Presbyterian Ministers Restore New Castle County Farmhouse
Heaven on Earth: A Presbyterian minister couple faithfully restores a home built in 1735.
The stone fireplace mantel in the dining room was salvaged from a Victorian house in Linden, N.J., and the brass-and-glass chandelier was purchased from an electrician on Long Island, N.Y.
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After bearing the weight of the world for more than 200 years, the farmhouse was in need of redemption.
At the same time, the Revs. Neta Pringle and John Potter felt a calling, an urge to connect with the land.
“We had lived 10 years in the city and we were getting itchy,” Potter recalls. “I didn’t have any grass to mow and Neta needed room for her garden.”
The couple, both Presbyterian ministers, drove by the property in a pastoral pocket of New Castle County during an open house and took a tour on a whim.
The house sagged under ill-conceived additions, including a pair of decrepit bathrooms tacked on to the back. It smelled musty and moldy. The roof leaked.
Still, the home had much to recommend it. Stuccoed walls were more than a foot thick, and punctuated with lovely, nine-over-12 paned windows. The grounds, choked with weeds, held the promise of gardens. The price was right, too, reflecting the expense and expanse of putting the house back in order.
“We bought it for a song, and we’ve been singing ever since,” Potter says.
A Faithful Restoration
The pastors began a faithful restoration of the old house and gave their home a name befitting its woeful state: Mildew Manor.
For Pringle, the odor conjured happy memories of a cottage in Michigan, the pungent waft that greeted the family as they arrived to open up for the summer season.
The house was built in 1735, four decades before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. During its long history, the site was home to a bustling spice mill. The house also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad, accessed through a trap door under the dining room table.
Pringle and Potter, the first owners outside the original family, brought in a team of roofers, plumbers and electricians to evaluate the property.
“We learned the furnace was about to die, which it did as soon as we moved into the house,” Pringle says. “We also learned that the kitchen was built right on the dirt, with only termite-infested stringers for a foundation.”
While the work was going on, the couple planned to remain above it all in a third-floor apartment. There was one significant complication: The only way to access the third floor was through the outside, via steps cobbled onto the back of the house.
So, the first order of business was building an interior staircase that would connect the third floor with the rest of the home.
The couple moved in on Dec. 15, 2001, stacking their furniture in the dining room and sealing the room to protect the pieces from the waves of dust that were to come.
That first Christmas, the extended family decorated a tree and admired it from lawn chairs set up in a circle around it.
“Our kids thought we had gone stark raving mad,” Potter says.
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