The History and Reno of Our Antique House

How did the house get here --and  how did the railroad  get built so close to the house.

During the Civil War, the Florence Sewing Machine Factory was booming with Army orders for sewing machines. And of course, the Union Army was recruiting soldiers in the area too. The factory told their department heads that if they stayed with the firm and didn’t go off to war, the factory would build each of them a house on Chestnut Street—near the factory. Nine houses were built— all 1.5 stories tall farmhouse style houses. This home was built in 1865, and in 1868, the railroad was built 8 feet from this house. 

When the railroad was planned to be built only 8 feet from the house, the railroad officials offered up a mitigation of sorts. They proposed to reinforce the plaster ceilings by nailing up from below, lath-strips. And since that wasn’t going to be attractive, they then put-up tautly hung canvas. So taut you can’t see it drooping, but none-the-less , it is flexible so when the trains were passing by, the reinforced plaster ceilings held and flexible ceilings flexed. The railroad ran like this until 1969, and then in 1976, there was an embryonic effort to convert the dead corridor into a linear park—a bike path. (The phrase rail trail hadn’t even been invented yet.)

And then in 1982, all of 6 years later, the corridor was converted to the bike path. The house doesn’t shake anymore with only bikes and pedestrians going by. And the only time the canvas ceiling moves now is when I do a little “‘show and tell”’ for the guests at the bed & breakfast.

 

We bought the house in 2001, renovated it for 21st century sensibilities and operate a small bed & breakfast there. In 2003, in addition to winning the Historic Preservation Award that year, the house and the extensive renovation there was also featured on HGTV.  Here’s the link to the HGTV, 5- minute video.

And how did we end up coming here and what was involved in the renovation.

Starting in the mid 1990s, I was working for Rails to Trails Conservancy as an organizer and lobbyist in New England. I would be travelling around the region, organizing groups to take up the idea of converting a former RR corridor in their community to became a linear park, a Rail Trail. I would teach groups how to do this work as it is very complicated. Sometimes though, I'd come into town and there was already the idea of a trail, but there was opposition and in many cases, hard-edged opposition. In more than a few places, my role would be to teach the locals how to over-come opposition. Or how not to lose. I was involved in a myriad of places that had concerns about the trail.  Back then, a trail was a pretty new-fangled idea.
 

In April of 2001, I was coming back late one night from  a lecture I had in the Keene, NH area where I was particularly beaten up by folks there who were opposed to the proposed trail coming into their neighborhood. Once again, that evening, I heard the phrase that was becoming commonplace wherever I went. “We don’t want that trail and you don’t live near one so don’t tell us what to do.”

When coming back into Mass, I decided to get off the highway in the Northampton area and started to drive through the neighborhoods I knew that were bisected by the rail trail there. I was looking for a house near the rail trail that was on the market. These were the days before robust internet searches were possible.

 

 That night around 11:00 pm I stumbled into 62 Chestnut St in the historic Civil War era, industrial village of Florence. A village of Northampton.  Kathy and I toured the house the next day and found it to be extremely run-down with a myriad of defects from the roof to the basement; however, it sat 8 feet from one of the first municipally-built trails in New England. Our offer was accepted and we closed on September 7, 2001. (four days before 9-11)  We then began a renovation that took 14 months. During the renovation, we decided to make this house the bed & breakfast we always wanted to do. But first we had a lot of work to do. 

Some of the things we had improve and/or renovate were:  A roof with 4 leaks. A 1st floor bath that was very moldy. knob and tube wiring in most areas. Older worn carpets glued to the hardwood floors in most 1st floor rooms. Added oak hardwood floors upstairs.  A broken staircase going to the second floor. A main drain line for the kitchen plumbing had failed and pond was created in a crawl space under the kitchen that was 2.5 inches deep and over 10 feet long. A 95 foot hemlock tree 3 feet from the house was removed. The exterior gardens were a shambles so we brought in a period gardener who restored the gardens to be what was commonly seen in the 1860s and 70s.  Not your typical garden for sure.  

We even added bathrooms with walk-in showers into both of the upstairs bedrooms and by February of 2003, our bed & breakfast Sugar Maple Trailside Inn came to life.  

It was like opening a flood-gate as we book-up much of the summer by April and I'll get several RE transactions a year from folks who start out as B&B guests but love this area so much, they end up relocating here. 

 

We are just having too much fun. 

Kathy Della Penna, co-owner of Sugar Maple Trailside Inn along with Thelma, our tan Scottish Terrier-ist meeting Zee-Zee a neighbor's Great Dane.

CRAIG DELLA PENNA:  413 575 2277

7 Main Street, Florence, MA  01062

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