Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Abandoned Enchantment

I still fall in love with houses. It's not what most realtors do; they're used to looking at a property with a critical eye, weighing its assets and dismissing it if there are too many problems. I can do that sometimes.

But some houses strike me more like family dogs left at the pound. They're wonderful, they loved their families and they're increasingly sad. They don't understand why no want wants them anymore.

There's a house like that in our town, one that isn't my listing but I still very much want to see in the caring hands of a new owner. The picture above looks somewhat like it but it has ivy, wisteria-covered pergolas and charmingly curved doors. It is, quite simply, magic.

I've mentioned it before, and it still sits unclaimed.  It's breaking my heart. This was a house that was once a family's pride and joy. They gave it a name, they decorated it like something out of a fairy tale. It fairly glowed with love.

It's been empty more than a year now. The lawn is mowed but the gardens are overgrown, the ivy is encroaching on the windows. Inside, there's that musty air common to old houses which need their windows thrown wide, a fire built in the hearth, people, dogs and cats rattling around and making noise.

It's not owned by a family anymore, it's owned by a bank. And a bank can't love a house.

Friday, September 7, 2012


I met Larry LePage this week. He likes to sit on his porch, hoping for company. He's lonely. You see, he has very few neighbors anymore. They all had to abandon their homes.

Larry LePage lives in Prattsville, NY.

Prattsville is a tiny little burg in the Catskills just south of the Schoharie Reservoir. Before most of the town was wiped out, there were only about three hundred people there. There are fewer than that now. Last August, when Hurricane Irene howled up the Eastern seaboard, she bumped into the Catskills and dropped an unbelievable amount of water into the reservoirs. Experts say the water that rushed down the Schoharie and Esopus Creeks was more than the torrents that howl over Niagara Falls. The Schoharie Creek went 15 feet over its banks and wiped out the town.

What's left now are a lot of boarded up buildings. A few businesses have reopened. But many homes are still abandoned.

There's an effort underway to build a new, safer Prattsville, one that's above the flood plain. But it's years away. Larry's been in Prattsville since the sixties, since leaving his native Canada. He doesn't want to leave. His family had to talk hard just to convince him to leave temporarily after his home filled with water.

Larry LePage sits on his porch every day, hoping someone will stop by and talk to him. Many of the people who are still in Prattsville do. Three houses down from Larry's house is another vacant house, tilting on its foundation, its porch gone.  The sign posted near it, surrounded by stones, has one word on it:  Hope.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Nehapwa - Elegance and Good Energy

I don't just sell real estate. I write. And a magazine assignment led me to a place I will not quickly forget. Nehapwa is an historic, Arts and Crafts-style summer cottage - one of those rambling homes with fireplaces and endless porches where I still expect to see gentlemen in suits and ladies in long summer dresses drinking iced tea and playing croquet.

It's above Tannersville, NY, an area best known for Hunter Mountain and skiing, but once a popular Catskills summer destination.  The grand Catskill summer hotels are gone (though Mohonk, on the neighboring Shawangunks, preserves the tradition), leaving sweeping vistas, perhaps a step that once led to an entryway and, in the case of the Overlook Mountain House in Woodstock, stone walls and steps that offer an intriguing hint of what once might have been.

It's Romance with a capital R, and it's something I've longed for like a homesick traveler my entire life. Nehapwa felt like coming home.

It's a grand house, far too big for the couple who lives there. But after almost ten years of work reclaiming an abandoned house, they're opening the doors to guests.  Nehapwa is an intimate and inspiring bed and breakfast available for one night or a longer. There are four bedrooms, each with its own bath and covered sleeping porch.  There is an expansive living room and dining room as well as a cozy library. And there's the covered porch.  It extends the length of the house and around the side, facing a panoramic mountain vista, due east for sunrise and moonrise views.

The gardens are a study in colorful chaos and the grounds sweep gently away from the house on all sides, offering a meadow, a pine barren, a lovely meditation pool lined with bluestone or a path into the woods past a magnificent, soaring wooden Victorian water tower.

It's an escape for a life that is too busy, too frenetic, too "wired."  It is a place to breathe.