True Schoolhouse

Here’s the beginning of an Angel tale.

Two winters ago, all of us in the office were taking the dogs for a walk during lunch. About half a mile down this road is an old farmhouse, then used as a summer house by a retired music and English teacher. As we passed the property, I noticed that the door to the house was open and banging, not a good thing since the owner was in Florida. I waded through the snow to the front of the house and firmly shut the door. We walked on by.

As we came back by the farmhouse, the door was open again and banging. This time, as I shut the door, I asked the Angels if they were trying to get my attention with the banging door. “YES!” they told me, “We hope you will call the owner and ask for first refusal on this property.”

This little house sits on a lovely, quiet spot of land. My imagination tore ahead of me into thoughts of one of our children settling there at some point. It was not hard to motivate me to call the owner, a man I had known since teaching with him at Kimball Union Academy 26 years ago. Jim Ingerson, or JDI as everyone called him, mentored me through my first year teaching junior English. JDI said he would be delighted to put us on the list of folks interested in buying the house, but we should know that many others were on the list ahead of us. He expected to sell the house in a few years, when he settled full time in Florida.

The phone call was made and like so many Angel suggestions, there was nothing more to be done but let go and see what did or did not germinate.

Fast forward a year and a half. JDI had died unexpectedly, leaving the farmhouse to his sister Jean. We had not heard from Jean when he died so we assumed that someone ahead of us on the list had bought the property. The town manager actually told us that someone else had bought the property. So, it was a big surprise when the Jean called out of the blue to say everyone else on the first refusal list had passed on the property and we were next on the list. She encouraged us to look over the property and get back to her.

I was, of course, extremely enthusiastic. That two foot drop from one side of the kitchen floor to the other? No problem! That permeating smell of rotting wood? Not to worry! Walls like cardboard? Big deal! Ben was beginning to think that he’d like a fixer upper in town, a place to put his potter’s wheel and grape vines. This seemed like, well, a gift from the Angels!!!! Ben and I wandered the property looking at the mature trees and vistas up a beautiful pasture. We climbed over barbed wire fences to explore the wetlands below the house. Would this be a place to raise koi? We fell in love with the stonewalls and the stone foundation of an old barn. We imagined the beautiful gardens built from these bones.

Poor Jim! He always has to bring the rest of us back to Earth with hard cold facts. He and several friends, one of whom is an excavator, examined the house itself. They reported back that two thirds of the house had no foundation. The sills and joists for this part of the building had been logs place right on dirt. These logs had long since rotted and broken, allowing the rest of the under built structure to fall in upon itself. No one who examined this part of the house thought it could be saved. The consensus was that two thirds of the house would have to be taken down.

In the salvageable third of the structure, a chimney had fallen down into the crawl space basement and pulled part of the house into the crawl space basement with it. This was hard to see as the basement was full of water. Upstairs, there was no real heating system and no insulation. The septic system was dodgy. The vintage 1970’s decor was not covering anything beautiful. The orange shag carpeting had not been tacked over wide oak floor beams. The drop ceilings of asbestos tiling were not covering gorgeous plaster ceilings. Behind the dark wood panelling was strange matted insulation materials not carved chair rails and baseboard trim

The good news was that all these problems made the property very affordable. When we called Jean to report our findings, she agreed with our assessment. She told us that JDI had hoped we would buy the house and that he did not want her to dicker with us but to ask a fair price. We agreed on a price in one of the most harmonious conversations I have ever had. The price was in alignment with the problems, a rare thing in this town where land is hard to come by.

And so last week with Tia, Jean’s lawyer’s basset hound at our feet, we closed on this property. Jim spirits had risen when all of us in the family agreed about what a big project it would be. He was as enthusiastic at the signing as me. We are all on the same page now. Gilding the lily with a koi pond won’t be happening for awhile. For now, we will be taking most of the place down, one piece of plastic siding at a time.

We have found out some lovely history about the one hundred and fifty year old front part of the house, the part brave Jim thinks can be saved. It was originally positioned across the street from our farm and used as the True Road Schoolhouse. Only later was it moved by horses down to its present site a half mile away. The town historian Howard Zea noted that the moving of the Schoolhouse was remarked upon in town records because the building got away from the horses for a bit on its downhill journey and no one was quite sure for awhile where it would end up.

We also know that Monnie and David Benson, the wonderful people who sold us the land for Green Hope Farm and supported us as we built our home and started out farm enterprises, spent their early married life in the True Schoolhouse. We remember Monnie telling us of arriving from a gentler life in New Canaan, CT to live in this farmhouse with her groom. She remembered snow in the bedroom and a mother in law that carved supper off a frozen cow in the pantry with a chain saw.

That Monnie still loved this little old house encourages us. We can only hope to improve on the insulation situation and of course, what a blessing to have the Angels, Monnie, David, and JDI looking over our shoulders and cheering us on as we take down two thirds of the house and restore the original True Schoolhouse to its former glory, one board at a time.

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Ben with his fixer upper. Everything to the left of Ben is slated to go. Its amazing how plastic siding and a standing seam roof can make something APPEAR in good working order!

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We toast the purchase with the fam and a group of Ben’s friends. Jim’s shirt describes the ice cream flavor Cherry Garcia with a fitting slogan, “What a long strange dip its been.” ( and about to take a strange new dip!)

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May May and Riley of course part of the party but not given any champagne. Willy didn’t get any either which is fine with him because he thinks it tastes gross.

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