About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Saturday, October 12, 2013


While looking for old photos for the blog I discovered I had a group of old faded Polaroids from 1972 when we purchased an old house for investment.

We had only been living back in Essex County for a short time in 1972, perhaps only a few weeks, when my husband heard about a circa 1750 house that could be bought for $8,000.  It was a legal four family house that was tenanted by one family with children.  It had been condemned twice in the past and condemnation was looming again.

Old House circa 1940.  This house has suffered.  The picture says it all..
We were looking for something to buy and had our eye on an old house that was a legal two family for $12,000.  That owner lived in two rooms on the second floor.  He agreed to show us the house on a Saturday afternoon in the winter.  As luck would have it there was a blizzard but we were too eager to be deterred.  We had to leave our car some distance away and trudge to the house knee deep in snow; the worst possible conditions under which to look at a cold, dilapidated house.

The front door opened and the beauty of the hall and staircase made me weak in the knees.  The staircase was Georgian and approached through a beautiful arch.  Even the cold and the snow didn't diminish my enthusiasm for this house.

This is the same style of arch as in the house we didn't buy.  I don't know
what the post is on the left of the stair.  It doesn't seem to belong there.  This house
is no longer standing so the extra post doesn't matter.  The house I loved is still standing.
On paper, however, the $8,000 house made more sense for our purposes so we went ahead with that deal,  even though our hearts were with the other.

Old house in 1972

The new house was terrible.  It did have a lovely Georgian hall and staircase and two fireplaces.  The second chimney had been replaced by a single flue chimney for wood stoves.  There was no central heat.

We first ripped out whatever there was for kitchens and bathrooms which wasn't much.  The exterior was covered with asphalt siding; not asbestos, but asphalt such as you would put on a roof.  The top of the house was maroon and the bottom was gray.  Much of that was stripped off in short order.  As I drove down the street approaching the house my young son remarked, "It looks like it burned down already."  It did look that bad.
Rear of overgrown house
New clapboards were delivered as well as new nine over six windows and the work outside commenced including the restoration to enclose the portico.  On the inside I scraped woodwork everywhere looking for early colors.  I also started to scrape the parlor ceiling with its peeling, flaking calcimine.

The Work Begins
Shortly, right out of the blue, a couple came along and offered us $18,000 for the house.  At first we declined but then decided, with such a huge amount of work ahead of us, to take the money and run.

The work continues
As time went on, probably fifteen years,  it became apparent that nothing at all was happening there.  The untreated clapboards darkened and curled.  The new windows eventually looked as though they dated to the circa 1750 construction date.

By this time I was a Realtor and one day a prospective buyer, president of a prestigious out of state college, called to ask if I knew or could find out anything about this old house or its history.  I sure could talk about its past but  had no idea what was going on. I almost hated to admit that I had owned it! The house was not for sale anyway so that conversation ended quickly.

In 1996 a Realtor called to tell me that she had just listed the house and saw my name on the deed as the previous owner.  It was now twenty four years since we had sold the house.  She asked what I knew about the history of the house.  She also asked if I would like to see it. Yes!  I would love to see it again even knowing it would be grim.

So I went for a look around.  At the top of the stairs I  noticed a very fancy deco bathroom done in black and white.  Hardly what I would chosen for an ancient Georgian house. Totally out of place. But that was all. Nothing else had changed since I had last walked out the door.  NOTHING!  The parlor ceiling was just as I had left it.  The scrapes on the woodwork where I looked for colors; still there. The paint my kids smeared in the cellar...all the same and untouched.  The kitchen had a free standing stove and a makeshift sink propped up on 2 X 4s.  Nothing else was in the kitchen since we had discarded what had previously been there.

For the moment, deja vous.  I was a young mother again with kids playing in an empty house while I worked. In this house, time had stood still.  In reality my kids were now in their thirties, married and with families of their own.  It was very strange considering that the owner had lived here.  The house had not been vacant that I know of.
The ceiling I was scraping before the house was sold.
It sold again.  This time for $123,000.  A pretty good profit for doing nothing but what a price to pay for living like that.

Very recently I heard a surprising but happy footnote to this story.  At the closing the seller handed the buyer an envelope.  The buyer didn't open it until some time later.  Inside was a large check with a note hoping it would help with the restoration of the house.

I guess it did help because the house is now restored and beautifully landscaped.  I have not seen the interior or ever met the owner but I would like to.

The same house as it looks today completely restored, the once shabby street now quaint
If you read my recent post on defining an antique house, the photo at the top is the photo of the back of this house and the bottom photo is the restored house as it looked last week.   Now you've seen all of my photos.  Please remember that they are  forty year old Polaroids that were stuck together so not the best but better than nothing.

And, by the way, the house we didn't buy was also restored and I have been inside since restoration but not recently.  It is beautiful! The stair hall still makes me weak in the knees!

The one we bought is now assessed for $420,000 and the one we didn't buy sold seven years ago for $564,000!

$12,000 in 1972 (actually it sold years later for more)

And that is the rest of the story.


PS Several bloggers have had their posts attacked by a troubled reader (see below) who has nothing good to say to anyone.  Her negative responses are completely unwarrented.  Please overlook her poisoned pen and disregard.



  1. The hall and stairs ARE truly beautiful and the picture made me take a deep breath. I can see why you went weak in the knees. A lovely post....

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  3. Hi Prudence, I Love your blog and appreciate your knowledge!! It is so refreshing to have someone talk about "colonial Bolognial" things people do to their antique houses. I am sick to death of going to see an 18th century house that has had it's ceilings torn down to expose rough beams. People need to understand that if the beams are rough hewn ,then they were covered with a plaster ceiling. Only if you see evidence of whitewash ,then it did not have a ceiling. Anything after the first period ( 1620 to 1720) had plaster and paint!!!! Especially by 1780 and later!!!!

    1. Right on, Peggy Flavin.! Bravo.

    2. This is an embarrassingly ignorant comment and completely false. You may know about certain historic or stylistic features in a certain area, but obviously are clueless as to what is and is not true in others. If you researched and read (a LOT) more, you would know this. Our own 18thc. home for example, has exposed beams that were NEVER covered.
      To make such a blanket statement demonstrates your lack of education. Additionally, I have seen your comments on other's sites attempting to lambaste them for stating their own opinions about the prevalence of 'formula country' decorating out there, even to the point of NOT reading correctly and misquoting, and accusing someone of saying something they most certainly did not.
      In addition to an arrogant and self-righteous attitude, you seem to have a habit of pontificating on subjects you know nothing about. All of this is only surpassed by your unmitigated hypocrisy.

  4. Great story Mom.....I'm guessing I was probably the one smearing paint lol!!