In 1757, the year George Washington started building his lavish estate in Mount Vernon, a man named Ananias Sayre built a house for his family outside Bridgeton, New Jersey. Two and a half centuries later, both houses have something else in common: They're still standing.
Sayre's house is no Mount Vernon and Sayre was no George Washington. But he was a wealthy landowner and a prominent citizen in Cumberland County. In addition to his property holdings he served as a county sheriff, justice of the peace, and common pleas court judge.
Sayre's house, which straddles Stow Creek and Hopewell townships, stands at the intersection of Roadstown and Shiloh roads. It's one of a handful of houses that comprise Roadstown, a settlement set amid rolling farmland about four miles from the equally historic town of Greenwich. Roadstown is the birthplace in 1851 of root beer inventor Charles Hires and is also home to the Cohansey Baptist church, a brick structure built in 1801.
The federal style house Sayre built on 16 acres in 1757 more than doubled in size following an expansion in the early 1800s. But after that it remained virtually unchanged until 2012, when the house and 2.7 acres was purchased and renovated by contractor Ed Bixby.&rtab;
"It was in a state of disrepair when I bought it but it was completely original except for the kitchen and bathroom," says Bixby, a contractor who specializes in restoring historic homes. "The same family had owned it for about the last 100 years."
Bixby replaced the plumbing and electrical systems and installed a hot water baseboard heating system. He added a full bath on the first floor and repaired plaster walls and damage caused by termites and powder post beetles. He also refinished the floors and painted the interior and exterior.
Joan Berkey, an author and architectural historian who did extensive research on the Sayre house, says it's unclear whether the original post and beam structure, which has a nearly flat roof, was one or two stories. She says the fireplace and staircase were removed when the two-story addition was built sometime between 1815 and 1830.
Berkey, who is currently writing a book titled Early Wood Architecture of Cumberland County, thinks the original house may have consisted of one large room on the first floor and a bedroom on the second floor. She says a summer kitchen that still stands behind the house could date to 1757.
The addition, which was built at least 30 years after Sayre's death in 1786, includes a living room, a parlor with a fireplace and an entry foyer with a staircase to the second floor, where there are four bedrooms and a bathroom. The floors are random width pine planks and the walls are made of horsehair plaster. Most of the rooms feature gunstock corners, which are flared corner posts that resemble the stock of a rifle. A narrow door on the second floor opens to reveal a staircase to a storage attic.
There's also a full basement with hand-hewn timbers, a low ceiling and a massive fireplace that Bixby thinks was used to bake bread. Much of the cedar siding is original as are the doors and hardware. The house still has most of its original windows. Bixby, who owns Fox & Fox Builders in Upper Township, still has the original working shutters, which he removed when he painted the house.
The property is planted with mature specimen trees and features several weathered outbuildings including a carriage house, a dairy barn, a pump house/garage and the summer kitchen, which has a dirt floor, a massive fireplace and a ladder to a garret, or loft.
"I could have ripped down the outbuildings but you can't replace the history once they're gone," Bixby says "You could spend a little money and fix them up."
In order to keep the price of the house affordable, Bixby did not remodel the kitchen or upstairs bathroom, which are dated but functional. Instead, he put most of his resources into preserving the historic elements.
"I really like to do historical renovation," he says. "When I find something special I try to save it. And this house is special."
"This house is not for everybody," he says. "But for people who like old homes it's got everything they're looking for. The lot can also be subdivided so you can get two more buildable lots. I chose not to subdivide it because I think of it as a gentleman's farm."
For more information on this property, which is listed for $159,000, call Paul Rixon of Rixon Realty, 609-827-7555.
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