A Connecticut couple has an unbeatable historic real estate deal for DIY types: one 18th-century gem, you supply the setting.
By Joe Bills
Oct 20 2022
An elevation of the 1740 Deacon Peck House, drawn during its dismantling in 2012.Photo Credit : Courtesy of Jeanne Fredericks
Way back in 1740, in what is today Cheshire, Connecticut, but was then the town of Wallingford in the Connecticut Colony, Deacon John Peck built a house. There were Pecks aplenty in the neighborhood, so the road on which the house sat came to be called Pecks Lane.
In Landmarks of Old Cheshire, published by the town’s Bicentennial Committee in 1976, the Pecks are depicted as a witty, sarcastic clan, and Deacon Peck and his wife, Mirah, are described as “both heavy-set…. They made a most imposing sight riding to church, on the same horse, Mrs. Peck seated behind her husband on a pillion.” There is no word on the fate of the horse, but we also learn that the Pecks had a son, William, who served the town as both deputy sheriff and selectman, and who lived in the house on Pecks Lane until he died at age 96.
In the years that followed, the house changed hands several times, and its fortunes rose and fell along with those of its occupants. By the time Wes and Jeanne Fredericks encountered the Deacon Peck House 10 years ago, it was at its lowest ebb. An elderly hoarder had been its last occupant, and the house had fallen into such disrepair that bulldozers were being readied to tear it down.
It was builder and restorer Rick Gallagher who first alerted Wes and Jeanne to the house’s history and imperiled status. Wes, a lawyer and board member of Historic Deerfield, and Jeanne, a literary agent, weren’t actively looking for a house at that point, but both were lovers of old homes who had tackled big renovations before.
When they toured the house, debris was piled as high as the beds in most rooms. But beneath the mess they saw a rare gem. The historic home was amazingly intact. It had not, as Gallagher put it, “suffered from affluence.” The original structure had never even been modified for bathrooms.
“We have always loved saltboxes,” Jeanne says, “and we were really drawn to the historic integrity of this one.”
A speedy decision was needed, so a speedy decision was made. This 1740 fixer-upper would be the Frederickses’ retirement home, at a location to be determined. Money changed hands, the bulldozers were idled, and Wes and Jeanne hired Gallagher to take the house down a bit more delicately.
Gallagher and his partner, Curt Kennedy, began the painstaking work of dismantling the home nail by nail, documenting each stage with photos and “as built” blueprints. They spent months stripping painted and wallpapered wood, restoring what they could, replacing what was too far gone, numbering each piece.
The Deacon Peck House is notable in many ways. Town histories state that it once served as the area’s poor farm, which added intrigue to the discovery of old bedding in the attic. There was a detached, exterior summer kitchen. A well was dug beneath the house, to be accessible indoors.
The well could not be preserved, of course, nor could sections of roof wood and portions of the first-floor frame. The framing that couldn’t be salvaged was re-created in oak. Where repairs and replacements were needed, efforts were made to maintain period authenticity whenever possible. The home’s front staircase had been previously replaced and was not retained, but the original back staircase was intact. The exterior doors weren’t salvageable, but all of the interior doors were.
“The house is very much in the Connecticut River Valley tradition,” Gallagher says, “likely built by a local journeyman who was copying what he’d seen elsewhere.” He believes that the real treasure remains the interior trim, much of which is original. Wide-board floors have been preserved, along with wainscoting, mantelpieces, paneling, and a particularly lovely corner cupboard. Because the house was never plumbed, trim and wainscoting remained uncut, an exceptional rarity.
Since the Frederickses didn’t plan to retire for years, the deconstructed house was stored in a dry barn in Litchfield, Connecticut.
The house has now been in storage for a decade, and a lot of water has passed under the bridge. Wes and Jeanne are prepped for retirement, but now there are grandchildren to spend time with and other life moments to enjoy, and their retirement house project feels like less of a fit for where they’re at.
After reaching out to the Cheshire Historical Society, hoping someone local might bring the house home, they’re now casting a wider net. They’re betting there’s someone out there with a perfect view who just needs the perfect home from which to see it—some assembly required.
The deconstructed Deacon Peck House is listed at $190,000. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 203-722-5146.