More often than not- the old, vacant homes are demolished to make way for new ones. But that wasn’t the fate of the four homes located on the plot of land across from Parks Funeral Home.
In an act of generosity, the Summerville CPW offered them for free to community members willing to move the historic houses.
In the fall of 2015, one by one, the houses were carefully placed on wheels and moved off of the site to make way for the new Summerville CPW office.
Precarious as it was, the move itself was actually the simplest part of the work faced by each of the families who took responsibility of a home.
In the three years since, two of the homes have been completely restored. The remaining two are still a work in progress. The work has been expensive, time-consuming and complex but those who made the effort said preserving a historic home is a rewarding experience.
A place where families grow
Seth Duncan’s two young children wake up every morning inside of a home built more than a century ago. Their little hands turn the very same door knobs used by many other occupants since the house was built in 1858. When they peer through the windows- checking to see if dad is home- the view appears wavy because of the original, hand-blown glass panes.
These unique characteristics are what Duncan enjoys most about his family’s new, old home.
“I can’t wait to watch (my children) grow up in here because they’re going to have something different from all their friends,” Duncan said.
The Duncan family lives on North Palmetto Street. Before this new era, their historic home was located at 137 W. 1st N. Street- the site of the current Summerville Commissioners of Public Works office. In 2015, the home was one of four houses that were moved from the lot across from Parks Funeral Home.
John Barnes along with his sister, Suzie Seilinger (relatives of Duncan), took on the relocation and restoration project because of their shared interest in preserving historic architecture. They saw value in the two story home that was once the ancestral home of the Dunning family- the same Summerville family who continues to operate Guerin’s Pharmacy.
“It is wonderful to be able to take something like this and restore it,” Barnes said. “I have a passion for preserving our architectural legacy but it is even that much more special when it can become a family home again. Because these things are really meant to be lived in, they are supposed to be places where families grow and the house grows with them.”
Before the house was moved, Barnes did a lot of legwork to prepare for the one-mile-journey through town.
“This was the first time I’d moved a house intact,” Barnes said. We had to plot a path down the road so you could avoid all the vegetation and bring the power grid up temporarily. It was quite a logistical feat.”
Once the home was settled on North Palmetto Street, Barnes set to work restoring every part of the house. After three years of work, he said the final product is “a nice combination of carefully restored original historic features and sensitively introduced modern conveniences.”
There are three full baths and four bedrooms inside the dutch colonial home. It has all new plumbing, electrical, HVAC, installation and kitchen appliances. Barnes and Seilinger were able to retain and restore the home’s two formal parlors, sitting room and formal dining room.
“We spent a lot of time making sure that we put things back in the way that they were originally,” Barnes said.
Barnes also took care to re purpose as many things as possible. Surrounding the house are walkways built from bricks that came from one of the chimneys. All of the bricks lining the driveway were the original piers that supported the house.
“We attempted to use literally everything that was part of the original fabric of the house,” Barnes said.
Barnes and Seilinger did make a few modifications to modernize the home; a breezeway was added between the back wing and the main house and the orientation was changed by putting steps in the front of the house, instead of at its side. Also, the exterior was painted green with a red trim- both colors were selected from the national trust color palette.
Barnes said the Summerville CPW was benevolent in their gesture to offer the four historic homes up to the community in the hope that people would save them.
“They essentially gifted this house,” Barnes said.
All in, the restoration project cost Barnes about $200,000. But now that the work is complete, Barnes estimates the home is worth double that figure.
“It’s nice to be able to put that kind of value back into a property like this because it shows that they’re worthy financially, not just architecturally, of preserving,” Barnes said.
Passion for preservation
After moving a historic home from North Cedar Street to South Gum Street in the fall of 2015, Christine Czarnik set to work on a slow and meticulous restoration process. Hiring construction professionals would have spared her the labor and sped up the progress but Czarnik dismissed that option.
It would take her three years to complete the personal project. Along the way, she discovered several surprises.
One example is the ceiling. When she agreed to take “the blue house,” from the former CPW site, she observed it had a drop ceiling. But once the house was moved, Czarnik found the original bead board ceiling located 18 inches above the drop ceiling.
“That ceiling took me two and a half months on scaffolding with a heat gun and an inch and a half putty knife to get all the paint off,” Czarnik said. “But that’s the kind of thing you can’t afford to pay someone else to do but you want to do it. To me, that’s what preservation is about- taking the time to keep those original features or to restore them when they were lost or covered up.”
Czarnik found several ways to re purpose original elements of the structure. She had all of the Heart Pine roof rafters milled into flooring to replace the smaller stripes of floor that had begun to rot. Bricks from the chimney were removed and used to build a walkway in front of the home.
When the house was located on the Summerville CPW site, it had an attic with a pull down staircase. Czarnik chose to increase the roof pitch enough to put a dormer on the back of the house. A stairway was added to access the upstairs living space.
Originally the home’s kitchen and bathroom were in an addition located behind the house. Czarnik did not take the addition nor did she want to lose space in her backyard. As a solution, she redesigned the interior to accommodate an indoor kitchen and full bathroom. A washing machine and dryer were tucked beneath the stairway and hidden by a decorative barn door.
“I think it worked out,” Czarnik said.
Investing her time, money and energy into the restoration process paid off for Czarnik because the effort allowed her to “downsize” from the larger historic home she owned on Gum Street.
“I get to stay in the neighborhood and I don’t have a huge house,” Czarnik said. “I loved restoring both of them.”
Inside of the kitchen, antique appliances and flatware fill the counters and cabinets. Even though her collection of appliances is several decades old, the whole set is fully functional, including her antique five-burner stove.
“I love my old stuff and everything that I have, I use,” Czarnik said.
Originally from New York state, Czarnik collects antiques from her hometown when she visits family still living in the area.
Other Salvaged treasures in her home include a peg leg sink in the half bathroom and a claw foot bath tub for the master bathroom, leaded glass windows that allow light to spill into the master bedroom and four matching five panel doors for the interior rooms.
All of the original interior doors were gone when Czarnik took ownership of the home but she was able to save the moldings. Now she has those matching details around every window and door, which preserve the home’s character.
“The details are not fancy but they’re characteristic of their time and I think are very worthy of preserving,” Czarnik said.
While the bulk of the restoration is complete, Czarnik is still working on the aesthetics in some areas of the home. And when those areas are finished, she’ll likely set her eyes on a new preservation opportunity.
“It is a passion,” Czarnik said. “I’ll probably find another (preservation) project once I feel more finished with this one,” Czarnik said.
A work in progress
Angel and Frank Muehlenkamp moved the one-level white house at 123 W. 1st North St. to North Pine Street. Their home remains in the same condition as when it was moved but Muehlenkamp said his goal is to complete the restoration work this year.
Less of a preservation, more of an evolution
There wasn’t anything grand or particularly impressive about “the yellow house” that Will Limehouse moved from North Cedar Street to W. 3rd North Street in 2015. It was an ordinary home. One that had housed generation after generation of Summerville families throughout the 1900s.
“Everybody wants to save the big homes, the homes with elaborate trim,” Limehouse said. “I think it’s important to do that but these (CPW homes) were the homes that the most people lived in and they get torn down all the time.”
He could see the home had value. Not as much monetarily but societally.
His interest in restoring the home was driven by an effort to retain what he described as the “fabric of society.”
Limehouse said when older homes are demolished to make way for development, the town loses parts of its unique character.
He would rather see a home evolve over time, carrying on its purpose within the community.
Once the restoration is complete, Limehouse intends to rent out the rescued home.
He anticipates the work will be finished up this year. None of the repairs were hired out on his project- Limehouse is piecing together each room himself with the help of a few friends.
The home’s interior had already been gutted by the Summerville CPW. Limehouse said the house is full of quirky combinations of repurposed lumber and modified frame joints.
“These old homes are never straight or square,” Limehouse said.
More than once he discovered a beam in the home that was original to the home but also original to an even older home. Repurposing pieces of framing was common practice in earlier periods, Limehouse said. People used what they had.
“We tried to save as much material that was original to the home as possible but bring it to a current, 21st century (condition),” Limehouse said.
He hasn’t rushed the process because it just didn’t feel right to make all the decisions at once, Limehouse said.
“You go into these old structures and they’ve got a feeling to them inside of them,” Limehouse said. “We don’t like to go in and just impart what we think. At the risk of sounding crazy...the house lets you know where to go and what to do with it.”
He recently replaced the front door. Barn doors have been ordered to place at the entry of one front room. In an effort to protect the original flooring, Limehouse covered the floors until a later time when they can be fully restored.
He said people often ask him why he bothered to spend between $30,000 and $40,000 to move the old home and devote years to the restoration.
He said for him, the project is worth the money, time and effort. Allowing Summerville’s older houses to “evolve,” is a meaningful endeavor.
“I’d do another one,” Limehouse said. “But it’s not for the faint hearted. It’s a lot of work.”