This Ohio dwelling was constructed in 1834 for William Griffin and his family, who had traveled here from New England. It was built as a one-and-a-half-story home with a small wing that originally housed the carriage and woodshed, but is now the kitchen. The historic estate has dwindled to two acres—more than enough responsibility, according to owners Dennis and Judy Conrad.
“We knew about the house for about 30 years,” says Judy, “and had always loved it from afar, never thinking that we would actually get a chance to buy it. We owned another stone house—larger and with more acreage, which we sold when we were able to purchase this one a decade ago.”
The Conrads’ home is constructed of sandstone that was quarried across the road from where the house is sited. A hand-chiseled water table (or drip edge), well preserved, is a notable feature. Another is the frieze band with its tiny transom windows, standard issue on many framed dwellings of this period but a distinctive touch in this stone example.
Houses built of stone are an anomaly in New England, less so in the Mid-Atlantic states and westward in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Sturdy and secure, often with a somewhat rustic feeling, stone houses offer unique shelter that is impervious to time and the elements.
Those of us living in stick-built homes can hang a picture or a shelf wherever we want. Dennis points out that “hanging things on the stone walls can be a challenge. Most of the walls are horsehair plaster directly on stone, so you have to drill a hole and put a wood peg into the wall to drive a nail into it. Some stone houses have picture rails (or peg rails) running around the rooms so the owners don’t have to put nails into the walls.”
One of the benefits of a masonry exterior is that the only maintenance required is occasional repointing, which had been done already when the couple moved in. “We only had to redo the exterior trim paint,” Judy notes. “Dennis also restored all of the original window sashes, which still have their early glass.”
The interior had been just as well maintained, requiring little restoration. “We removed some Victorian wallpaper,” Judy remembers. “Since all the woodwork had been painted, with white enamel, we repainted it in colors complementary to the period. We had to skim-coat the plaster.”
There was, however, an ugly 1970s kitchen to be addressed. “Dennis spent the first six months by himself in the house,” Judy recalls. “The first meal cooked in the new kitchen was Christmas dinner.”
The rest of the house has its original chestnut floors. Most of the rooms are decorated in a restrained manner, with collected furnishings handsomely displayed. The couple did enlist the services of local stencil artist and muralist Jeanette Mosier to embellish the dining room and front hall with subtle work reminiscent of that of itinerant decorative painters in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
“When we got married 33 years ago,” Dennis reflects, “I knew nothing about antiques or old houses. Judy educated me about history. But I’ve always enjoyed woodworking and being a craftsman, and I fell in love with handmade objects.”
As they refined their collection, the couple found that the vintage of their pieces became earlier and earlier. “We started with mid-19th-century country objects, and then moved toward the 18th century,” Judy says. “We’ve acquired some 17th-century pieces: a Massachusetts bun-foot chest and a Connecticut shoe-foot table in its original paint.
“We take two or three trips to New England each year, bringing home a van full of stuff, and then we cull our collection by selling off the pieces we no longer want. Condition is very important—we like original finishes and little or no restoration.”
The collection includes a series of banister-back chairs in the dining room, an 18th-century fall-front desk in the bedroom (with its original “eagle” pulls), and a Massachusetts corner cupboard in the parlor. Throughout their house, the Conrads have filled every corner and wall with collections of such diverse items as treenware and samplers. Still, this house owned by discerning connoisseurs is a comfortable home.