Owners take on Tower House restoration

Owners take on Tower House restoration

Jeff Polucha and Paula Keefe stand in front of the Lewis Tower House on Mendon Road, which they’ve decided to restore themselves. (Breeze photos by Ethan Shorey)

CUMBERLAND – The best way to ensure that a restoration project is done the right way is to do it yourself, say the owners of the historic Lewis Tower House on Mendon Road.

Paula Keefe and Jeff Polucha, who currently live in a home they restored on Fiske Avenue, said they decided after careful consideration to do the intensive and expensive restoration of the 1825 home on their own instead of trying to entice someone else who might do the work the wrong way.

“We didn’t want someone to put lipstick on it,” said Keefe.

Neither of them works in real estate for their job – Polucha works in insurance and Keefe is a retired Cumberland educator – but they both have an interest in restoration work and have done several projects.

“Every time we do a project it seems like we end up living there,” said Polucha, laughing though he said they’re not sure yet whether they’ll live in this one or try to sell it when the work is done.

This is easily their most difficult project, said the couple, as the house has been vacant for more than 30 years and has been eaten away by various pests. The unfinished basement level, measuring the same 1,036 square feet as the top floor, is being completely converted into living space, for more than 2,000 total square feet.

The Breeze reported a month ago that the Town Council had created the Landmark Buildings Historic District for scattered sites around town such as the Tower House at 2211 Mendon Road. The council then placed the home into the district. The owners also received approval for a dimensional variance to divide the lot into two parcels to allow a sale of the parcel to the right of the home for construction of a new home. Without that creation of a second property, redevelopment of the old home wouldn’t be financially feasible, according to the owners and town officials.

Now a little more than two weeks into the project, Keefe and Polucha say there’s a lot to like about this post-and-beam house, including the unique southern-style two-story front porch and stone features. They said they’ve met with the Historic District Commission on their plans for the outside of the house, which is the aspect the HDC cares most about. Though the inside will require a gut job, they’ve collected various items, including fireplace mantels, to incorporate back into the design.

“We’re taking it apart before we put it back together,” said Polucha.

Keefe said the floors are salvageable and she and Polucha plan to try to incorporate some unique features inside. The exterior will be as close to the original as possible, she said.

The columns on the front are generally in good shape, but will need to be lifted up so new four-foot footings can be installed to be in code compliance. There are numerous code issues here, said Keefe and Polucha.

The area above where the porch wraps around to the side is basically a “giant birdhouse,” said Polucha, and there is extensive rot throughout the home, helped by water intrusion and insect infestations, including powderpost beetles. Because the new lot has been created to the right, the driveway of the existing home will come in on the left, with a new entrance also created on the left side of the house. Numerous diseased trees were removed last week.

The owners are not giving an estimate on how much this project will cost them, but say it’s far more than anyone would recommend. They say they're hoping to get everything enclosed by wintertime.

Town officials had expressed worry prior to adding the Tower House into the new historic district that it could be demolished, eliminating another piece of Cumberland history.

According to records, the house was probably standing when Lewis Tower purchased a 19-acre farmstead here from Philip Thomas in 1833.

Some believe the upper level rear section, with its southern exposure, was the original house built in the 1700s, and the front of the house, with its unusual balcony, was built around 1825. Other accounts suggest the entire house was built at once. Polucha and Keefe said there are a number of conflicting accounts about the history of the home.

At the May 21 Zoning Board meeting where a dimensional variance needed to divide the property was approved, owner Keefe said her late son Michael purchased the home in 2017 with the intention to subdivide the property so he could fund the restoration of the house.

Jeff Polucha gives a tour of the basement level of the Tower House, which needs extensive work to convert it into a living space. The owners are now in the demolition phase of the restoration project.

Comments

I can't wait to see how it turns out! I have always loved looking at that house as I have driven by. Good luck with your project.

I commend the owner for the dedication to restoring his piece
of history. This is a real challenge. I am 99.99% sure that at one time, this home had a slate roof (going back probably 40 years). At that time, the only individual who could maintain it was a gentleman from England who lived in
Cumberland until 1980. Not sure when it was replaced with shingles.