1875 Second Empire – Saint Johnsbury, VT

Added to OHD on 12/9/15   -   Last OHD Update: 4/12/20   -   37 Comments

108 Elm St, Saint Johnsbury, VT 05819

  • 2250 Sq Ft
  • 0.25 Ac.
This is an old mansard style brick home that has not been maintained for many years. The roof has leaked and the home interior is completely ruined. It is most likely a tear down. The property is being sold in as-is condition with any personal property at the site included in the price. The house was a 3 tenament house in the past but was most recently used by one family. The building is not structurally sound, and no one is authorized to enter the building. Viewing from exterior only. All information about interior or house was taken from lister's card.

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37 Comments on 1875 Second Empire – Saint Johnsbury, VT

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  1. Kelly, OHDKelly, OHD says: 11886 comments

    1901 Folk Victorian
    Chestatee, GA

    Yeah, I have a thing for far gone houses. 🙂

    I had trouble tracking down information on this. The current owner passed away this year but I was unable to find how long she owned the property, Rosamond Phillips if anyone cares to research (she’s passed so don’t mind her name being here.)

    This etching made in 1884, you can see the home in the middle with the mansard roof. link to etch

    This 1875 map, although I am not for certain I think it’s the J. Yarret (spelling?) home. link

    • JimHJimH says: 5144 comments
      OHD Supporter

      I couldn’t find this Yarret in the census. Some of the names are spelled phonetically, like Bushey on the map is Bouchet, so maybe I just missed it.

  2. Sarah M says: 45 comments

    That etching is charming. I want to see a colorized version made into a jigsaw puzzle. Houses like this make me wish I was wealthy so that I could say “expenses be damned! I’m restoring this house to its full glory!”

  3. John Shiflet says: 5454 comments

    Please count me among the loyal fans who appreciate the occasional house that no sane person except for hardcore preservation types would even give it a second look. The staircase appears to have collapsed indicating a water infiltration problem that probably goes back decades. I’m kind of crossing my fingers that this is the worst damage inside the house but I fear this may represent the general condition. Anyone entertaining a renovation should realize even if offered for a dollar, (the current value probably reflects land value only) to take this house back to a semblance of its original appearance inside will equal or exceed the costs of a new build. If there are wall and/or foundation problems, that’s like another torpedo hitting below the water line for an already sinking ship. On the exterior, photo No. 3 seems to indicate an upstairs small balcony porch similar to this one on an Italianate style house roughly of the same period in Indiana: https://www.oldhousedreams.com/2014/12/07/c-1870-italianate-jefferson-in/ In fact, if a conjectural reconstruction were determined suitable, the Indiana house would be an appropriate template. Alternately, one could toss out the preservation handbook and simply preserve the exterior to respect the home’s history and then treat the interior as a blank canvas. Besides destructive fires, water infiltration through leaking roofs does incredible damage inside old houses. I have literally stood in an attic and looked down through two floors into the basement of a house with a long-standing leakage problem. If even the basic masonry shell is to be saved, a new roof is an absolute must and needs to be done ASAP. The biggest risk here is that continued leaks will weaken the masonry walls and cause collapse. Only very well experienced old house rehabbers who have brought back houses on the brink of oblivion should consider this one. Once a new roof has the interior shell in the dry, best to open up the windows and doors to allow thorough drying out. If any structural framework remains sound, it could be braced from the basement up but I’m skeptical many buyers would go to such extreme measures although I have seen a few examples in similar states of deterioration that were successfully reconstructed. Architectural salvage is fairly plentiful in this region so it might be possible to reinterpret an 1870’s interior using salvage details. Not a project for the faint of heart or shallow of pocket but just imagine showing folks the “before and after” photos! This one needs a Christmas/Holiday miracle to remain standing much longer.

  4. John Shiflet says: 5454 comments

    Thanks Den,
    Without seeing the structure in person or reviewing numerous quality photos showing all aspects, I can’t provide an intelligent opinion. I can offer as an example the 1850’s Steele Mansion in Painesville, Ohio, as an example of “extreme” preservation. I found a blog with before and after photos: http://architecturalafterlife.com/2014/12/08/the-steele-mansion-an-incredible-restoration-2/ showing how the Steele mansion went from the verge of total collapse (the second floor had mostly collapsed into the first floor taking it into the basement) to full restoration. After more than a year of reconstruction and restoration, it has gone back to now being used as a fully functioning upscale boutique hotel. The local family that restored it spared no expense in the rebuild. One could argue such efforts make zero business sense as recovering their costs will surely take years, if ever. But a part of local history considered lost was saved and brought back from the brink so if the will and resources are available, very few structures are truly beyond saving. I tried to find a streetview of this Mansard roofed house, but the part of town where it’s located is not covered. A bird’s-eye view does not provide a close look either, only a minimal resolution image of the roof. (which appears it may be flattening out indicating imminent collapse due to structural framing failure) This house would have to be rebuilt from the basement up but if the roof framing is on the verge of failing, bracing and a careful rebuild would come before a new roof would be possible. Once the interior was dried out sufficiently, plans to reconstruct could be made. All surviving period details that could be saved should be. Impossible is a word not found in most preservationists’ lexicon and maintaining hope when all seems hopeless goes along with the territory. That said, far more structures are lost than are saved, but the occasional preservation miracle inspires us to continue.

    • DenDen says: 96 comments

      John, thank you. That was exactly the sort of response I was hoping for. 🙂 I know that I often want to pretend that “impossible” isn’t a word, but wasn’t sure if that was a me thing or if there were more like me.

      When you say from the basement up, do you mean drastic repairs or dismantling and literal rebuilding?

      I’m eager to check the link you provided. Thanks for that and the wonderful response.

    • Tommy Q says: 461 comments

      I grew up in Willoughby, about 15 miles west of Painesville. That city used to be full of beautiful old homes and buildings but they “improved” the place by tearing down most of them in the ’60s -’80s. Real shame…

      • Laura says: 9 comments

        Great Grandparents built homes near Willoughby (know all about Willowick!) At some point need to find the addresses and see if they are still there. Love the emails!! Love the homes!!

  5. Weezie says: 3 comments

    I’m so sorry to do this…. But no one else did…. Nightmare on Elm Street…. So sad..

    • John Shiflet says: 5454 comments

      That thought popped into my mind as well but it could just as well be a Miracle on Elm Street with the right approach. At present, I doubt even Freddy would be comfortable here.

      • TIM Bijolle says: 1 comments

        Hi my name is Tim Bijolle and I have purchased the brick building on108 elm street and plan to renovate it in the next few years. We plan on making it water tight in the spring. Thanks for the comment.

        • John Shiflet says: 5454 comments

          Hi Tim,
          Congratulations. Big project ahead but if you have the talents to do something with this badly deteriorated property you will be rewarded with a home that is unique and beautiful. If it were my project, I’d come up with a rehab plan and probably once I had a roof to keep the elements out, salvage whatever I could and then start in the basement and rebuild the floors going up. Once you get a first floor framed, everything becomes much easier. Some structural engineering expertise is called for but if the bulk of the weight is supported from the basement, it should not put much stress or load on the old walls. It would be rewarding to see this ghost of a house return to a semblance of its former glory so I hope you’ll create a blog or album to show your progress. I wish you the best with the project and salute your courage and vision to take on this project.

  6. Bethany says: 3511 comments

    When I read, probably a tear-down, I was like, Oh they all say that. Not to us OHD dreamers! But then I scrolled down . . . . Too bad. This is my very favorite style of old house.

  7. JimHJimH says: 5144 comments
    OHD Supporter

    The brick shell and foundation could be usable if a structural engineer inspects and signs off on them. There might be some reusable parts, but wood structural members exposed for years might be asking for trouble.
    This could be an interesting project as a historical reconstruction or a redesigned modern rebuild. The brickwork has enough detail to make it an attractive little house either way.

    • John Shiflet says: 5454 comments

      Well said, Jim. Whenever a situation of unknown structural stability is present, its best to bring in professional help (no, not of the mental health kind) to establish some condition baselines. Essentially a reconstruction here would be similar to a new build except that usable old elements such as the walls and any salvageable interior period elements (decorative, not structural, as you noted) are saved and retained for the reconstruction. A valid idea of the approach could be gained from the recent HGTV Rehab Addict (a/k/a Nicole Curtis) show involving the reconstruction of the badly deteriorated Ransom Gillis House in Detroit’s Brush Park neighborhood. Of course, there it helped to have the backing of Quicken Loans which is based in the Motor City. (the CEO of the national lending firm made a couple of cameo appearances) The Gillis house was also masonry and stone so similar conditions were found in both structures. Except that this Vermont example is in even worse condition. Some structural engineers who have no experience with reconstruction of neglected old houses might pause and recommend a teardown. Contact the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation (the state historic preservation office or SHPO) http://accd.vermont.gov/strong_communities/preservation/ as they could recommend someone with appropriate experience in this field. Might also be a good time to ask about any available grant money or tax breaks. (which will only require the exterior to remain historic in appearance) I believe the town of St. Johnsbury would rally around the project just as Painesville, Ohio has celebrated the comeback of the Steele Mansion. When all the preliminary information and evaluations are in, the next step is a rehab plan with tasks in a 1-2-3 priority order. Stabilizing what remains of the house would be the first priority and that would involve making sure the integrity of the masonry walls and foundation is adequate to proceed. Then the roof must be made sound and leak-proof. A thorough drying out would then allow deconstruction and cleanup inside followed by new basement footings to carry the floors above, framing the floor joists and sub-floor decking, framing for first floor walls, framing for a new staircase, and adding the second floor framework. At that point it’s just like a new build with roughing in plumbing, running electrical wiring, HVAC ductwork. All work will need a permit and assume nothing original will be grandfathered as for all practical purposes this is a new home being constructed within the brick walls of the original. I think a salvage staircase could be used if a historic approach inside is taken-but find the staircase to be used before framing in the stairwell so the measurements are correct. Here’s a staircase I salvaged in St. Joseph MO from a c. 1860 early Italianate: ( https://www.flickr.com/photos/11236515@N05/1076986701/sizes/o/ ) I had three helpers and we carefully removed the whole staircase in one piece all the way up past the upper turn. We found a stenciled stamp at the base from a St. Louis millwork firm.

      Before anyone should assume reconstruction is a very unorthodox approach, the iconic White House in Washington, DC. (rebuilt after the British burned it to just a shell of walls in War of 1812) was gutted again to an empty shell in the late 1940’s under the administration of Harry Truman and the new floors were supported by steel beams and modern construction techniques as the old early 1800’s framework was badly showing its age. So, except for the exterior stone walls, everything inside the White House is a reconstruction of what was there before the 1940’s gutting and rebuild. I think the public has been conditioned to assume any house or building with structural failings is too far gone to save. Not true, but the costs to reconstruct are again similar to a new build. With the property acquisition bar set low here at $15k I feel reconstruction might be feasible in the $150-200k range with some labor furnished by the new owner(s). Have a realistic budget and don’t plan on a mansion grade interior unless that is within your means. The selected contractor(s) should have experience in this kind of total rehab as most remodeling types would scratch their heads as to why anyone would not just bulldoze the walls and build a new house from scratch. As previously mentioned, you’d have some jaw-dropping before and after photos as you showed others your old-new house.

  8. Sapphy says: 389 comments

    The interior photos made me sad. Someone with enough money and vision could turn this into a dream home instead of the nightmare it is now.

  9. Laurie W. says: 1736 comments

    Love reading your informative comments too, John. It’s cheering to see that there are those with enough love for aged houses to give them what they need, regardless of financial return. (And enough in their pockets!) Thanks for the Steele link, too — incredible job. On that subject, a blog I follow concerns rebuilding/restoration of a gorgeous 13th-century chateau in France: http://www.chateaugudanes.com Originally in condition similar to this house, it makes restoring here look like child’s play! The chateau owners’ biggest obstacle is the French Historic Commission, which makes & remakes requirements with Gallic abandon. Much admiration for their determination — and as the photos show, renewal is possible anywhere!

  10. John Shiflet says: 5454 comments

    Thanks, Laurie. I’m aware of the incredible French Chateau rebuild and of course the entrenched French bureaucracy is legendary. It’s takes a certain attitude and spirit of determination to see a project like this to completion. I’m not going to claim this would be an easy project; far from it. But unless the foundation and walls are also on the verge of collapse (of course, they too could be deconstructed and rebuilt for an additional cost) it’s not as daunting as it may seem. The silver lining here is that the new-old house will be structurally modern and completely up to code, and you’d then have the best of both worlds: historic in appearance yet modern in functionality. I’m glad you saw the horrific before photos of the Steele Mansion I linked to and then how it appears today. The exterior brick work of this dwelling is high quality and artistic with corner quoins, decorative window hoods, as well as an ornamental drapery frieze in brick below the eaves. Nothing like that is being built today so if the means and willpower to do a reconstruction are present it would be a great example of extreme preservation and might change a few minds about what “too far gone to save” actually means.

    • Laurie W. says: 1736 comments

      “…if the means and willpower to do a reconstruction are present it would be a great example of extreme preservation and might change a few minds about what “too far gone to save” actually means.” Wouldn’t that be terrific? From historical societies to lenders to buyers, it would be a real gift to have happen. As it is, we must applaud the relative few who do see, and hope for more. And breathe a sigh that we aren’t doing it in France, which is indeed notorious.

      • John Shiflet says: 5454 comments

        Well said, Laurie. We are indeed few in number as the prevailing attitude is that only old houses in decent condition are worth saving and there are many worthy homes that won’t survive. But as I noted, even our cherished White House is a gutted to the stone walls and rebuilt replica from the 1940’s inside so the idea of building a new house inside the walls of an old but badly deteriorated house should not be seen as impossible. Perhaps in a better location with higher housing demand this Second Empire house would have a better chance but we can at least hope someone might take on the challenge.

  11. Cora says: 2060 comments

    Me too, Kelly! I can’t resist the ones that are literally on their last leg…especially when you can see a glimmer of their former grandeur.

    John Shiflet, I also very much enjoy reading your comments. You’re knowledge and ability to research quickly is amazing.

  12. John Shiflet says: 5454 comments

    Thank for the kind words, Cora. I’m a strong believer in saving historic homes and buildings whenever its possible. This one is marginal but if the will and resources were available, even it can be brought back to a semblance of the dilapidated home’s original appearance. I feel in the future a scarcity of materials may become common thus today’s callous disregard for buildings of the past as disposable and worthless may have to change. If anyone decides to tackle this one I’ll be their number one fan and would be happy to make suggestions to help the owners realize their vision of a restored Second Empire style home.

  13. Kelly, OHDKelly, OHD says: 11886 comments

    1901 Folk Victorian
    Chestatee, GA

    Sold for $10k. If anyone ever finds out what happens, demo’d or saved, let us know.

  14. John Shiflet says: 5454 comments

    According to Tim Bijolle’s comments above, he purchased the property and he intends to: “plan to renovate it in the next few years. We plan on making it water tight in the spring.” We can only hope that becomes possible in the Spring.

  15. Joe says: 1 comments

    Any updates on this?

  16. John Shiflet says: 5454 comments

    Tim Bijolle above posted he had bought this property with plans to do something with it. Unless he sees this post we may never know. I continue to hope something from the original house was saved but I’m not getting my hopes up much. It’s pretty extreme in the fixer-upper category.

  17. John Shiflet says: 5454 comments

    Agreed with those who are disappointed but any attempt to reconstruct the house would have been a monumental task. (not to mention economically illogical) I agree that salvaging the bricks would have probably been worthwhile but before 1890, many bricks were very soft (they do not make good pavers) so the owner may have felt they were not worth salvaging. The question now is what can be done with a vacant lot?

  18. Diane L says: 2 comments

    The walls collapsed. Had to tear down for safety reasons.

  19. Diane L says: 2 comments

    Elm St

    Elm Street is closed until further notice due to a building collapse. The scene surrounding the collapse zone is barricaded off. Please seek alternate routes around Elm Street. The St Johnsbury Fire Department is currently on scene.

    It is important that individuals remain away from the collapse zone and keep outside the barricaded area for their safety. There are numerous hazards present that pose a danger.

    We will update when more information is available.

  20. John Shiflet says: 5454 comments

    Thanks for the update, Diane L. Glad no one was injured in the collapse. I have experience working with houses with structural weaknesses but some are just too dangerous to attempt. About all that is possible in such cases is careful dismantlement numbering components from a crane work platform and extreme steel component bracing inside and out. A structural engineer is essential (which I’m not) but by this point anyone will realize such radical (and very expensive) measures are beyond the scope of anything except important landmark structures, which this one was clearly not. Perhaps the lost structure can inspire a new design on the site if anything is ever constructed there again. Sorry to hear of your loss.

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