Builder restores historic home


WHITINGHAM -- There is a breathtaking view of the man-made Sadagwa Lake and Lake Whitingham from a historic home that sits on top of Town Hill Road, noted architect David Powell.

And there is no question that the home is historic. It existed when the center of town was located up on that road, near where the Brigham Young monument and playground currently sit.

"I’m still doing research on the house," said Powell, who specializes in green building and restoring historic homes.

The address for the home is 428 Town Hill Road. Powell said it is one of two homes in Whitingham that dates back to 1800. The building was part of what was known as Whitingham Centre, where Town Hall and other mainstays were located.

As Powell continues restoring sections of the home, its owners Jackie Yanch and her husband, John McCall, keep adding more work they want to see get done there.

They had moved into the house last summer and lived in it for a year after purchasing it in February 2012. They now use it as second home but someday hope to retire and live in it. It is currently available for short-term rentals.

"This house is perfectly straight and level after 200 years," said Powell during a tour. "It’s post and beam all the way to the foundation."

Powell remembers at least four previous owners before Yanch. The building is approximately 5,800 square feet, he said.

Powell is no stranger to Whitingham. He lives there but also has done eight similar projects within two miles of the site. Altogether, he has done about a dozen restoration jobs involving historic houses.

Preservation of such homes had become a calling early on for Powell, who said he started "jacking up" houses off foundations right out of high school. Then he would put them back together piece by piece.

At one point, a man with the last name Goodnow owned a general store that was run in the Town Hill Road house. A nearby road was later named after this man.

Through talking with older residents, Powell learned that a road located above the house previously had provided one way to get to both Wilmington and Greenfield, Mass.

"It came across the top of the hill," he said. "Then they moved everything to the valley. Originally, all the town centers were up on hills. They were afraid of the lowlands because of malaria, swamps and the Indians. So they felt safer up high and drier. Then they moved into valleys for the water power from all the sawmills and the easy access for roads and trains."

Whitingham resident Liz Wheeler’s grandparents had purchased the house and property at a time when 300 acres were attached to it and the land was used for farming.

"My father was pretty much raised there. A good part of his childhood was there. Then my mother and father lived there," she said.

In the early 1950s, Wheeler’s grandparents had moved to a house across from where the Jacksonville General Store is currently located. Eventually, their previous home and property was no longer used for farming.

Currently, there are five bedrooms in that home. One of the bedrooms upstairs has a fireplace in it, which Powell says is not seen much today. Three of those bedrooms have bathrooms.

According to Yanch, the house sleeps 14 people. Several people have rented the house since Yanch and McCall took over ownership.

A playroom or entertainment room was utilized by previous owners who used the house as a bed and breakfast or inn.

It currently has a ping pong table, couches and other seating. There are movies lined up on cases along the wall with music playing devices and other games.

Up in the attic, Powell showed the Reformer wood that was cut by hand.

"You can see the ax marks," he said.

One piece of timber holding the ceiling is 40 feet long.

Outside, Powell is attempting to save two barns with slate roofs. Slate was used for the roofs on the house and the barns, which Powell said no longer as common because the material is so expensive.

Powell put in a new foundation for the large barn found right in the center of the driveway. He said he also put in new sills and straightened it out. He plans to make and install two new windows in the barn using some material saved from work on the house.

While working outside, Powell found an old hitching post buried behind the barns. It was likely used to keep horses on the property. He had it standing upright and plans to keep it in the yard, similar to ones located in the yard at the property next door.


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