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Old-House Online » Old-House Tips, Restoration Stories, & More » House Tours » Arts & Crafts Houses » A Craftsman Restoration in Scranton, Pennsylvania

A Craftsman Restoration in Scranton, Pennsylvania

Without knowing quite what he was in for, a college professor bought a neglected Arts & Crafts house—and spent the next three decades getting an old-house education while fixing it up.
By Walter Broughton | Photos by Dwayne Freeman

    The inglenook  includes Colonial Revival details: a fireplace crane, original brass andirons, and a parson’s cabinet above the settle.

    The inglenook includes Colonial Revival details: a fireplace crane, original brass andirons, and a parson’s cabinet above the settle.

    It was 1976 when I first arrived in Scranton to take a faculty position at a local college. Two years later, I decided to put down roots and began to look for a home. After nine months of searching—to the near despair of my patient real-estate agent—I bought an old home in Greenridge, the city’s still-affluent streetcar suburb.

    It was a large house with a high, sheltering roof; a massive four-flue chimney; and projecting beams at the gables. The interior was filled with varnished woodwork, including a beamed ceiling in the living room. That room also featured a massive fireplace set in an alcove; chestnut benches resembling those of an old-fashioned soda fountain flanked the hearth. The dining room boasted wainscoting and dentil molding.

    One colleague said it reminded him of a fraternity house. Although the house seemed a little pretentious for an assistant professor on a modest salary, I thought it was distinctive, even though I couldn’t quite pin down its style. But I did know it needed work.

    Hands-On Training

    As I settled in, I began to tackle the needed work with the enthusiasm of a first-time homeowner. My first priority was to insulate the attic with blown-in cellulose during the then-ongoing energy crisis. New triple-track aluminum storms soon followed. In the next summer or two, armed with issues of Old-House Journal, I replaced the sash cords and reglazed the many windows that filled the interior with light and air. With friends, I rebuilt the sidewalks to the front and back doors, learning how to “bring the cream to the surface” for a smooth, professional finish. In time, I found skilled masons to re-plaster the walls and ceilings, which had suffered serious damage as the old house settled. With a local carpenter, I rebuilt the service porch, where an ill-conceived built-in gutter had led to rotted studs. Slowly, the house began to resemble the fine home it once had been.

    The house was deliberately sited to face south, filling the master bedroom with morning light and the sun porch with midday sun.

    The house was deliberately sited to face south, filling the master bedroom with morning light and the sun porch with midday sun.

    As I worked, the carpenters, plasterers, and bricklayers who labored with me praised the quality of materials and the craftsmanship with which my old house had been built. The joists were a solid 2″ x 7½”. The bricks forming the keystone in the arch above the firebox had been shaped by hand. The same bricks were used for the doorsteps and copings outside, unifying the interior and exterior. The back hall tile had been laid by hand, as a few mislaid tiles in the border pattern attested.

    There were other very human touches that lent character. Whoever designed the house had failed several times to provide adequate clearance between drawers and doors—when you opened one, the other had to remain shut. An exterior vent for a living-room radiator had been sealed—probably after the first winter’s drafty use. Instead of swinging out, the sun porch windows pivoted open on a point at their center. These quirky features, evidence of the designer’s otherwise expert hand, I appreciated and preserved.

    Craftsman Appreciation

    The Colonial Revival-style dining room includes a built-in buffet; the center panels slide open to provide a convenient pass-through to the pantry beyond.

    The Colonial Revival-style dining room includes a built-in buffet; the center panels slide open to provide a convenient pass-through to the pantry beyond.

    Though I could clearly see the house had been constructed with care, it wasn’t until I read a piece on Gustav Stickley in Old-House Journal that I began to realize exactly what I had. The fireplace recess was an inglenook—that icon of Arts & Crafts architecture. The house’s built-ins—bookcases, the fireplace benches, and dining room buffet—were typical of the style on which Stickley drew. So, too, were the beamed ceiling, the massive hearth, and the integration of indoor and outdoor living spaces.

    By then, I had acquired a copy of the city’s 1915 building permit and knew the house had been designed by its original owners, William H. and Dorothy Scranton, as a young couple. I began to make inquiries to their family, neighbors, and friends. William, I soon learned, was the grandson of George W. Scranton, one of two brothers who founded the city. Dorothy was the descendent of Yankee merchants and missionaries to China, and was still warmly remembered for her charm and droll sense of humor. Well-educated—he at Princeton and Cornell; she at Cooper Union—they raised two successful children and were avid gardeners, active members of the elegant Gothic Revival church down the block, and walkers (they never owned a car). Try as I might, however, I was unable to establish a direct link between the house and Stickley or the American Arts & Crafts movement.

    Yet there were hints. The house’s casement windows featured the Bulldog hardware Stickley had advertised in the pages of his Craftsman magazine. Mr. Scranton had done a grand tour of Europe as a young man in the 1890s, where I thought he might have been exposed to the movement. Most telling, however, was his 30-year career as an instructor in mechanical drawing at the city’s manual training high school. A member of its founding faculty, he had spent 1905 touring manual training schools where the Arts & Crafts movement in the U.S. had flourished. While the Scrantons, according to their daughter, had merely “included things in the plans that they liked,” they had nonetheless produced a noteworthy example of American Arts & Crafts architecture.

    In the meantime, I purchased an L. & J.G. Stickley chair in Syracuse on a dare from my sister-in-law. It clearly suited the house. I then began to pick up pieces of Stickley and Roycroft when I could. I attended auctions (once at the same time as Barbra Streisand), hung out in Soho with the dealers, got to know some pickers, and even hosted Robert Judson Clark—the Princeton scholar who revived the interest in the Arts & Crafts movement—in my living room.

    Mrs. Scranton requested the bedroom fireplace and built-ins. The bed and side tables are by Gustav Stickley.

    Mrs. Scranton requested the bedroom fireplace and built-ins. The bed and side tables are by Gustav Stickley.

    I also explored the Arts & Crafts heritage of the city of Scranton, discovering Grueby tile murals in the former Lackawanna, Delaware, & Western station and a Tiffany mosaic in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. I found out that an elegant nearby home had been designed by architect George Dietrich, once affiliated with The Craftsman.

    I came to appreciate the streetcar suburb the Scrantons had selected for their home. Just as they had done, people still strolled along the sidewalks, chatting with neighbors as they passed. Neighbors borrowed tools, shared information about schools and politicians, and referred one another to the carpenters, plumbers, and other building tradesmen old-house owners depend on. While the automobile had altered the social life of adolescents, the large church hall where local teenagers had once bowled, played basketball, danced, and just hung out still stood beside the church down the block. The ideals of the Garden City movement, an extension of the Arts & Crafts movement, were still being realized here.

    Over time, I came to realize that the house I inhabited had opened a window for me into an otherwise vanished lifestyle and aesthetic. As the years passed, I grew to admire the Arts & Crafts movement—not only its commitment to good materials, craftsmanship, and simplicity of design, but also its belief in the creative potential of every human being. Living in a home inspired by it, the movement’s legacy had come to touch and enrich my life. It was much more than I had ever expected of an old house in Scranton.

    Published in: Old-House Journal February/March 2013

    { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    Don Loughrey December 19, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Great job Prof. and a good article . I enjoyed reading it and can relate.My wife and I have lived in a 1916 craftsman since ’88. I only wish that we had an inglenook, yours is beautiful. Thanks for saving a great old house.
    Don

    Rosemary McAllister Gavigan January 25, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Fantastic article about your home. I remember when you purchased your home as I was one of your students at Marywood. My sister from Washington DC brought the article to my attention. As we were all raised in Scranton this article caught her eye! She contacted me to ask what I knew and explained to her that you were my one of my profs. However I did not know the history of your home. You did a fabulous job! We are also neighbors as my husband and I live on Columbia St. In GR. I am a lover of older homes as well. So much history and mystery! Do you remember Marianne, Judy and Rosemary-McHale-Barrett and Mcallister? McAllister would be me! Fantastic job!

    Matt December 31, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    That’s just a beautiful fix-up job! Your home looks lovely. My wife and I purchased an old Craftsman home a few years ago and are in the process of remodeling it now – just so much work, especially considering all the snow we’ve gotten this year. Anyway, your article was very well written and inspiring.

    John January 6, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Walter,

    Great job. I don’t remember the house that much from when I sold it to you however I can appreciate the work you have done. The home conveys the warmth, simplicity and clarity of the Arts & Crafts movement. There will be someone who reads this article who will contact you to make this their home and continue to give it the care and attention that you have. Great home in a great neighborhood.

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