Welcome to Old Houses Under $50,000, a blog specifically aimed for all of those special individuals and families who are addicted to old houses. Do bullseye moldings and newel posts get your heart pumping? Do you pine at every neglected, pre-1940s home you see, wishing you could get a peek of the interior? Do you stop at every abandoned house you pass and wish you could fix it up to its old glory? Old homes have a mystery, history and character that newer homes just can’t match. They ignite something in us that physically draws us through their front doors.
I know. I grew up in Idle Hour in Oakdale, New York, the former estate of William Kassam Vanderbilt. A 900-acre tract along the Connetquot River and Great South Bay of Long Island was my playground. Narrow meandering streets with wooden bridges running over man-made canals, a turn-of-the-century conservatory, a clock tower, a carriage house, and brick chicken coups and stables rehabbed into homes called The Artist Colony dotted the lush land surrounding Vanderbilt’s 1899 mansion. The estate had long been broken into half acre plots with an eclectic array of newer homes, but my best friend lived in Vanderbilt’s old billiard and pool hall.
It’s no wonder then, with an early love for wrap-around porches and stained glass windows, that my husband, David, and our seven kids, have always owned old, historic homes. Our first house, purchased in 1981 when we were just married, was situated in the seen-better-days downtown area of Bay Shore, New York, on Long Island. The 1910, three-story Victorian was built on top of a cemetery, and believe me, it took us a lot of time and sweat to bring its beauty back to life.
Our second old home was an 1880s tri-gable farmhouse on 15 acres. It sat atop a foothill of the Catskill Mountains in stunningly beautiful Schoharie County, New York. The interior was not as grand as our Long Island Victorian, but the quiet, pastoral setting more than made up for the home’s drafty windows and lousy heating system.
To escape the brutal winters, we moved to historic Cape May, New Jersey, where we purchased a three-story, 1915 American Foursquare from the 90-year-old daughter-in-law of the original owner, boat builder Captain Melvin Sharp. This is the house in which we raised our seven children for 21 years and affectionately named “The 717” after our street number. Although we inherited dropped ceilings, crummy wood paneling and avocado appliances, David turned this place into a true beauty. He gutted the house of its crumbling horsehair plaster and replaced ceilings and walls with old four-panel wood doors salvaged from Jersey Shore tear-downs. He refinished the floors, replaced the windows and siding and installed new mechanicals. He transformed the 1960s era kitchen adorned with coffee cup wallpaper back to its free- standing 1915 days. We even took out the 1950s bathtubs and replaced them with clawfoot tubs. In short, my master carpenter David, made our home look like it it had just come out of a century-old architectural magazine!
Now a transplant to a modern condo in Huntington Beach, California, the no-mans land of historic houses, I spend my free time scouring real estate sites in an attempt to satiate my extreme case of old house withdrawal.