As a native Midwesterner, the first thing I noticed when moving to the Delaware Valley was the enormous number of fieldstone houses. Frankly, I’d never seen such a thing. What people in the East take for granted is a matter of wonder for the rest of us who grew up in much younger cities.
This house is currently offered for sale, and it’s a delight to visit a residence that has been restored with every attention to detail. But the transformation didn’t come easy! The depth of knowledge (and pockets) to pull off such a project can be daunting. However, this magnificent stone house in the small town of Sergeantsville, NJ proves that such a renovation can have tremendous rewards, and it is waiting for a new owner who will carry on the tradition.
The current owner, Charles Frischmann, was just the man to take on the project. Organist, music professor, historian, antique collector, Charles had already restored two stone houses and was ready to take on the third. He had learned much from the previous undertaking, and this one didn’t even give him pause.
The previous owner had already begun some of the restoration. The 10-foot wide stone fireplace had been turned into a closet; the panels needed to be removed, and the wood stove was installed. An expansive kitchen/dining area was added on to the rear of the house, using antique barnwood beams in the ceiling and exposing the stone on the interior wall. Because the only entrance to the basement was originally an exterior entrance, it has now become a trap door in the kitchen floor.
But that was only a first step. All the old doorways and window frames needed replacement. “The new windows are all hand-built in the 18th-century style, and have early glass in them,” Charles explained. He found period hardware for the doors and windows, and added working shutters that are so tight they practically create a vacuum seal when closed. He also fitted removable custom storm windows to the inside of the frames, to make this period house more energy-efficient.
Although probably original, the front doors had been cut and fitted with windows, which didn’t really work for the house. To improve this look, Charles commissioned new doors and period-style paneled doorways to take the place of the weathered jambs.
When removing the old door frames, they discovered that early on – probably in the 1830’s – someone had done a significant renovation to the house. The floor had been raised about nine inches, apparently to make more headroom in the cellar. Although the owner has not been able to trace the house sales back farther than 1857, this renovation dates the house closer to the turn of the century, making it one of the oldest surviving structures in Sergeantsville.
Then, on to the stone walls. It is commonly thought that the raw stone exteriors were exposed, but in reality, unless the builder was using “dressed stone” these walls were considered unsightly rubble, and only the poorest homeowner would refrain from covering them with plaster. Charles decided to at least stucco the front wall to make the house look more appropriate to the period. But in order to please the modern eye, he left the sides of the house exposed.
As one might expect from a 200 year-old roof, the rafters needed to be shored up. Indeed, they were actually splayed from the weight, and Charles decided to remove the roof altogether. Once the old roof was off, the carpenters actually winched the rafters back into place, then added additional rafters that cannot be seen when coming up the steps. He also decided to add a new pent roof to replace the small porch that formerly shaded the two front doors; all that was left of this porch was an oddly-placed cornice above the doors. Both the pent roof and house roof were shingled with cedar shakes, cut thicker than is usually done with today’s materials. A molded cornice has been added to the eaves, matching the details of the doorways.
As with many houses from the 19th century, this house has two front doors. There’s a very logical reason for this. One door leads into the “keeping room”, where the family keeps house. The keeping room contains the large fireplace for cooking, and of course a table and chairs for the family to relax. This is not the room you want to introduce your guests into! So a second door would lead into the living room, which was probably only used for special occasions.
Jersey Winder – or pie-shaped – stairs lead up to the two second-story bedrooms. These stairs are stenciled, as are the floors in the master bedroom and bath. The upstairs hallway still shows the exposed stone wall. The upstairs closet and bathroom doors are finished with faux graining, and you have to touch them to know the difference.
Sergeantsville is located just down the road from Green Sergeant’s Bridge, the last surviving covered bridge in New Jersey. The bridge was built around 1750, and it is thought the town was established around 1830. Route 523, which passes through Sergeantsville, was the original Old York Road which linked Trenton to Flemington, then on to New York. This village is located in Delaware Township, Hunterdon County, not far from New Hope PA and just a few miles east of the river.