Historic Restoration

Picture of Lybby LyonHomes Worth Saving
In the mid-1970's many of the historic homes along Montgomery Street in Newburgh New York in the Hudson Valley were suffering from urban blight. To save them from the wrecking-ball preservationist Libby Lyon purchased five houses in a row for $1,000 each. And so began the renaissance of Newburgh’s Historic District, with homes designed by renowned American 19th Century architects such as Andrew Jackson Davis, Frank Estabrook, Calvert Vaux, Frederick Clarke Withers, and others.

Upon early retirement I recalled the wonderful Victorian neighborhoods of Newburgh New York from having visited them many years previously, and returned to see if I could find a house along the Hudson Valley to renovate. Of the several grand old homes Libby had rescued I purchased 162 Montgomery Street. While I was restoring 162 I also purchased the house next door, which was the historic and magnificent number 158 Montgomery Street, a home built in the 1800's for shipping magnate Stockbridge Ramsdell. Imagine two restoration projects going on simultaneously.

Parallels Between Ringling Mansion Restoration and Stockbridge Ramsdell Restoration
I have the privilege of serving as a volunteer Docent at the John and Mabel Ringling Mansion Cá d'Zan (House of John) since 2005. During that time I have often told visitors that for many years Cá d'Zan stood in disrepair, and that renovation of the historic home began in 2004. Each time I recall the effort and expense that went into the project, and its wonderful result, I am reminded of how the work paralleled my own restoration of the historic home of shipping magnate Stockbridge Ramsdell, in Newburgh, New York.

Tom Porfidio takes a break to pose for a picture while hs is working on his restoration project at the historic Stockbridge Ramsdell House Many years ago I purchased the hollow shell of 158 Montgomery Street in Newburgh, New York, and began an extensive restoration project. As is often the case with such things, in an attempt to adhere to historic accuracy, and at the same time satisfy modern building code requirements, the architects and contractors were required to make changes in the restoration plan. I can identify with the builder of Cá d'Zan, Owen Burns, who made changes in the design at the request of John and Mabel.

Before and After
An area that can be especially critical to restore is the interior. During the restoration of the Stockbridge Ramsdell house I discovered a number of photographs of the interior that were hidden behind two sealed pocket doors. Likewise, during the restoration of the Cá d'Zan the historians happened to be attending an auction where some interior pictures of the house were being offered. Mabel was quite the photographer, and naturally pleased with the lovely manner in which she had decorated the interior of her home, used her box-camera to capture the furnishings and arrangements. Without these images we would not know as much as we do about how the Ringlings, and the Ramsdells lived.
Interior of one of many rooms in the historic Stockbridge Ramsdell House On Hudson that Tom Porfidio restored at 158 Montgomery Street, Newburgh, NY.Tom Porfidio working on Interior of one of many rooms in the historic Stockbridge Ramsdell House On Hudson at 158 Montgomery Street, Newburgh, NY.

When my restoration project was complete, I operated the home as a bed and breakfast for over eighteen years, and because of the extra attention paid to details found in the photographs, when people came to visit they often got the sense of lifestyle and opulence of the period, almost as if they themselves had lived it.
A plaque mounted on the exterior of the Stockbridge Ramsdell House On Hudson that Tom Porfidio restored at 158 Montgomery Street, Newburgh, NY.