Local landmarks

OBSERVER Staff Report

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “the ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.” Six of Fredonia’s homeowners will put that adage into action when they open their doors to hundreds of “friends” as part of the 2013 Fredonia House and Garden Tour on Saturday, June 29.

The House and Garden Tour showcases some of Fredonia’s most beautiful and interesting homes and gardens. Offered for the first time in three years, it gives curious community members the opportunity to get a closer look at residences they have long marveled at as passersby. The tour will also help the Opera House, a local landmark, to continue to provide entertainment for audiences from near and far.

“The funds raised will be used to support the Opera House’s ongoing operations,” said Executive Director Rick Davis. “As the only performing arts center in Chautauqua County that presents its own programming year-round, there always is a need for operating support.”

Planned and coordinated in years past by the Fredonia Preservation Society to raise money for local non-profits, this year’s event is being organized by the Fredonia Opera House and includes three beautiful homes and three clever gardens.

“When the organization no longer could coordinate it, it was given to the Opera House to carry on,” Davis said.

The Fredonia Preservation Society came into existence in response to the threatened demolition of the Opera House in the early 1980s. Thanks to the dedicated group’s efforts, the Opera House was saved from destruction.

The tour begins at 10 a.m. and lasts until 4 p.m. Refreshments are served at the Fredonia Opera House, which is included as a tour spot.

The sites featured on this year’s tour include:

Susan and Stephen Cobb’s Garden at 49 Gardner St.

The Cobbs built their log house on Gardner Street in 1988 and have been working on the landscaping ever since. As the trees have matured, the gardens have evolved to include more shade plants, especially hostas. With about 140 varieties of day lilies and 75 varieties of hostas, the Cobbs have created a very serene, welcoming garden that also includes grasses, astilbe, hydrangea, liatris and iris, a vegetable garden and an herb garden. They also decorate the home’s decks with pots full of colorful annuals. Stephen and Susan love what they have achieved and are happy to open their yard to tour-goers.

State University of New York at Fredonia, President’s House at 194 Central Ave.

The setting of this handsome Colonial-Revival style home was originally a large farm. In 1851, 12 acres of the farm were sold to Col. Noah D. Snow, who built the home in 1855. The original architecture was that of a Square Italian Villa with a cupola. It was 1907 when the Italianate features were removed and the grand colonial veranda and tall columns were added. The Kenna family owned the home from 1924 until 1964, at which time it was purchased by SUNY Fredonia to serve as the home for the University’s president and family, currently Dr. Virginia Horvath, and her husband Dr. Brooke Horvath. Things to pay particular attention to are the various flower beds located around the house, the antique furniture (especially in the dining room) and Dr. Horvath’s extensive teapot collection. With more than 200 on display, the collection includes modern and vintage teapots from around the world.

Mike Grasso’s Garden at 15 Birchwood Drive

Those who like variety will love Grasso’s gardens. Grasso has been working on and gradually expanding his flower beds and gardens for more than 20 years. From the shade garden on the east side of the house to the creekside beds on the home’s west side, variety is what Grasso has achieved. The beds contain perennials, annuals and ground covers and include: hostas, bleeding hearts, columbine, alliums, sedum, ferns, tulips (if the deer don’t get them), pachysandra, clematis and yucca, among a host of others. Grasso has even managed to sneak in potatoes here and there! He calls his process “propagation of error” and humbly says anyone can do what he’s done. Don’t forget to ask about the tree stump hidden under his “fort” located near the compost pile.

Edwards Waterhouse Inn, Jeff Peterson and Maggie Bryan-Peterson’s Home at 71 Central Ave.

This orange-red brick Queen Anne was originally built in 1850 as a single family home in the modest Italian Villa style by owner F.S. Edwards. In 1895, the new owner, Dr. John Waterhouse of Michigan, transformed the home into the magnificent Queen Anne Victorian that it is today, and in the process more than doubled its size by wrapping the new house around the Edwards house! Over the years, the house has seen many uses, including as a home, a sanitarium, a women’s college dormitory (known as “Alumni Hall”) and as apartments.

“The house is such a fixture in the village that often the address number doesn’t mean as much as the description ‘large, orange brick house with tower and large front yard,'” Maggie said. “Future intentions are registration of the house with the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and, once all work is completed, on the National Registry of Historical Places.”

The current owners rescued the home, and have arduously and painstakingly restored the house to its Queen Anne glory. It now serves as the Edwards Waterhouse Inn, an elegant five-room bed and breakfast, with Jeff and Maggie as innkeepers.

“Jeff and I have had a really gratifying first year of operations, meeting so many wonderful people … (the house has) been returned to the community by making it a B&B rather than just a private home,” Maggie said. “The support from the community, especially the village officials in making this a reality, has been tremendous.”

Because the home is an operating bed and breakfast, it is open to the tour only after 11:30 a.m. and viewing may be restricted to the first floor.

Jim and Marcia Merrins’ Home at 42 Rosalyn Court, Castile Heights

In stark contrast to the other homes on the tour, this 1977 California ranch style home was built to artfully use the backdrop of trees and the sloping lot to enhance this natural setting and foster privacy. The Merrinses began renovations in 1996 that over several years included extensive landscaping, a beautifully appointed kitchen, a renovated art-glass staircase, and master bedroom suite. A three-car garage was added in 2006 and further renovation included a multipurpose room featuring office space, a cozy, uniquely hidden sleeping area, and small kitchenette. In 2012 the living room was renovated and one bay of the garage was converted to a ceramics studio. A fruit orchard was developed on an adjoining lot to complete the residence. The house displays an array of artwork, sculpture, and treasures from travels around the world.

Annita Luce’s Garden at 196 Chestnut St.

Annita Luce’s garden is a wonderful example of how to turn an expansive yard into a clever combination of lawn and spotlight gardens, fabricated completely by the homeowners.

“I started planning the gardens when we bought the house almost 30 years ago,” she said. “There was nothing here at the time.”

The Luces’ gardens include more than 100 varieties of hosta, sculpted boxwood hedges, a goldfish pond and a koi pond, both with waterfalls. Flagstone walkways fashioned from creek stones provide a way to meander from one focal point to the next; the stones look like they were engineered for a perfect fit. And surrounding the gardens, Annita has created large areas of lawn that are ideal for family gatherings and games. The one thing that still has Annita vexed, though, is the neighborhood heron who seems to have developed a taste for her goldfish!

1891 Fredonia Opera House, inside Village Hall

The cultural center of early Fredonia, this 444-seat performing arts center was rehabilitated by the Fredonia Preservation Society over a nine-year period starting in 1985. It would be 1994, after more than 52,000 volunteer man hours and a nearly $1 million investment, that the Opera House was reopened to become, once again, an integral part of the arts and culture of the community. Refreshments will be served to ticket-holders all day on the second floor of Village Hall. Guided tours of the Opera House will be conducted at 11 a.m., noon, 1, 2 and 3 p.m. (Tours last approximately 50 minutes).

Tour-goers are urged to refrain from taking pictures at any of the homes and children under the age of 12 are not encouraged to attend. Pets are not allowed on the tour.

Tickets to the tour are limited in number and are available online anytime at or by calling or visiting the Fredonia Opera House Box Office at 679-1891, Tuesday through Friday, 1 to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 2 to 5 p.m. Any remaining tickets also will be available at the Opera House on the day of the tour. Proceeds from the tour benefit the Opera House.