A House with More Stories to Tell - Local Restoration Company Brings a Landenberg Historic Treasure Back to Life
By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
As 2019 became 2020, the clock on the preservation of one
piece of Landenberg history seemed to speed up on those who wished for more
As per a May 2019 agreement between New Garden Township and Wilkinson Homes, the Middleton House on 503 Newark Road would be slated for demolition unless the historic home could be sold during an 18-month window of time, in order to make way for the new Middleton Crossing development to add one more plot and home to its design.
In short, a miracle was needed in order to save a 2.9-acre property on which a home has stood – dating back to its original construction -- since 1783.
In a perfect world, many local stakeholders thought, the buyer should be the type who not only admires history but embraces its delicacies; who prefers the mildew brine of an old book to a laptop e-novel or a trusty old tool to a brand new one; the treasure of turning neglect into timeless grandeur and the achy but beautiful old bones of an historic home to the assembly-line construction of a new one.
In early February, the perfect person visited the Middleton House for the first time, and he saw promise living between the great cracks of the crumbling house.
At the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors Feb. 18, 2020 meeting, Bill Romanelli of Wilkinson Homes announced that they had recently tendered a sales contract for the sale of the home. The buyer, it turned out, was Matthew Studner, who owns and operates West Grove-based Second Chance Restoration with his wife, Wendy.
The Studner’s primary intention for the home was simply, in Matthew’s words, “To bring her back to life.”
“I immediately knew that this house has more stories to tell,” Studner said. “From the very beginning of our renovations, people would come up to us and tell us stories about its past. I believe that homes are built upon from family to family, each of whom adds their individual stories to it. It’s a connection and an imprint, similar to nature.
Working with Charles Wilkinson and Bill Romanelli of Wilkinson Homes, realtor Dan Birch of Beiler-Campbell and six contractors and sub-contractors, the Studners began restoration in April by first studying the history of the three-story, five-bedroom home, and while their intention was to retain the historical feel of a country farmhouse, they did so with the understanding that they also needed to furnish the home with the modern conveniences of new homes.
Every wall in the home was stripped, primed and repainted. Structural beams beneath the kitchen were replaced, and the room was greatly extended in order to better accommodate the needs and traffic patterns of a modern family: a kitchen island, granite countertops, tile floor, a Sub-Zero refrigerator/freezer and stainless appliances.
Over the next five months – and through the challenges of doing so in the middle of a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic – the Middleton House was slowly transformed. The dining room, living room, parlor room and the front foyer and its turned stairway were all restored, and classic-looking fireplaces received brand new tile facing. While the house still retains some of its wide-beam wooden plank floors, the four large bedrooms on the second floor all received new flooring, and outdated bathrooms were replaced with new fixtures and glass shower stalls.
The home’s 1,300 square-foot top floor was also upgraded and primed to become an in-law suite or artist’s studio, complete with a free-standing tub in the bathroom. In addition, the house received an HVAC system, upgraded electrical power and is now primed for the modern bells and whistles of convenience and technology.
Studner is also renovating the home’s basement, focusing his attention on strengthening its walls and restoring what had served as the home’s root cellar, which once was used for storage of vegetables, fruits, nuts and other foods.
Outside, a paved driveway leads up to the house and two-car rear garage, and the property received landscaping that removed the unsightly brush that once obscured the view of the home from the road.
Others who have a stake in both the future infrastructure of the township and its historical preservation of the area share a mutual enthusiasm for the restoration of the home.
Lynn Sinclair of the township’s Historical Commission said that the restoration of the Middleton House is in perfect step with the Commission’s mission, which is in part to be able to preserve historical structures as a means of presenting a glimpse into the area’s rich history, given that the home’s exterior closely resembles what it looked like a century or so ago.
“If anyone wanted to get an idea of what that township looked like one hundred years ago, we can point to that house and say, ‘This house has stood here since 1783 and used to be a farmhouse, and that’s how people lived many years ago,’” Sinclair said. “This renovation also extends the life of the house for another one hundred years, maybe more, and visually, it’s compatible with the new construction around it.”
For Studner, the task of renovating the Middleton House could not have been better timed.
“It was such a challenge to do this while the entire world was shutting down,” he said. “Being able to do this project during COVID-19 was a savior for me, because I always need a great project to jump on.”
While a punch list of restoration tasks waits to be completed, the house is currently on the market for resale. Meanwhile, Second Chance Restoration and Birch are currently searching for other historic homes in the Chester County area – as well as barns and any other older structures to renovate, possibly two and three at a time.
“The Middleton House is not the end for Matt, Wendy or me,” Birch said. “We’re looking still for the next project. We want to form partnerships with local historical commissions and residents in finding that next house.”
“Restoring homes is like seeing a worn old marble step in Philadelphia that Benjamin Franklin may have stepped on,” Studner said. “That step shows us our past, but it’s also part of our present and it also leads us to our future.”
The historic Middleton House is currently being listed for $619,000. To learn more, contact Dan Birch, Beiler-Campbell Realtors & Appraisers at 610-869-8711, x. 213, or visit www.beiler-campbell.com.
To learn more about Second Chance Restoration, call Matt and Wendy Studner at 267-300-2622, or email email@example.com.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.