Restoration project has history all its own

SANDUSKY Watching the further renovation of her approximately 173-year-old home, Janet Spore offers
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Watching the further renovation of her approximately 173-year-old home, Janet Spore offers a simple philosophy: "Restore what you can, cover up what you can't, and learn to live with the rest."

For 16 years she and her late husband, Peter, were steeped in the process of preserving the 10-room, circa-1835 limestone house on Columbus Avenue near downtown. The roof has been replaced, ceilings are repaired, and hand-carved wooden scallops decorating the roof line have been painted.

Spore admits she has grown weary of the off-and-on home improvement process. But after spending more than $50,000 to help maintain the historic dwelling's original features, the 78-year-old charter member of the city's Old House Guild says proudly, "You don't do it for the money."

Carpeting an original stairway leading to the second floor will be the last major project. Only then will Spore sit back on the mid-1800s "fainting couch" in her small living room and begin to enjoy the fruits of her tireless efforts.

"The only thing (the house) had that we didn't want was lots of work," she said. "(But) these little homes are very livable, and they're made of quality materials. You've had too many people in them that didn't give a darn. That's the sad thing."

It's one of the city's oldest homes, and one of three built by Sandusky's first lawyer, 19th-century mover and shaker Eleutheros Cooke.

The home's numerous incarnations have included a boarding house, office space for doctors and dentists, and a 1930s hotel frequented by vaudeville performers. Spore keeps it filled with an eclectic mixture of antique furniture and fixtures.

The original design called for a limestone structure on a 33-foot lot with 2-foot thick limestone walls and a stoop out front. The total price, which included the lot, a barn, a wood house and a library, was $8,810, a hefty price in 1835. Spore said it was built during an era when Sandusky was thriving and expected to become a major metropolis.

Historical records show General William Henry Harrison was presented with a flag on the property in 1840. And Spore's intricately-carved wooden bed, a documented fixture of the former Weddell House Hotel in Cleveland, was reputedly slept in by Abraham Lincoln, who gave a speech from the hotel's balcony in 1861.

Spore has since transformed the second floor into an apartment, but refuses to alter the original frames at the front door and windows. Two of at least four original fireplaces have been retained, and a stairless porch added in the 1920s will be kept.

"We tried to retain the character," Spore said. "You maintain what flavor you can."

The heart of this extended renovation, she added, lies in her desire to keep Sandusky's historic homes preserved.

"You do it for the love of it, for the neighborhood, for Columbus Avenue. The thrust of it is to bring to the attention of the populace to keep up older homes," she said. Her husband, who died March 29, was a strong advocate of restoration.

Castalia jack-of-all-trades Dan Griffin said working on the home has been fascinating. He's repaired and renovated other historic buildings, and said he always treats their scrollwork and other handmade features with the utmost respect.

"I envy (the builders) for doing that kind of stuff. I'm completely impressed," he said. "The new houses today are cardboard boxes as far as I'm concerned. But it's a challenge working on these places. Nothing is straight, and nothing is level."

Still, they were built to last, Griffin said. Spore's house was one of the few buildings left standing when the infamous 1927 tornado tore through the city.

"This house could be here another 300 years, easily," he said.

Spore doesn't know what its fate will be after she's gone. She hopes, however, future owners will realize its potential and its unique beauty.

"It's tough to find somebody who has the skill and the will," she said.