The stately old house was showing its age. The foundation sagged, the exterior was in disrepair, doors and woodwork were cracked, and the carpet was littered with raccoon feces.
It took Ron Bailey’s vision, skillful hands, and careful attention to detail to breath new life into it. Now, in its 150th year, the Wauseon home built just a year after Abraham Lincoln’s tragic demise is almost whole again.
Located at 254 E. Leggett St., the towering residence has passed through many hands and undergone many incarnations since the last nail was set in place in 1866. Since he purchased it for $52,500 in 2009, Bailey has worked steadily to strip it, repair it, then restore it to what he hopes will resemble its original luster.
A carpenter by trade until his retirement in 2012, Bailey, 59, has built new houses and renovated others. “They just don’t have the character of what the old ones do,” he said. “I want this to be sort of like a time capsule. You walk in and you go back to that time.”
An aficionado of old homes since he was young, Bailey first admired the Leggett Street house on a ride through Wauseon in the 1980s. When he noticed it was for sale over 20 years later, in 2009, it had been vacant for seven years . The Swanton resident said he “jumped through hoops” for the owner, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in order to purchase it.
“The bank mortgage guy said, ‘This is the right guy for this house. If you don’t (approve him) you might as well bulldoze this place down, because it’s going to fall down, eventually,’” Bailey recalled. “It was a major fixer-upper. Surprisingly, the outside was worse than the inside. The outside needed more loving attention.”
Facing a HUD directive to improve the exterior within six months, Bailey stripped the siding down to its raw wood, then repainted it. Digging through the countless layers of old paint proved quite a task.
“I actually used a torch to get the paint off because it was so thick,” he said.
He also had to contend with removing asbestos and and a bit of mold, but afterward the house easily passed inspection.
The residence was so dreary when he purchased it that, during his first Halloween there, a trick-or-treater told him, “This is a scary house.”
Over the past several years Bailey has stripped down and renovated windows, stripped and repainted the dining room windows and the interior baseboards and entryway, installed new crown molding, patched cracked plaster and doors, scraped and refinished basement walls, replaced the kitchen floor, and installed kitchen cabinets, among several hundred other jobs. New carpet has been laid, walls have been refinished, the driveway resealed, and a dozen pine trees planted in the yard.
Still, the approximately 2,350 square-foot home with 12-foot ceilings is only three-fourths finished, by Bailey’s standards. His to-do list includes work on the roof and upper floor, installing a tin ceiling in the kitchen, moving a wall or two, and adding a fireplace, among other touches. Along the way he’s furnished it with antiques, including a dining room set he found in the basement and restored.
It’s been a huge project, but work Bailey has thoroughly enjoyed.
“It’s what I love to do. It’s my fix, it keeps me busy and out of trouble,” he said. “You’re never done with them, but in five years I’ll be tweaking things just to keep busy.”
When his sister and brother-in-law visited recently, they admired his handiwork and his restoration of the house’s original chandeliers, doors, and window trim. “My sister said, ‘This is really you,’” he said. “I feel at ease when I’m in an old house like this.”
Bailey gained some of his inspiration from visiting other old houses, but placed his own signature on the renovations by following original drawings and plans he keeps in a blue binder. It’s the reason he’s glad the house is not on a historical register.
“I don’t want to be tied to a bunch of people telling me what color I had to paint it,” he said. “If you’re not flipping the bill, and I’m doing it on my own to fix it up to keep it restored, that should be good enough. Now people say, ‘I love what you’ve done with the place. It looks beautiful.’”
Disappointed he didn’t find artifacts in the house from bygone days, Bailey has added a special touch of his own: He buried plastic-wrapped newspapers in the ceiling and coins behind baseboards before completing the work “to give somebody hope that they’d find treasure.”
The French Second Empire -style house was first owned by Rufus Briggs, a teacher and businessman whose father was the first county clerk of Fulton County. Between 1904 and 1935 it was owned by Alva Crew, who descended from Micajeh Crew, an early founder of the county, according to the Ohio Historic Preservation Office.
Bailey estimates he’s placed an additional $50,000 investment in materials, and expects to spend another $30,000 before he’s through. But he didn’t buy house as an investment.
“I just bought it because I love the old houses,” he said. “It’s like bringing something back to life. It’s nice to step back and say, ‘It’s coming along.’”
Throughout the restoration, he had the enthusiastic support of the previous owner, 80-year-old Jerry Lauber, whose father Harold bought the house in 1935. Harold used the barn to build concrete vaults for caskets, and Lauber used the living room as a professional photography studio, setting up a darkroom in the basement.
Lauber last visited Bailey in October, and presented Bailey with a photo of the house taken in 1950 and a deck of cards specially decorated with the house’s image. He promised to return with more memorabilia but, sadly, died with his wife Geraldine in a car accident two weeks later.
Lauber’s son Mark has fond memories of visits to his grandparents’ house, and remembers gatherings of extended family there.
He also remembers the house in its dilapidated state. He said had any family members had the ability to restore it the house would have remained with the Laubers.
“We were just happy that someone took it and started fixing it up,” he said.
Bailey’s children will inherit the house, so its fate will rest with them. But he hopes it will stand for another 150 years.
“I want to be able to say, ‘This is my last hurrah,’” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.