Couple is restoring Peterborough home and learning its history

  • The house at 181 Grove St. in Peterborough, commonly known as the “Yellow House on Grove.” —STAFF PHOTO ROWAN WILSON

  • The “Yellow House on Grove,” built in 1826. —STAFF PHOTO ROWAN WILSON=

  • A room in the historic home with accordian lathe walls. —STAFF PHOTO ROWAN WILSON

  • The accordian lathe in the historic home. —STAFF PHOTO ROWAN WILSON

  • A narrow staircase leads to the rooms on the second floor. —STAFF PHOTO ROWAN WILSON

  • The Waite family lived in the house from 1904 to 2015. —STAFF PHOTO ROWAN WILSON

  • The ground has pushed into the ell. —STAFF PHOTO ROWAN WILSON

  • Al Cummings and Ed Cardoza with their dog Archie. —STAFF PHOTO ROWAN WILSON

  • Al Cummings and Ed Cardoza. —STAFF PHOTO ROWAN WILSON

  • The ell of the historic home, between the main house and barn. —STAFF PHOTO ROWAN WILSON

  • A view of the barn. —STAFF PHOTO ROWAN WILSON

  • The original house was a saltbox, but an addition was later added to the back. —STAFF PHOTO ROWAN WILSON

  • Ed Cardoza looks at an old lock on a door in his house Rowan Wilson—Staff Photo

  • There is still bark on the beams in the attic space Rowan Wilson—Staff Photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/11/2022 12:37:05 PM
Modified: 7/11/2022 12:36:48 PM

Ed Cardoza had heard about the “Yellow House on Grove” a couple of times before he and his husband Al Cummings came up to visit. 

They had been living in Foxborough, Mass., and were on the search for the right old house to make their home. 

“Al is a carpenter and has spent most of his life working with historic buildings,” Cardoza said. “I’m an Episcopal priest. I attend to historic structures.” Cardoza is the missioner for property stewardship for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. 

When they finally decided to make the trip up to Peterborough to see the house at 181 Grove St., it was “right before Christmas,” Cardoza said, “We fell in love with it.”

“Our intention is to leave the house looking exactly as it does right now,” Cummings said.

But there’s a lot that needs to be done in order to do that. The house is old and hasn’t been occupied for a number of years. It will be a big restoration project. 

“The foundation has been compromised,” Cummings said. “We’re going to start on the front of the house, lift it up.”

When they moved in, all the waters lines were broken, and there were raccoons, chipmunks, mice and dobsonflies living inside. 

And the ground caved in a portion of the ell that connects the house to the barn. The ell will be completely recreated, this time as a post-and-beam.

“It will present the same look as timber construction,” Cardoza said.

They are deconstructing the fireplace in the ell, cleaning the bricks and rebuilding it. And they are excavating the land so it is not pressed against the back of the house like it is now, which will help the structure last longer and reduce future water damage.

Cardoza has looked at old deeds, talked with the Monadnock Center for History and Culture, searched old newspapers and consulted with local experts to track down as much information as he can on the house and the series of people who have lived there. 

George McCrillis built the house in 1826. “During that time Peterborough was still settling,” Cardoza said.

McCrillis was a blacksmith and built a forge along the river. Cardoza believes much of the metal hardware currently in the house like door handles and locks were forged by him, but McCrillis and his wife only lived there a year before they headed west towards Niagara Falls. 

Cardoza knows that after the McCrillises moved out, a Baptist deacon, Thomas Wilson and his wife Alice moved in. Cardoza learned that they would have met at Moses Cheney’s Peterborough home for Bible study, and his house was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Cardoza speculates whether the Wilsons, too, were abolitionists.

In 1891, MacDowell founders Edward and Marian MacDowell rented the home for their first summer in Peterborough. They would start the MacDowell arts community 16 years later. 

The house stayed in the Waite family longest, until 2015. Then RiverMead owned the house until March of this year. It hadn’t been in use, but “RiverMead really wanted this house preserved,” Cardoza said.

“It’s well-built, but not like a house in a museum because it’s New England vernacular. It was used by farmers and folks without much money so it never went through major changes,” Cardoza explained. “We call it unmuddled.” He said the home includes original glass, most wood floors, fireplaces and even some original paint. 

Cummings was excited to find accordion lathe walls throughout the home. It is a technique that was used in early New England homes in which a wide, thin board was splintered to create gaps that plaster was pressed into. 

The renovations will involve “gently peeling back layers and replacing what’s there,” Cardoza said, and it’s important to them to reuse as much of the original material as possible. 

“The foundation wall will be reused in the retaining wall,” Cummings said.

Cardoza added, “If not reused in place, repurposed somewhere else.”

The barn is much newer than the house and ell. It was built around 2002, Cardoza said, on the footprint of the original barn that had to be replaced. The new barn has two stories with a large screen porch on the front above three garage doors. Cummings plans to make the first floor of the barn his workshop.

Cummings and Cardoza are waiting on a demolition permit from the town and have been working to assemble a team of specialists to assist with the restoration. They want to find the right craftspeople for this project.

It has been made harder, however, by supply-chain issues and the cost of materials. But they’re hoping to have the ell, downstairs kitchen and bathroom completed by November.

Cardoza and Cummings recently gave a talk at RiverMead, and they know there are many people in the community who feel an attachment to the house and its long history.

After years of the house sitting empty, Cardoza is already looking forward to setting up white lights in the windows and hanging a wreath on the front door this Christmas.  He and Cummings have been amazed by how welcoming people have have been and how happy people are to see the house come back to life. 


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