ADOPT­ING A SUR­VIVOR

With dis­arm­ing re­spect and grat­i­tude, a his­tory-minded cou­ple de­scribe their re­lo­ca­tion and restora­tion of a late-18th-cen­tury house.

Old House Journal - - Style - BY CATHER­INE LUNDIE | PHO­TOS BY GRI­D­LEY + GRAVES

WHEN BUZZ HESSE saw a horse stand­ing in the open front door, chick­ens run­ning in and out around its hooves, he knew he had to act. The ca. 1795 house was un­pre­ten­tious, but as some­one with ex­per­tise in both an­tiq­ui­ties and an­tiques, Hesse knew it was im­por­tant.

• Ac­tu­ally, the house wasn’t new to him. Many peo­ple in the an­tiques busi­ness had cov­eted it for years, and it was doc­u­mented in the ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory Land­marks of Ot­sego County New York. Un­til re­cently the house had been oc­cu­pied by ten­ant farm­ers. When the farm failed, the own­ers aban­doned it. Hesse’s first bid to buy the house fell through, but he per­sisted, and a cou­ple of years later it was his.

Hesse’s res­cue wasn’t the first nar­row es­cape for the house. In the late 18th cen­tury, this was the fron­tier, and an area that largely had been loyal to the Crown dur­ing the Revo­lu­tion. That made it ground zero for the bor­der wars of New York, the mil­i­tary cam­paigns against the Loy­al­ists and Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes that had sided with the Bri­tish. Most no­table was the Sul­li­van Ex­pe­di­tion that de­stroyed more than 40 Na­tive Amer­i­can vil­lages as well as Loy­al­ist homes and set­tle­ments.

In the early 19th cen­tury, raids that led to the War of 1812 rav­ished the area again; once more houses and whole vil­lages burned to the ground.

In the years af­ter its aban­don­ment, a well-built roof had saved the house. Buzz Hesse knew he’d picked a sur­vivor! Now, how­ever, he would have to re­move it from the farm. How? “Very care­fully,” Buzz laughs. “We took it apart: pin by pin, board by board, we numbered ev­ery piece, and we stored it.”

Along the way, dis­cov­er­ies were made. Dur­ing the Vic­to­rian era, two pri­mary rooms had been lathed and plas­tered over. Dur­ing dis­as­sem­bly, the plas­ter came off and un­der­neath were the orig­i­nal walls and beams, hand planed, in per­fect con­di­tion. “The walls are just beau­ti­ful, un­painted ran­dom-width boards with thumb­nail beaded edges,” Hesse says. More happy sur­prises in­cluded the orig­i­nal mould­ings, chair rails, and hard­ware, all in­tact. When Hesse and his wife, Jackie, found some prop-

erty that would do the old house jus­tice, they be­gan the care­ful process of re­assem­bly.

Hesse was equally metic­u­lous in his re­con­struc­tion, but there was some serendip­ity, too. Take the large quan­tity of an­tique nails he’d dis­cov­ered at a flea mar­ket: “The beauty of it is, I bought them way be­fore I bought the house, so I had all the nails I needed and more.” The par­lor walls re­vealed the ghost­ing lines of a cor­ner cup­board re­moved long ago. Hesse hap­pened to own one that fit the out­line ex­actly.

Other things weren’t as ef­fort­less. Forced by build­ing codes and harsh win­ters to in­stall mod­ern heat­ing and lighting, Hesse did his best to dis­guise them. “I hid rec­tan­gu­lar ducts in the walls and have lit­tle heat­ing vents come out in the mop­boards. That way I didn’t have to cut holes in the walls.” He hid elec­tri­cal out­lets be­hind fur­ni­ture.

If ever any­one was well equipped to furnish an early house, it’s Buzz and Jackie Hesse. The cou­ple re­cently re­tired from 30 years run­ning Hesse Gal­leries, a na­tion­ally rec­og­nized an­tiques auc­tion house in Otego, New York, though Hesse con­tin­ues to buy and sell an­tiques. “I bought my first an­tique in 1955, when I was in high school,” he re­mem­bers. “I was smit­ten by late 17thand 18th-cen­tury fur­ni­ture and I still am.”

Ev­ery piece has a story. Hesse is in­cred­i­bly knowl­edge­able about the ob­jects here: their age, prove­nance, aes­thetic value, and so on. Of­ten they carry a de­light­ful dash of lo­cal his­tory. Take, for ex­am­ple, the por­trait hang­ing in the foyer. “That’s Almina Northrup. She and her brother Avery lived six or seven miles over the hills in Franklin, a vil­lage that runs into the Susque­hanna River. The cu­ri­ous thing is the frame. That’s a cutout leather-trimmed wooden frame—leather grapes and leaves are at­tached to the frame. Almina made that around 1850 or ’60.” He also owns an­other piece by the tal­ented sib­lings, a painted cup­board with leather­work ac­cents.

A cor­ner cup­board in the Tav­ern Room hailed from Veeder Tav­ern, an 18th-cen­tury hostelry on the Mo­hawk River. The per­son who in­her­ited it chose not to sell, but con­tacted Hesse some years later. Dur­ing that time, the cup­board had lan­guished in a metal stor­age unit long enough for the owner to lose the key, and for hornets to build a large nest in­side. Un­de­terred, Hesse broke the lock, braved the hornets, and brought the piece home.

The Tav­ern Room is the only ad­di­tion to the old house. Back in the 19th cen­tury, the house had got­ten a “hor­ri­ble” Vic­to­rian ad­di­tion, which was left be­hind and bull­dozed into the old cel­lar hole. Once the house was re­built, Hesse planned to put a garage in its place. One day, stand­ing where the Vic­to­rian en­try door had been, Buzz changed his mind. “It sounds funny, but sud­denly I en­vi­sioned the whole Tav­ern Room, right there be­fore me.”

Hesse fol­lowed through on his vi­sion with great care. Ev­ery­thing here is ar­chi­tec­turally in keep­ing with the orig­i­nal house. Mould­ing and chair rails were pre­cisely re­pro­duced. Hand­made fire­bricks were dug out of lo­cal ru­ins, cleaned, and reused here. Those an­tique nails he had bought years ago came into play. “I was fa­nat­i­cal about it,” Buzz ex­plains. “Keep­ing it cor­rect was a mat­ter of in­tegrity, not de­cep­tion; I love the old house.” The room was then fur­nished with an ex­quis­ite col­lec­tion of an­tiques col­lected over the years.

The Hesse house and ev­ery­thing in it sur­vived, things so well-crafted and beloved (or just lucky) that they are still with us. Buzz and Jackie Hesse are their guardians, whose care and pro­tec­tion en­sure their sur­vival for the fu­ture.

The house is set on glacial ter­rain that drops down to a lower area in back. From this view, no one would guess the house has 11 rooms.

ABOVE A Queen Anne pad-foot chair sits by a ca. 1820 Sher­a­ton stand of tiger maple and cherry with orig­i­nal brasses. RIGHT (top) ‘Old Dark Blue’ Stafford­shire china was made in the early 1800s for the Amer­i­can mar­ket. (mid­dle) The cup­board is from an 18th-cen­tury tav­ern. (bot­tom) The two rare Na­tive Amer­i­can mar­row scoops have han­dles of knuckle bone.

ABOVE The mas­ter bed is per­haps the only re­pro­duc­tion in the en­tire house. “At six-two, I couldn’t find an an­tique bed com­fort­able for me,” Hesse says. The late mas­ter car­pen­ter Richard Bury made his an au­then­tic re­pro­duc­tion a bit wider than the orig­i­nal. “There is virtue in the well-crafted ob­ject, its pre­ci­sion, even when it is new.”

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