Out with the OLD … in with the new


OBSERVER Lifestyles Editor

Ruth Greenawalt and her son Trenton have just finished renovating and restoring the Victorian cottage located at 4728 West Main Street (Route 20) outside the village of Fredonia. The process was a 10-year labor of love.

“We were working on rooms inside at the same time work was going on on the outside,” explained Trenton.

Originally built in 1893, the house was purchased by Charles S. Aldrich in 1913 and has been owned by a member of the Aldrich family since then. Ruth’s parents, Vincent and Marjorie Aldrich, bought the house after Charles passed away, and now Ruth owns the home.

Many people think of a cottage as a small house. This is often not the case for Victorian cottages. The Aldrich “cottage” is a large two-story home, containing five bedrooms.

Ruth and her sisters, Marilyn Taraba and Loraine Hutchinson, grew up in the house. The trio have fond memories of sitting on the upstairs porch and playing with old toys in the lofty attic with their cousins. These good times at the family home partially explain why members of the extended family like to come back for reunions. At the last reunion family members received a blue ornament with the likeness of the house imprinted on it, commemorating its 100-year history in the Aldrich family.

A good deal of research was necessary to restore the structure and add furnishings, but the beginnings of that research date back to a college class Loraine’s son Kirk took at SUNY Fredonia. Longtime professor Dr. Daniel Reiff taught a course about architectural history and as a first assignment asked each student to draw a floor plan of his/her home.

Kirk drew the floor plan of the Aldrich home, and Reiff, who is known locally for his expertise, recognized it as a “Barber” home.

George F. Barber (1854-1915) was an architect of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He marketed his plans for houses through a catalog containing the designs. Houses built according to his plans are found throughout the United States and in foreign countries.

A reprint of his catalog was published in 2004 by Dover Publications. His houses are found in historic districts and many are on the National Register of Historic Places.

According to Ruth, several changes were made to the exterior of the Aldrich home in the 1940s including the addition of asbestos siding and the removal of the double porch in the front. When restoration began, the “ghost” of the original slope of the roof was found. Old pictures and people’s memory also served as guidelines for the outside work. Local carpenter Bruce Stonefoot and his assistant Eric Elliott worked on the renovations.

Stonefoot remembers working on the front porch and the upper porch, using some old photographs of the home. He credits Trenton for tracking down the spindles for the porch.

“What I found interesting was that in the old photos I could see the outbuildings, the mail box and the trolley tracks. I never knew a trolley went by there,” he said.

The sisters agree it is fun to have the new front porch. In addition to being beautiful, it is comfortable. Ruth called it a “treasure.”

The upstairs porch has been updated. Marilyn especially liked to sit there. She said, “We played here as children, but I was afraid that a younger child would fall off the roof because the railing was low.”

The railing is now higher but harmonizes well with the overall design. There is a cushioned built-in area in which to sit. It’s a perfect place to read, look out over the countryside or dream.

On the inside of the house, Trenton did much of the work. Enthusiastic about learning more, he worked on a couple rooms at a time, and removed as many as eight layers of wallpaper from some rooms. Ruth purchased reproduction wallpaper for some of the rooms.

In other rooms, like Ruth’s bedroom and the bedroom her parents once used, paint was applied and accented with wallpaper borders. Often the borders are constructed of more than one type of border. The work is so meticulous that the eye sees it as one border.

Sometimes plans were changed. In the kitchen, Ruth had planned to have the carpenters put in a new surface. She later decided to use the subflooring as the main surface because it was maple.

Luckily, the original oak stairway had not been altered.

Close attention was paid to the furnishing of the house. Many of the pieces are antiques left in the family while others were purchased. The sisters enjoyed searching for items for the house.

Vincent and Marjorie Aldrich’s bedroom contains their furniture from the 1930s which Ruth felt was appropriate. In other rooms, the furniture is late 19th and early 20th century. A china closet with curved glass windows was most likely a premium from the Larkin Soap Company, which operated in Buffalo. Ruth purchased the 1910 Larkin catalog showing some of the premiums offered which lead her to believe this is the origin of the piece.

The overall effect of the house, inside and outside, is much like a restoration one might see in a historic house open to the public for a fee.

Although there have been visitors, like a garden club, the house is not open to the public. There are no cords or ropes to restrict access to rooms or pieces of furniture. Ruth encourages visitors to sit down on the antiques.

Ruth strongly believes that her home should be “a live-in museum.”

There are some items, like the “icebox” and an old fashioned stove in the kitchen that are actually modern and functional. The bathroom has a cast iron footed bathtub, but with a shower.

A garage was added to the grounds in 1960, and Trenton was inspired to change it to better harmonize with the restored exterior of the main house.

There are also pieces of history connected to the family. A ledger that Charles kept in the 1880s is one such item. Neat and organized, the small book contains entries in beautiful penmanship.

As Ruth commented, “There are so many stories here.”

Comments on this article may be directed to dchodan@observertoday.com