When Janet French and her late husband Richard purchased their dilapidated early-19th century stucco-covered farmhouse in 1973, they knew very well that they were getting involved in a major undertaking to restore the structure to its original glory; what they didn’t account for was the voyage of discovery and adventure that they were about to embark on. After moving from their home in Johnsville, a quaint village community in Warminster that has since disappeared in a flood of development, they began work on their new home in Buckingham Township, PA.
The rehabilitation of their home was an almost ten-year long project that became more intrinsically satisfying each step of the way. While explaining the issues involved in restoring each room, Janet refers to herself and Richard as what she calls “the royal we,” but she notes that it was Richard’s superb skills and dedication that brought each project to its satisfying conclusion. Past 60 years old at the start of the restoration, Richard retired midway through the restoration so that he could work at it full-time. Janet says, “When I’d come home from work each evening, we’d stand there together and admire what he had accomplished that day. It was always a happy time.”
As the restoration unfolded, Richard uncovered hidden historical gems throughout their house. When he removed the fireplace mantel in the living room to repair it, he discovered signs of a “practice run” that was done nearly 200 years previous by the original craftsman. Behind an upstairs closet, Richard found evidence of an early “winder” staircase that is so reminiscent of old Bucks County farmhouses; the silhouette of a few steps on the wall still clearly mark its former presence there. They also realized that many of the ceilings are different heights from room to room, which is common for older homes that were added upon through the years. What is now the home’s dining room did not exist before the 1840s. The dining room and an upstairs bedroom were additions added to the original stone house using framing from a barn that once stood on the property.
For any details of the home that were missing or could not be restored, Janet and Richard scoured antique shops and auctions to find vintage hardware, doors and other items appropriate to the age and style of the house. They painstakingly rehabilitated their beautiful home with love and hard work, and after close to ten years, when they had completed the final puzzle piece, they wanted to know more about the house that they had poured so much sweat into. And that’s when they contacted Heritage Conservancy! In 1981, Janet and Richard reached out to our organization to complete a house history to learn even more about their old house and the memories it holds.
Richard passed away in 2006, but in recent years, Janet began thinking that the home that she and Richard had lovingly restored together was vulnerable. As a former Buckingham Township Supervisor, and thanks to her service on the Township Zoning Hearing Board, Janet was keenly aware that future property owners could forever alter or destroy the structures that she and her husband had maintained together for nearly a half-century. For that reason, she reached out to Heritage Conservancy once again to help protect her house and its cherished history.
In December 2014, with the help of our organization, Janet French put a façade easement on her home and its springhouse along with a conservation easement on the surrounding 2 acres. The façade easement will protect the home’s architectural integrity in perpetuity. Through the easements, Heritage Conservancy now has the right to approve any proposed changes to the historic house and springhouse as well as specimen trees and the overall property in general.
“Without this type of protection, the quintessential Bucks County stone farmhouse is in danger of eventual extinction, which would be a loss to all Bucks County residents and visitors,” says Jeffrey Marshall, Heritage Conservancy’s President.
“It is a great sense of relief to have these easements in place. As a concept, it’s so important to save what we can of our history,” muses Janet French. “On a personal level, I see all of the work that Richard put into our home and the memories we built together, and that makes it even more special. We’re all so lucky to have found this part of the world.”