Hudson Valley Home 2011: 18th-Century Stone Ridge Stone House
A Stone Ridge couple polishes an 18th-century gem
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At first glance, the 18th-century stone house was downright daunting. Archaic heating and wiring systems, a cramped and outdated kitchen, and bathrooms with less-than-ideal layouts were just some of the challenges. One room had no source of heat whatsoever (though it did conceal charred beams, suggesting that a previous attempt at generating warmth had literally gone up in flames). In the basement, you could clearly see where water had run right through the house and down a hill out back.
Nevertheless, to Julia Bronson, Stephen Gilman, and their four-year-old son Ben, the house in Stone Ridge was practically perfect. “We always wanted a stone house, a historical house,” recalls Julia, who spent her earliest years in a Missouri farmhouse renovated by her dad. Stephen, a history teacher who grew up in Virginia, was enamored with the idea of living in a place with a past.
To open up the state-of-the-art kitchen to the sunroom, the owners removed a section of the house’s original stone wall. The wall is now supported by a huge steel beam covered in “mushroom boards,” which gives it a wood-like appearance
“The long history of the house was a big draw for us,” he explains. Colabargh, as the home was called, was built in 1770 for Jacob I. Hasbrouck and his wife Sarah. Members of one of New Paltz’s original families — a relative built the Jean Hasbrouck House on the village’s historic Huguenot Street — Jacob and Sarah reportedly went on to fill their home with at least 10 children. “The 1790 census showed 16 people living in the house, four of whom were enslaved African-Americans,” Stephen says.
“It was a very cool time in American history,” he continues. “A revolution is stirring. The nation is not yet born. All that history will unfold around the house as the first capital of New York is established at Kingston — and soon after burned by the British.” In addition, cement from nearby mountains provided foundations for American landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, and the nearby D&H Canal carried coal from mines in Pennsylvania to factories in New York City. “For anyone who loves history, this area is a great place to live,” says Stephen. “Living in a house from those times brings that history home, so to speak.”
The light-filled sunroom includes French doors, new windows, and an informal dining area. Below: another view of the sunroom, which features plenty of comfortable seating (including a child’s chair for four-year-old Ben)
The couple began spending weekends in the area in 2002. During the week, Julia worked in Manhattan for an investment banking and securities firm, while Stephen taught school in Harlem and the South Bronx. Their first house, in nearby High Falls, was charming, cozy, and not particularly old. It did, however, sit right on a creek, providing opportunities for swimming, kayaking, and canoeing.
After becoming full-time residents in 2007, the couple began putting down roots. Stephen accepted a job at Rondout Valley High School, got involved in several local organizations, and even founded Hudson Valley for Obama. Julia served as a board member and treasurer of her son’s preschool before joining the Marbletown town board. But the couple found their weekend retreat too small for full-time living and worried about keeping Ben safe from the creek’s 14-foot-deep waters. The search for a new home began.
Julia fell in love with Colabargh when she saw the layout, which features a center hallway. Gazing at the tiny kitchen and adjoining utility room, she and her husband envisioned the creation of a spacious kitchen/sitting area — a rarity in old stone houses. They also liked the house’s high ceilings, large windows, and the fact that all the bedrooms were located upstairs. “We thought it was very livable for a historic home,” Julia remarks.
The couple soon hired Ron Sanchez of San-Pri Interiors in Red Hook to serve as project manager. Sanchez brought in contractor Matt Alexander of Old Home Restorations in Catskill as well as a team of local craftsmen. Alexander recalls his first reaction to the house: “The scope of the project seemed really ambitious. We all kept walking around making that low whistling noise in every room.”
In the kitchen, Stephen and Julia sought to create a space that could accommodate everything from intimate family dinners to fund-raising events for local causes. To that end, they eliminated a doorway leading from the kitchen to the driveway, thereby adding space for a wall of cabinets. State-of-the-art appliances — a Viking stove, a Thermador double oven, and two Bosch dishwashers — were installed. Recycling chutes leading to basement storage bins were hidden away in a pantry.
A window in the exterior wall, which now looks into a small powder room, is one indication that the sunroom was not part of the original structure
A 14-foot-long section of a three-foot-thick stone wall was removed, opening up the kitchen to the adjoining room, where previous owners had housed their washer and dryer. French doors and a bank of new windows were installed, framing views of a sloped forest, a gorge with a bubbling brook, and cow pastures. Automated shades were added to help retain heat at night.
Removing so much stone presented a formidable engineering challenge. “If we had just pulled out the stones,” says Alexander, “the whole back end of the building would probably have come right down.” Preventative measures included the installation of a massive steel beam designed by Benson Steel in Saugerties. The beam weighed over a thousand pounds, and was designed to be installed in four separate layers.
To conceal the steel, Alexander covered the beam in “mushroom boards,” obtained from Antique and Vintage Wood of America in Pine Plains. The boards are thin pieces of lumber used in the mushroom industry to line the trays in which mushrooms are cultivated. They appear aged and weathered due to the conditions in the soil and the enzymes produced by the mushrooms.
Julia is thrilled with the result. “The mushroom-wood beam is one of my favorite things,” she exclaims. “It looks like it’s been here forever.”
Not that everything envisioned by Julia and Stephen proved entirely feasible. “Every day was a challenge, calling for a constant reevaluation of our objectives,” Sanchez reveals. “We had to make adjustments about what we could really do, versus what we had fantasized.”