My wife Julia and I always wanted to build our own home with our own hands. From the beginning of our marriage we talked about raising and homeschooling our kids in the midst of the construction so that they would have the most practical and rich education possible. We hadn’t settled on style or details, but we knew we wanted a handmade home.
As our life and interests developed, our vision crystallized to restore an old house that had fallen into disrepair. By that point, we had already purchased wooded land that we had fallen in love with (with a small manufactured home already on it), so we were in the market for a house that needed to move from its original location.
Six years ago, we drove past a real estate sign hanging in front of an abandoned but lovely old cape in Ellsworth, Maine. We stopped to peer in the windows and were amazed to see all original interior trim, mantels, doors, etc. We found the listing online and saw they were advertising the property highlights to be a driveway and a well. No mention of the derelict house. As we learned, no prospective buyer seemed up for such a massive restoration job. Reading between the lines, it seemed clear to us that the house was destined to meet a bulldozer.
The next evening, we went to dinner at the home of some new acquaintances from our homeschool co-op who happened to live just down the road from the house. We asked them if they knew anything about it but they didn’t have any first-hand knowledge. But this new friend, Mike, seemed intrigued by our idea and offered to help take it down if we ever made an arrangement with the owners.
This was the beginning of my friendship with Mike Updegraff.
After reaching out to the owners, we learned this was the old Jordan family homestead. By now, it had been abandoned for about 30 years or so and they seemed enthusiastic that someone saw value in it. After some back and forth we negotiated the time and monetary terms, and I wrote them a check. And called Mike.
Julia and I (along with a handful of friends) spent many hours over two summer months documenting and dismantling the entire house. I hired a historic preservation specialist, Mark Myers, to oversee and advise the process. We had never done anything like this before and therefore were dependent on Mark to guide us through each step.
There are, as you can imagine, endless stories from those two months that I’d like to share. And, in time, I intend to do just that. (Launching a magazine in the midst of it all, piles of dust and raccoon droppings, and disgruntled long-dead Jordan ancestors visiting the neighbors during the deconstruction, for starters.)
The entire house (frame, sheathing, trim, doors, etc) has been neatly tucked away in a storage trailer on our property for the past six years, awaiting its resurrection. And for all the ghosts to leave. But after these years of preparation and planning, Julia and I are finally ready to (re)build our home. Throughout the coming fall and winter, Mike and I (with Mike C’s help) will be tackling the restoration of the frame in anticipation of a spring raising. We have a lot of good work ahead of us. We want to share as much of the process as we reasonably can, while still keeping our focus on getting that place winterized before heating season next year. Our goal is to “preserve the past for the future,” as Patrick Edwards has put it. It will be an interesting convergence of preservation of historic integrity and thoughtful modern concessions. If you’re into 200-year-old houses, or resurrecting them, or making a home with your own two hands, stay tuned.
There will be lots to share.