CAN THIS HOUSE BE SAVED: 2539 Ballina Road, Cazenovia, NY

In 2013, I toured a huge 1894 house in desperate condition. The house was for sale and I was interested.

After three hours of inspection with the owner, Bob, we were standing in the dining room. He suddenly asked me: “Ross? Is there something wrong with you mentally?”

I gasped. “What?”

“Is there something wrong with you?”

“What are you talking about?”

Bob pointed to a long wall. “What do you see?”

I was totally confused.

“What do you see?”

I replied: “I see a profoundly damaged wall with missing plaster, rotted framing, settlement issues, burst pipes, and ancient, scary wiring.”

Bob look startled. “Oh. So, you DO see all that?”

“Bob, WHAT are you talking about?”

Bob thought for few moments. Then he said: “I’ve shown the house to dozens and dozens of people. They walk in all excited but with each passing minute I watch as they get ever-more depressed. After about twenty minutes the basically flee from house due to its condition. But you? You’ve gotten MORE excited as the minutes pass, and you’ve now spent three hours looking at everything.”

Ahhh. I got it now. “Bob, yes, I see all the damage. But I can fix all that. And, for the asking price, I expect issues. But these issues aren’t my primary concern. Rather, as we walk through each room, I’m counting to see if all the stained-glass windows are still there. Check! Is the mantel in situ? Check! And the overmantel? Check! The trim? Check! Doors? Check! And so on. I’m not concerned about issues which are easily fixable like bad framing, missing plaster, and scary wiring. Instead, I’m focused on the things which, if missing, cannot be replaced.”

Bob looked stunned. “But nobody else looks at the house like that. All they see is the damage.”

I purchased the Cross House in March, 2014.

 

For my whole life I have watched glorious houses and buildings be smashed to the ground. Often, they are in excellent condition. But, you know, a parking lot is more important.

Often, such structures are in poor condition. Or even very poor condition. And so people say: “It’s too far gone!”

It’s too far gone. How many times have I heard that over the decades?

Recently, the fabulous Kelly of Old House Dreams posted a house in upstate New York. It is a remarkable house. It is also a house in terrible condition. And many people have chimed in with: “It’s too far gone!”

I, too, see the damage. But I also see the glories of the house.

 

The south facade. Eaves begging for help.

 

OMG! These brackets! Are the missing ones inside the house? If they are gone, the existing brackets can be used as templates to make new ones. [Update: the owner confirms that one full bracket is inside the house, and partial bracket.]

This is stunning: wood quoins! (The clips held later sliding.) Wood quoins!

 

The later siding help protect the original siding. Note also the unique windows. Rather than being flush with the walls, they protrude. How cool is this?

 

A cupola! A cupola! Now…get ready…and fasten your seat belt!

 

Yikes! The east facade. And this is why people see a tear down. But that is not what I see. I see damage. Repairable damage. And this is ONE wall of four, and the other three facades look straight and true. As does the cupola.

 

People say: “The foundation is gone!” Is it? For, this is the east foundation. Which looks fine to me. What I see is a missing wood sill, which likely rotted out. So the east wall sagged. Which is just what happened with the east facade at my Cross House. So, I jacked up the sagging wall, and installed a new sill. This is not actually hard to do.

 

Recently, somebody cleaned the house out, and has been working on it.

 

The roof. The whole east side is shot. Now, wanna have some fun?

 

ZOUNDS! And it gets better!

 

ZOUNDS again! This is the second floor. Note how the staircase curves to the left, then curves up to the right! An S-curve! I would buy the house just for this staircase!

 

Back to the first floor. Note the gorgeous arched opening, which appears to have pocket doors.

 

Beautiful original vestibule door. The one to the left is also extant.

 

The house is in a rural farming area. Across the street is a sawmill.

 

The sawmill. The house is to the left. Some people object to having a mill across the street but I think this looks fine. And, ahh, a sawmill RIGHT across the street from a major restoration project? YES!!!!!!!!

 

The view to the west. The house is to the right.

 

The house is 30 minutes from big city Syracuse (pop. 142,749). I could see living in the city and using this house as a weekend retreat.

 

And the best part?

The house is but $27,500. Yep, the price of a car.

You get a little less than an acre. Sadly, the adjacent barn has been sold off. Could it be reacquired? [Update: the house owner thinks this might be possible.]

The listing states that the house in listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and would qualify for federal and state grants, or tax breaks, to help the restoration process.

The house does not need dozens and dozens of people clamoring to buy it. It just needs one person. The right person. This person does not even need to be rich. For, if they have the willingness, experience, and time, the house could be restored for way less than one might think.

Step One would be to jack up the sagging wall, reframe it, and install a new sill.

Step Two would be to fully restore the roof and eaves. Investing in scaffolding would be essential.

Step Three would be to restore the siding on the east facade.

With these three steps completed, the house would no longer be in perilous condition.

 

“It’s too far gone!”

Well, they said that about a beautiful country house in England which suffered a devastating fire in 1989: Uppark. The entire roof burned off. The chimneys collapsed. The top floor was incinerated. The ceilings on the main floor, all highly elaborate paster work, collapsed, and the remaining walls looked utterly devastated.

People across the land proclaimed: “It’s too far gone!”

Yet, the house has been gloriously resurrected, and all documented in one of my favorite books.

“It’s too far gone!”

And they said that in 1992 when a large portion of Windsor Castle, a portion including the most important State rooms, was destroyed by fire.

Yet, the castle was gloriously resurrected, and all documented by another of my favorite books.

“It’s too far gone!”

For decades, this is what people said about the Ransom Gillis house in Detroit, the most famous ruin in the city. But, it has now been reborn.

 

The 18th-century Frauenkirche in Dresden.

 

The church was destroyed at the end of WWII. A small group of citizens fought the government for decades to keep the ruins from being bulldozed. Because they did not believe the church was lost forever.

 

And they were right. By 2005, the church had been reborn. The dark stones are original.

 

Miracles can happen.

 

 

 

22 Comments

  1. Amy Wang on June 22, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    Most houses can be saved! Ours was a mess when we bought it (and most people told us they were so afraid it would be torn down) but we had the fortune that it had a less than 10 year old roof. We started at the foundation, moved up to the sill beams and then began restoring and rebuilding the rest. It has not taken a fortune to do but it has taken almost 5 years. We love the house and will live here for the foreseeable future and know that the house will outlast us easily (and several generations more).

  2. Michael Mackin on June 22, 2020 at 12:33 pm

    Thanks for your post, Ross. I, for one, agree with you. I’ve seen many examples of houses that were ‘too far gone’ that have been saved. This beautiful home just needs the right person!

  3. Karen Spencer on June 22, 2020 at 4:10 pm

    I saw this on Old House Dreams yesterday, after having been away from the site for a few days.

    My first inclination was to yell out “Ross!” But that would be very presumptious of me…

    I live in NY. I can manage $27,500.00. This is one of those houses that would be a dream to work on given all the right circumstances that Ross outlines.

    Unfortunately, my husband is not at all handy. Computer guy. My dad, who we just lost at 93, could fix anything, and he had two girls. So we are more handy around the house than most.

    But my sister and I don’t have all the skills or the finances to do what this house needs. Some folks on OHD talk of buying a house together as a project. I could be game for that.

    Renovating a beautiful old house (or actually saving one, like this one) has been a lifelong dream for me. I am proud to have been able to maintain my 1923 home of 33 years. We have done some renovation and restoration. But not a true restoration like Cross House.

    Dreams sometimes come true. I do hope someone kind and skilled saves this beautiful home.

    Thank you for this great post Ross. I hope it reaches and inspires someone to give a new life to this beautiful home.

  4. Stewart McLean on June 22, 2020 at 4:16 pm

    Hi Ross,

    I had my eye on this one last year when it was posted on old house dreams. I wish that I had the wherewithal to take it on. I did a little research to see if anything has changed since then.

    Here is the OHD link to last year’s listing:

    It had not been cleaned up yet. Here is an interior picture from the listing above with the missing brackets that you mentioned sitting upside down on the floor.

    Here is a link to the current Zillow listing, which shows it to have sold to the current seller 139 days ago for $12,000.00.

    The interior and exterior have been cleaned up since it was listed on OHD last. The big question is, if while cleaning up, the original parts were sorted for the next buyer, or taken out of the deal. I am assuming that the new owner, who appears to have been the previous listing agent, is interested in the house’s restoration and did save the parts so the next owners can bring it back. If not, I would think that the rest of the house would have been stripped for the stairs and trim.

  5. JCF on June 22, 2020 at 5:23 pm

    [Clearly, I need to look at Old House Dreams!]

    In the past year, I’ve gotten into old house restoration shows (“Restored” w/ Brett Waterman, “Bargain Mansions” w/ Tamara Day. Inland Empire CA, and Kansas City MO, respectively. I note that I often find Ms Day’s interior design appalling). But there was one other, that I’ve only seen a few eps of, called “Restoring Charleston (SC). I can’t recall the guy’s name, but he specialized in what he called “Pig’s Ear” houses: houses that most people would tear down.

    This house would be right up his alley! [But oy vey, the winter’s here. More than Inland Empire (I’ve never seen Brett W deal w/ HVAC), more than Charleston, more even that Kansas City. And more than Emporia. ;-/ ]

    I’m also reminded of when I lived in Albion MI. I saw houses that looked to be in this shape . . . and sadly, I saw several torn down. 🙁 [Also what I thought were very salvageable commercial buildings on Main Street. 🙁 ]

    But the interior on this one REALLY makes it stand out! Please, I hope someone saves it.

    • JCF on June 22, 2020 at 5:28 pm

      “OMG! These brackets!”

      Also called corbels, right? What I recall from aforementioned restoration shows.

      Well, Wiki seems to think so. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corbel

  6. Ross on June 22, 2020 at 5:44 pm

    BREATHLESS UPDATE!

    I called the broker, Brian Coughlin. And Stewart is correct, he’s also the owner.

    What I thought would be a brief conversation turned into a very long conversation. A thrilling conversation!

    Brian has, like me, spent decades saving old houses. He has long loved this house, and 17 years ago tried to buy it for $65,000. The house was in MUCH better condition and Brian knew a house mover. He then found a 5-acre plot not far away and planned to have the house moved to a better location. “That way, I would at least have gotten my money out of the house, because having a sawmill across the street limits its value.”

    The then owner was, well, a world-class eccentric and refused. He died last year and the estate listed the house for sale. Brian purchased it for $12,000. Since then, he has cleared the yard of wild overgrowth, and cleaned the house of massive debris.

    He stated that my assessment of the condition is largely correct. The east wall needs to be jacked up, the wall needs to be shored up as required, and the eastern section of the roof needs to be rebuilt. The remaining roof needs repair rather than replacing.

    And, obviously, there are other projects!

    Brian had planned to restore the house but two factors came into play:
    1) He’s burned out.
    2) He’s been working with two highly skilled guys for 30 years. However, both men are now no longer able to work much.

    Brian said: “If I can find a new guy, I might resume working on the house.”

    I asked Brian why didn’t he do what he’d planned 17 years ago: Move the house? After it was stabilized, of course.

    “The two local movers have retired. And young people don’t move houses; they tear them down.” He did state that there’s a mover two hours away who might take on such a project.

    Brian confirms that the two missing porch brackets are in the house. “Well, 1-1/2!” He also has a new lead on somebody who reportedly has a barn stuffed with bits from the house.

    What Brian wants is for somebody else to take on this huge project. He stated though that, if the house does not sell, he might resume working on it. “Finding a great carpenter would make all the difference.”

    In talking with Brian, I was repeatedly struck by how similar our lives have been. For, we both suffer from falling in love with fabulous old houses in distress.

    NOTE: Brian said he was OK with my writing all the above. He also stated that the town of Cazenovia was really lovely.

    • JCF on June 22, 2020 at 6:38 pm

      “And young people don’t move houses; they tear them down.”

      That’s so sad (I hope he’s wrong).

      • Ross on June 22, 2020 at 6:59 pm

        He’s not.

    • Stewart McLean on June 22, 2020 at 6:51 pm

      Thank you, Ross, for contacting the owner and establishing that he is a preservationist who wants what is best for this house.

      It is so easy for those of us that love old houses with all of their details, and who appreciate the decorative arts to disparage people who may seem to be destroying rather than getting it done. Another easy thing to do is to label past owners for allowing things to decline without knowing the circumstances.

      Our society today seems to be about pointing fingers at people and giving them negative labels rather than establishing the facts behind a situation. Thank you for taking the time to do so.

      If I died today, my tendency to start new projects without finishing the ones that I have already got going, might cause me to be castigated for destroying, (making worthless), the things that I bought to preserve and then took them apart to learn what they needed and how they work.

      I have bought things at auction that no one present was interested enough to bid on. The auctioneer sends many of these things to the dump if they get no bid. They would be gone forever without my minimum bid.

      Although I often do have the ability to restore them, I neither really want them for myself, nor do I want to do the work on them to make someone who would appreciate them if fixed up want them. I just value what they are. YES, I AM A HOARDER OF THESE THINGS. HOARDER, HOARDER, HOARDER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      There are days when I want to put all of these great deals out on the street in front of my house with a sign with BIG letters saying free. The problem is that there are so many people who will just bust them up right there or take them and use a part, leaving behind or throwing the rest away. I will happily give them to anyone who I believe appreciates them, but I can’t bring myself to cast them to the winds of fate.

      There are days when someone admires one of these things and I immediately give it to them.

      As a sixty-two-year-old, my energy has declined considerably. My fondest wish is that I could find a young person who wants to learn what I know, has hands-on ability, and the energy to fix things that I had when I was young. If anyone out there knows someone in the Baltimore area who can demonstrate such an interest, send them my way. I can not only give them the things, but I can teach them how to do the restoration, too.

      Until I find the people that show such interest, “I will remain as I am, like the possibility of water in the desert.” This is a misquote from a play that I studied in high school: The Lady’s Not for Burning, a 1948 play by Christopher Fry.

    • Becky Guiles on June 26, 2020 at 5:32 am

      Cazenovia is a dream of a town. Charming. On a lake. Welcoming. Surrounded by by beautiful land and a hikers dream. This house is also down the street from the Art Park ( google it ) and a great hike called ” Cazenovia Nature Preserve. ” The drive to the house is beautiful as well.

      Can’t wait to follow where this story goes!

  7. Cindy Belanger on June 22, 2020 at 7:09 pm

    Great post Ross. All this house needs is one person who loves it, I’m hoping they come along. There are too many beautiful old houses being torn down. It seems young people don’t want to put in the work an old house takes. They want their modern conveniences and don’t want the bother. We need more passionate old house lovers to save these houses. I’m hoping with more people working from home due to the corona-virus, this will become more the norm and people who want an old house can buy one and not worry about having to find a job in a small town. Hoping for a good outcome.

  8. Betsy on June 22, 2020 at 8:34 pm

    This post ( like many others ) is one of the reasons I adore you and your work ,Ross.

  9. Karen Spencer on June 22, 2020 at 9:38 pm

    Breathless and happy update indeed!

    Thank you for making that call Ross,

    I hope Brian finds a talented helper or loving buyer.

  10. Rachel on June 22, 2020 at 11:26 pm

    I think what you need to do is start a foundation to finance restoration, and you can be the lead consultant to assist people who receive funds.

  11. Susan on June 23, 2020 at 10:02 am

    There’s an instagram called “Cheap Old Houses” that has a large audience, you might want to reach out to them and see if they’ll post it! It would break my heart to see this beauty be lost to history. People have saved plenty of houses because of that account.

    • Karen Spencer on June 23, 2020 at 9:50 pm

      OMG that is a fabulous Instagram account and there is a website https://iloveoldhouses.com/
      Where they are activists and raising money through donations from the purchase of a pin that reads “Save all the Old Houses” and the proceeds are going to save the Nina Simone house. Oh my thank you!

      And there is shop With great stuff and a t-shirt that says “Save all the Animals and all the Old Houses.” Must have been made for me! And then there are the houses!

      Between Ross’s site, Old House Dreams and that sire, I will be up all night!

  12. tura wolfe on June 23, 2020 at 1:40 pm

    I love this house. My heart has hurt many times for old houses that were in bad shape in my hometown when I was a teenager that today are long gone except in my memory and some local old house books I have. At 75 I still hurt to tears for this special house, my favorite style. There will never be built another grand bracketed front door entry like the one here. What a splendid stair case. The astounding S curve. My most loved newel post. The house has waited a long time for help. If nothing else…….please let there be a new roof. I know a new roof is a big deal.

    I pray for this house to have a Ross type person to become the new owner. Or that the current owner will have good people show up to smile and stand in the yard saying I have come to help you with your project. We all know it can happen as it did in the yard at the Cross House. So, who ever you are out there this house is calling your name. It is your destiny to show up. All this attention for this house was meant to happen to bring the right person forward to help save this glorious place.

  13. Dan C on June 24, 2020 at 7:40 pm

    Just visited this town last year, as I live not too far away, It is certainly a great town. I recently began work on my 1880’s carriage barn, which the far wall had come separated from the main structure and dropped due to a rotten sill. It also caused the floor to cave in and rotted a portion of the wood siding. With some suggestions from Nick Engler, who is a well known wood worker and authored the book Renovating Barns, Sheds, and Outbuildings, I was able to fix the barn with ease. Jacking a barn, putting in a new foundation / sill and pulling a wall back into place was actually very simple. I was able to use all the original flooring as well. I was told by quite a few people to tear it down. Anything is fixable, you just need the passion to do it. Also I’m one of those “young” people, we don’t all want to tear things down.

  14. tura wolfe on June 25, 2020 at 12:30 pm

    Dan, for you to be one of the young that love old buildings fills me with joy. Your carriage barn story is what all of us old people that love old buildings are delighted to hear. I am thrilled for you successful renovation project. Are you close enough to this poor old dear to give the owner some of your young energy and experience to help progress move forward to save this great house? I learned a long time ago it never hurts to ask……as the answer could be yes. Who knows maybe you would write a book about your renovation experiences. Remember how the kid, now on the show a very long time, became apart of “This Old House”. I am keeping my finger crossed!! Please go help this house.

  15. Dennie Davies Melton on June 26, 2020 at 1:26 pm

    I lived just a few miles from this place way back in the 1950’s. I would ride the school bus past the home and at the time it was a home wishing it was mine as I love old homes. Then it wasn’t a home any more. I then watched it go down hill as I had moved away and upon visiting family would go by the house. If I were a lot younger I would have taken the project on but as age is much against me at this time and family members that are carpenters have retired. I would love to drive by again in a few years and see this house a home again and the beauty of it shining on for another 100 years.

    • Ross on June 26, 2020 at 4:00 pm

      Thanks, Dennie!

      Here’s a nice article on the house.

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