Tower Farmhouse Renovation Marks Milestone for Fallasburg Historical Society

Thirty years ago, the historic Fallasburg Village was in disarray. While some buildings were privately owned and maintained, others were crumbling from years of neglect. However, a group of committed volunteers has been working diligently to turn back the hands of time, restore the village and preserve it for future generations.

This past Saturday, the Fallasburg Historical Society invited its members to come tour the renovated Tower Farmhouse which marks the completion of a project that has spanned three decades.

“This is the end chapter of the first act of the renovation of Fallasburg Village,” says Craig Fonger, a volunteer and webmaster for the Fallasburg Historical Society. He says now that the village is largely restored, the second act will be to increase public awareness and, once the pandemic ends, expand events and activities onsite. The society hopes to make a presentation to the Vergennes Township Board to rehabilitate the cemetery as well.

Tower Farmhouse: Two Homes, One Building

Original cabinets still in the Tower Farmhouse

The Tower Farmhouse is officially known as the Orlin Douglass/Tower Farm. It dates to 1850 when Douglass built the original house. The Tower family later purchased the building, and in 1896, a second farmhouse was brought to the location and joined with the original building.

The two homes allowed sisters-in-law from the Tower and Steketee families to live together with their families. However, the reason for the two homes being connected as they were has left some members of the historical society scratching their heads. Undoubtedly, it made sense to the owners at the time.

Vacant for 15 years, the farmhouse sustained heavy damage from a leaking roof. A few years ago, the historical society replaced the roof and windows to stabilize the structure and prevent further damage. However, when it came time to begin renovations last year, there was little to salvage.

“We tore everything out of the house,” says Alan Rumbaugh, treasurer for the Fallasburg Historical Society. That included the plaster, lath and wiring. However, the original doors and wooden floors in some rooms were saved. There are also original cabinets in a kitchen and bathroom as well as an original clawfoot tub.

As a complicating factor, the society had to deal with some unwanted house guests as well. “We had some squatters,” Fonger says with a laugh. In total, the society had to evict three woodchucks, one possum, two chipmunks and 19 mice from the farmhouse.

Restoration Helped by Pandemic

The Tower Farmhouse prior to renovation. Photo courtesy of Fallasburg Historical Society.

Renovation of the Tower Farmhouse began last March, and volunteers aren’t sure it would have been completed so quickly if the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t hit.

“This was the upside of COVID,” says society member Tina Cadwallader.

The society had originally planned a full calendar of 2020 events including the Spring into the Past small museum tour, summer visitor hours and the Fallasburg Fall Festival. However, with the pandemic cancelling all those activities, society volunteers were able to focus on renovating the farmhouse, something that could be done while safely social distancing.

Much of the credit for the successful renovation goes to Rumbaugh and David Cadwallader, according to Fonger, who says the building would still be a “rubble heap” without their many hours spent on the project.

With the Fallasburg Village designated a Historical District by the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, there were hoops to jump through to ensure compliance with the register’s requirements. That meant keeping the cedar siding and reconfiguring the porch in a way that was deemed historically accurate.

Now that the renovation is done, the Fallasburg Historical Society plans to use one half of the building to house exhibits related to the village. The other half of the farmhouse will be used as a rental unit to provide income to support the society.

“We’re looking forward to…when we can provide new programming and enrich the community that way,” Fonger says. However, for now, the buildings remain closed to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information about Fallasburg Village, visit the historical society’s website and Facebook page. The society is also looking for volunteers to help maintain properties and catalog archival material.

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