Dunning House

Also known as: Ellis House
633 Ridgebury Rd., Wawayanda, New York

Fully Restored Historic Victorian Home in New York

Photos 

House at Dusk

House underwent three major reconstructions, originally a single room pioneer home and over time grew with the size of the family inhabitants to 12 rooms.

License: Released into public domain

Videos 

Victorian Home For Sale in New York

The historical architect, Craig Morrison AIA, who assisted the owner in restoring the home described the house "as an amazing place . . . like a piece of theater . . . a story teller . . .fully comparable to what one sees in the great mansions of 18th-century Virginia". (The architect's letter to the owner and other important documents are posted on the home's website below).

A durable 300 year old house built on ax-hewn oak posts, beams and hand sawed wide-plank pine and oak floor boards rests on a hilly knoll with a backyard of apple trees in view of a nearby pond and distant mountain range. This historic registered home has 12 rooms, a Revolutionary era keeping/dining room with hearth, stone fireplace & baking oven, a modern kitchen with new Jenn-Aire appliances & 22 foot long granite kitchen counter-top, adjoining Federal and Victorian parlors, Greek Revival center hall, office, 4 bedrooms, 3 1/2 bathrooms, laundry room, second floor hall & sitting room and 4 walk-in closets with many other assets including claw-foot bathtubs, antique chandeliers, wall sconces and door locks.

Among its many unique features the house includes a rare, perhaps only, copy of the wall hanging, "Gunston Hall" from the Virginia estate of George Mason, a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention, which is hung in the Greek Revival center hall of the house.

This and other noteworthy features of the house are also described in the home's website which includes a slideshow of 55 photographs.

Play video on YouTube

Play video on YouTube

Map 

Description 

633 Ridgebury Road, Slate Hill, Orange County, NY -- Near New York City this elegant early Colonial home c. 1709, originally one room enlarged over many generations to 12 rooms incorporates various styles of 18th & 19th architectures and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fully restored, very durable 300 year old house built on oak ax-hewn posts & beams and wide-plank oak & pine floor boards. House sits on a hilly knoll, boasts a backyard apple orchard in view of a nearby pond & distant mountain range. A pioneer settlement originally deeded to Palatine (German) immigrants by Queen Ann of England -- the house includes a keeping/dining room with hearth & fireplace, modern kitchen with breakfast nook & new Jenn-Aire appliances, 22' long granite counter-top work area & mobile island, Victorian parlor & adjoining Federal parlor with window table and seating, large Greek Revival center hall, office, large master bedroom, 3 other bedrooms, 3 1/2 bathrooms, 4 walk-in closets, laundry room, second floor hallway and other valuable assets including claw foot bathtubs, chandeliers, wall sconces and many special features too numerous to list here. Local stores and services are only minutes away. www.633ridgeburyroad.com www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=7AKQmN-V3Cs

Essay 

Written by Thomas Bartolomeo

A Personal Letter from the Owner

When I bought my home in 1981 I had lived all my adult life in apartments. Without much forethought I had decided to buy a home only thinking of having my own place and a backyard. When the real estate agent drove me to the house I was at first dismayed. There was so much wild growth on the front lawn I could hardly see the house. Well, I thought, here I am, and I may as well take a look inside. I later learned that the house was owned by a couple of young attorneys from the city who used the home as a summer weekend getaway. I also learned that the house had been part of a 160 acre farm which extended from Ridgebury Road north to Route 6. The house had since then been separated from its farmland and left with a little more than an acre.

When I entered the house all the make-do renovations were apparent and unappealing, but it was clean and liveable. I liked the floor-to-ceiling 8 foot tall window encasements in the front rooms and the wide plank wood floors throughout the house, discolored and marred as they were. The large fireplace in the kitchen was impressive, built with large stones which dominated the kitchen. Later, I was told that the kitchen was actually a "keeping room", a second kitchen of an old farmhouse. All the dirty work of plucking and butchering took place in another room once attached to the house but since then destroyed. ( Most of us today get our fresh vegetables and meat wrapped in cellophane and two kitchens are not needed.) After passing through the keeping room I entered a large hall in the center of the house, and what a surprise. It stood in sharp contrast to the recent renovations of the keeping room. Like the rest of the house the room cried out for attention, for repairs and fresh paint. The room had openings for six doors but only two were in place. The front door was missing as well as the door to the second floor. The hall itself, however, had a presence about it, graceful and an imposing, with a pilastered center arch of intricate wood carving. I remember just standing under the arch and saying to the agent, "I'll take it." I didn't even quibble over the price. I thought, Well, it needs a lot of work, but all I need is a place to sleep and cook my meals. That was thirty years ago. Fortunately, I was doing well enough to afford some renovations. I knew, too, that this old house must have a story to tell and decided to contact an historic architect. Craig Morrison, AIA, a well-known restoration architect proved to be the most important decision I made in restoring the house--marking the time my personal education in Colonial American history began, and I have been learning ever since.

Today the house is registered in the National Registry of History Places, and is as fine an example of a colonial home as any which uniquely incorporates under one roof all the major periods of American architecture, post-Medieval or pre-Federal, Federal, neo-Classical and Victorian periods spanning over three centuries. As the house grew from a single room to ten rooms, not counting the two large halls and bathrooms, it drew within its space the prevailing architectural style of the day. All these periods of development are now permanently restored. Where I could identify original structural elements I restored them even original paint colors. The process began with what historic contractors and architects call "reading the shadows", peeling away wall surfaces to discover what first existed there. The keeping room which I described above revealed a room entirely different from what I had first encountered, windows, doors and wainscoting of a different era.

Had I kept a journal of my discoveries in the house and included them here this letter would be very lengthy. Many of my discoveries came doing the work of restoration such as finding in the center hall a pre-existing wall within the existing wall where I have since installed an access panel revealing the remnants of an older room and a pintel hinge for a Dutch door where another entrance to the house had been. The two extant original doors in the center hall, one to the keeping room and the other to a room across the hall, were covered in crackled old varnish. A contractor suggested that something else may be behind the vanish. He recommended that a museum curator, he knew, take a look. The curator came and took both doors to his museum and make what possible restorations he could. ( So far, I have not told you the expense involved in this and other 'repairs' ). When he returned I was dumb-founded by the beauty of the doors, examples of the finest primitive Federal mahogany wood graining you would ever see. They belonged in a museum.

I wish I could tell you the story about the twenty pound ( I am not exaggerating ) clothes iron I found in the keeping room and have wondered how many shirts could a woman iron with such a weight? The house is a home of doors, too, twenty-five altogether. You can not go from one room to another without opening a door, a primitive means for directing heat in winter. Of course, the sun in the sky could not be controlled but the house could be aligned to take full advantage of the sun's heat and light. My home sits high on a knoll directly facing the winter sun at nine in the morning and catches the light through its tall windows. In the afternoon the setting rays of the sun bathe the house with light, color and warmth through the six windows in the alcove of the front parlor. All old houses, I have learned, sit up on the north side of a road and have their fireplaces inside the house, not attached to its outside walls.

The enormous fireplace in the center of the west wing has back-to-back hearths shared by the keeping room and the front parlor. The chimney was built from the basement up, and then the house was constructed around it. On the east side of the house another fireplace once stood which was removed when the west wing was added sometime in the 18th century. With the advance of coal stoves and furnaces in the 18th century fireplaces were not the only means of heat and cooking. The old black iron grates in the floors of the east wing attest to this. In the chimney in the Federal parlor and the bedroom above stove flue holes were chiseled into the brickwork and later covered up. When the original one room house in the east wing, now the Victorian parlor and adjoining room, was converted into two rooms the fireplace was removed and new floor boards laid down where the fireplace had been. The replacement floor boards lay between the two rooms.

What I found most revealing in the house was its arrangement of bedrooms upstairs, originally six. One now is a laundry room, another a bathroom and a third a very large walk-in closet or store room. At one time these were children's bedrooms. Between the master bedroom in the west wing and the other bedrooms in the house is the center bedroom, the only bedroom with direct access to what once were three small children's bedrooms.

These smaller rooms are now a laundry room, a bathroom and a 17 foot long store room. Inside the center bedroom with blue painted walls is a door to the current store room and at the other end of the room is a second door to second bedroom. Why was that? My best explanation, the child's parents slept in the southwest bedroom and the grandparents slept in the south center bedroom. Grandma and grandpa could then look in on the small child after the child's parents had left early in the morning for their work on the farm. The "give-away"clue is the small cupboard decorated with animal figures, you can see, inside the grandparents' bedroom on the wall next to the child's bedroom door. "Here, play with this toy, Johnny."

At a time when there were no nursing or retirement homes, grandparents lived with their children and grandchildren. All had their roles to play on the farm. There were no starter homes a hundred years ago and earlier. In the 17th century it would take two years to build a homestead, one year to clear the land and cut the wood and another year to build the house with ax and hand saw. Back then houses were built to last. The superstructure of my house is entirely made of ax-hewn oak and hemlock beams joined by mortise and tenon and large wood dowels. No nails, just wood on wood. The floor boards are straight cut either by hand or steam engine. Just read the "shadows" and see. Nearly everything back then was hand made and therefore too valuable to be discarded. There were no large landfills then as we have today.

When floor boards were removed they would be stored away for another day as were the floor boards in the keeping room. I found them in the attic, and I remember the day they were installed. Before that I had to walk across floor joists from the back door through the keeping room careful not to fall into the basement, a little difficult at night with only a flashlight.

We have a saying still true today,"Home is where the heart is." Sharing the same home with your children and your children's children makes a house a larger home and a family. Something to think about today. In colonial America children who grew up in such a home were married in the home with the bride coming down the staircase in all her finery and entering the center hall for all to see. After living full lives they would pass away in the same home where their funeral preparations were made and where their remains were displayed in the center hall. Their adult children would dig their grave and personally take their bodies to the small farm cemetery down the road. ( There is a small cemetery about a half mile west of the house and another larger cemetery a half mile east off Ridgebury Road. )

Our history and our traditions, the important things we take into the future, prepare us for life. Every day I have lived in "this ole house" I am reminded of that and hope that the new residents have their lives enriched in this house and appreciate the treasures it has within its walls.

I look forward to meeting you and sharing with you my life experiences in this home at 633 Ridgebury Road, Slate Hill, New York.

Yours truly,
Tom

National Register information 

Status
Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on December 28, 2001
Reference number
01001383
Architectural styles
Federal; Victorian: Italianate
Area of significance
Architecture
Level of significance
Local
Evaluation criteria
C - Design/Construction
Property type
Building
Historic function
Single dwelling
Current function
Single dwelling
Periods of significance
1750-1799; 1800-1824; 1825-1849; 1850-1874; 1875-1899
Significant years
1750; 1790; 1880
Number of properties
Contributing buildings: 1
Non-contributing buildings: 1

Update Log 

  • June 19, 2013: Updated by thomasbartolomeo: Final restoration in 2011
  • June 2, 2013: Updated by thomasbartolomeo: Fully Restored Victorian House c 1709

Sources 

Comments 

Dunning House
Posted May 15, 2013, by Thomas Bartolomeo (633ridgeburyroad [at] gmail [dot] com)

Craig Morrison, Architect

160 East 38th Street

Suite 25E

New York, New York 10016

November 4, 2011

Tom,

I enjoyed very much my return visit to your now-fully-restored home. Since I first saw it, I have looked upon it as an amazing place. It is like a piece of theater. The outside is pleasantly typical, but once standing within the wide porch, one is struck by the extraordinary woodwork surrounding the front door.

Stepping inside, one can only gasp. The entry hall, with its wide elliptical arch and carefully restored grained doors, not only matches the fine craftsmanship around the door, it is fully comparable to what one sees in the great mansions of 18th-century Virginia.

This is only the start of the story–and, yes, your house is a story-teller. Opening the panel that you so cleverly concealed in the hallway one sees that the fine woodwork came only in the house’s second generation. It had been smaller, a bit simpler. Its original wainscot and doorpost, perhaps dating from the mid-1700s, came to be concealed in new walls added in about 1800. Then, to the right, the parlor was trimmed elegantly in the Greek Revival style of, perhaps, the 1830s. Outside the porch, bay window, and Gothic Revival front gable came still later.

For generations, this house has grown with its generations. Each has treasured it while adding the best of their own time. Together they have made it a veritable museum of architectural styles. Your loving care has continued the tradition in the finest possible way.

Best wishes, and thank you again for your hospitality.

Sincerely,

Craig Morrison AIA

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Dunning House: 633 Ridgebury Road, Slate Hill, NY 10973
Posted September 8, 2012, by Thomas Bartolomeo (633ridgeburyroad [at] gmail [dot] com)

FULLY RESTORED 'COUNTRY HOME' circa 1750, for sale by owner

This 'house in the country' incorporates original architectural styles of 18th & 19th century Americana. The home listed on the National Registry of Historic Sites features: white pine and oak wide-plank floors, keeping dining room/ pioneer hearth and fireplace adjoining a modern kitchen with all new Jenn-Aire appliances, 6 gas burner stove & grill, granite countertop and a number of other unique period assets to be seen. Two federal and Victorian parlors, neo-classic center hall, office and bathroom complete the first floor. Upstairs are the master bed and bathrooms with 3 walk-in closets. Three other bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms with enameled cast iron claw-footed 'old fashioned' tubs, laundry room, storage room and hall sitting area complete the second floor--a 70 minute drive or a local metro train ride to New York City and 10 minute drive to stores and services in nearby Middletown, NY.

Only a 70 minute drive to Manhattan, NYC, local metro railroad and NY Thruway. Rural environment including nearby apple orchards, services and stores in Middletown, NY

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