New Castle News

October 15, 2012

Experts share joys and frustrations of historic home renovations

Nancy Lowry
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Expect the unexpected, realize you will get dirty and understand everything takes longer, costs more and is harder than imagined.

This advice and other tidbits were offered this week to a full house at the Lawrence County Historical Society’s do-it-yourself historic home renovation program. Three property owners shared joys and frustrations uncovered as they restore the character to three neglected local homesteads.


For the past year and a half, Ed and Lorraine Petrus  worked on the former superintendent’s house at Oak Park Cemetery. It had been scheduled for demolition

“At first glance, it didn’t look all that bad,” said Ed Petrus who did or supervised most of the rehabilitation work himself. In doing so he has fallen through porch roofs, survived yellow jackets, rebuilt walls, replaced floors, built ladders to accomodate the roof pitch while restoring shingles and flashings, replaced or reglazed 39 of the building’s 43 windows and relocated the coven of raccoons that had taken up residence.

They expect it will be ready for their son, Brian, to move in before Christmas.

Petrus urges anyone considering such a project to be brave but recognize limitations.

“I’m not a master plumber or electrician, but I’ve never been afraid to take on a challenge,” he said, adding, “But realize there are things you can’t or don’t want to do. Don’t be afraid to admit when it’s time to hire someone.”

Since the three-story brick house had settled unevenly, he also learned tricks to shim, shave and notch uneven doors, floors and window sills to make them look level. He also spoke of the joys of discovering ancient knob and tube electrical wiring between walls, lead water pipes contorted to odd shapes under floors and renovation efforts of previous owners uncovered as walls came down and floors were pulled up.

“You will spend a lot of time undoing what others have done and most of what you will need to fix it is made of ‘unobtainium,’” he joked.

He also urges, “Be creative. Find what is unique to the house and capitalize on it.”


Dustin Moran and Mariah Kakis were so smitten by the Victorian house at Wallace Avenue and Mercer Street that they relocated from Arizona with dreams of converting it to a bed and breakfast.

They are still on track to do so.

Built in 1882 by John Wallace as a two-story house, the building’s first major renovation occurred in 1895 when a third floor and mansard roof were added, Moran said.

The couple has worked on the building for two and one-half years undoing results of neglect, vandalism and invasion by nature before they could begin renovations. They expect to have the interior in shape in another year and then to concentrate on the exterior and landscaping.

“We’ve overcome many challenges,” Moran said.

The theft of copper pipes and wire resulted in no plumbing, heat or electricity and severe water damage throughout the building. They have replaced most of the broken windows and commissioned custom-made units to replace the cut glass windows that had been stolen from the entrance way.

They removed a 120-year-old, 150-foot tall oak tree which had damaged the portico and extended roots into the basement.

“We fell in love with the big window’s, pocket doors and 12-foot ceilings,” Moran said. The house also includes seven fireplaces and a non-working, 1927-era chair lift on the stairs.

They have restored utilities, replaced more than 150 pieces of slate on the roof, removed the back porch and spent considerable time shoring up a three-car garage at the back of the property. When restoring French doors to the dining room they discovered charred wood from a fire of many years ago.

They also replaced weight-bearing walls which had been cut or removed by former owners.

“We saw sagging on the second and third floors because the first floor supporting wall was gone,” Kakis said.


Joseph Goodge and his wife, Zenia, thought they knew what they were getting into two years ago when they purchased the Raney-Jameson “castle” on Jefferson Street.

The former Union school district teacher had already renovated the couple’s craftsman cottage-style home and an 1885 Victorian farmhouse housing his business.

In light of the declining housing market, Goodge suggested he and his wife find a building to fix up and resell.

“She looked on the Internet and this is what she found,” he said, adding, “This is really a phenomenal home.”

He believes many old buildings can be restored but urges anyone contemplating such a project to go in with eyes open.

“Develop a budget and stick to it,” he said. “Develop a business plan.”

He said his wife envisions restoring the building, landscaping the exterior and renting it out for events.

He believes it is doable.

Despite its history as a student nurse’s residence, personal care home and a fire in 1998, Goodge said many original features remain, including 80 percent of the original woodwork. The tile vestibule, geometric pattern of the dining room ceiling and missing ornamental woodwork, he believes, can be restored, but the walnut parquet flooring will have to be replaced.

He credits the city fire department with saving the structure. Fire damage, Goodge said, was confined to the third floor and turrets. The second floor sustained water damage, but the first floor had no fire-related damage.

However, ivy which grew over the building for years has caused a lot of damage as did efforts by former owners to chemically clean the stone.

“Do your research and expect the unexpected. It will happen.”

By example, Goodge said he hired a crew to make repairs. They destroyed a marble fireplace mantle and a week later the building was broken into and several unique architectural features — untouched since the house was built — went missing.

However, he has found many helpful people, sharing photographs and stories about the building.