After a hiatus of nearly a year, the Oldest House in Laceyville will be reopening its doors to the public this weekend.
A grand reopening will be held on July 14, 15, and 16.
Located on Main Street in Laceyville, the Oldest House serves as a museum and headquarters for the Laceyville Area Historical Society, which owns the building.
According to LAHS president Tony DeRemer, the Oldest House is actually the oldest existing frame dwelling in Wyoming, Susquehanna, Bradford and Sullivan counties. The house is packed with historical memorabilia, providing a look back to a few hundred years in the past.
Through the years, many people have toured the Oldest House, seeing first hand the construction techniques and materials used in building such a structure more than 200 years ago. The house contains such items as a spinning wheel, military uniforms from bygone eras, old maps from when Connecticut laid claim to certain sections of the state, photographs of the North Branch Canal, and many other historical treasures.
“We get about 400 to 600 people per year,” said Debbie Stevens, LAHS vice-president.
But like any other structure, the Oldest House needs proper maintenance. The house has been closed to the public since October, so that much needed renovations couldn’t be performed.
“We had to do it to make it safe for the public and restore the integrity of the house,” Stevens said.
She emphasized that no remodeling was performed during the renovations. “We want to keep the house as close to the original as possible.”
When they put the project out for bids, DeRemer said, the lowest they received was $112,000. The historical society eventually obtained a $30,000 grant from Endless Mountains Heritage Region, and decided to spend $100,000 of its own money on the renovations.
However, as is often the case, the original bid price did not reflect what actually had to be spent on the project.
“We had $14,000 in change orders,” DeRemer said, explaining they were things revealed after the work started.
Among the renovations included:
*Planks and the lower sill in the west wall were replaced.
*The north foundation of the main house in basement was taken out and relaid.
*The sill was replaced in the north wall.
*The floors in the foyer and the living room were replaced.
*The entire house - which had initially been wired for electricity in the 1940s - had to be rewired.
*A 27-year-old oil furnace was replaced with a propane system.
Because the price of the renovations exceeded their financial resources, DeRemer said, they obtained the rest of the funds through private donations, as well as several local government entities.
There are of course a number of improvements that have been added through the years - such as electricity and a heating system - which are not part of the original structure.
“Some of the floors are from the 1950s,” DeRemer said.
But it’s evident that a great deal of care and effort have been taken to keep as much of the Oldest House in its original form as possible. The windows and doors retain their look and feel from a bygone era, and the floors are made of tongue in groove pine - a material not commonly employed.
“They had to take up the whole floor and put in a new tongue in groove floor down,” DeRemer explained.
Square nails were employed in the process, because they were the original type used, he said.
Stevens,explained that the house was built in the 1780s by Dr. William Hooker Smith.
“He never lived there,” Stevens explained. “There are too many documents showing him living in other places.”
Smith built the house to provide a residence for his son James, who lived in it for several years. On Jan. 24, 1794, Steven said, William Hooker Smith sold the property to his son who owned it for just a few hours.
According to court records, James Smith sold the house on the day he purchased it to Ebenezer Skinner for 500 pounds.
“He (Skinner) was also required to provide a barrel of salted shad (to James Smith) once a year for 999 years,” Stevens explained.
The house would pass through several owners through the years, including the Smith, Christian, Sturdevant, and Lacey families, the last from which Laceyville Borough takes its name.
In 1976, Harold Davis, the last private owner of the house, sold it at auction to the Grange National Bank.
That year, Stevens said, several local people got together and formed The Oldest House - Laceyville Area Historical Society with the idea of preserving the property and turning it into a historical fixture.
Among the people involved in the project was Harold Benninger, who at the time was president of the Grange National Bank.
Benninger arranged to allow the historical society to take possession of the property, with the bank holding the mortgage until it was paid off. This occurred in the early 1980s, Stevens explained.
“Our goal is to preserve a historical treasure for the community,” Stevens said.
Many groups have used The Oldest House for various projects over the years, she said. Boy Scouts have earned Eagle awards, and Girl Scouts have earned silver and gold awards at the house, and students from the Wyalusing Area High School have used it in a number of their senior projects.
Tours of the Oldest House will be conducted from 9 to 4 p.m. on Friday, and 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
On Saturday, Stevens explained, a covered dish celebration will be held at 5:30 p.m., in which meat and beverages will be provided and participants are encouraged to bring a covered dish.
A Wyalusing Adult Band is set toperform at 6:30 p.m.