set over the pasture. The sunroom was the newest addition they had made on the home. Evidence of some of the changes made to the home over the years showed marks along the kitchen’s brick wall where a staircase had once been. Road changes resulted in using the back of the house as the front.

Although there had already been a lot of work the Broadbents put into repairs, they were taking the time to restore what was original such as the repointing of the brick and rebuilding of the fireplace. Miller said changes made in baby steps make it easier for the homeowner to tackle old home projects. The last phase for his work on the 158-year-old home is to restore the barn.

“Restoration is on the move. People are putting back in,” said Miller. “I have never been this busy.”

Early America was formed through farming, forging, gristmills, furnaces, taverns, limekilns and in the styles of French, English, Swiss and German according to Miller who spends time researching each project and the era it came from.

“The majority of these homes were working people so the homes were built based on local needs and construction, what they had, what they were using, what it was used for. Oley and Exeter area is a prime example of how early America was formed,” said Miller.

Miller, from the Longswamp area, was raised around historical structures. He is also now offering consultations for do-it-yourselfers.

Miller credited his mentors, master carpenters and master masons, for everything he has learned and believes in teaching others. Joe Furst, Kutztown, and Dan Lambert, Topton, taught Miller the value of delivering quality workmanship. Miller lives by a quote told to him by Lambert. As long as you give them a fair price and quality work, you will never run out of work. Miller said his late father, Leonard, also played a role in mentoring, support, consulting and the kind of criticism no one else would.

For more information, go to http://tmillermasonry.com/about/. You can reach Miller at historicalstoneworks@yahoo.com.