With a New Sense of Style
By George Harvey
On September 11, 2013, a suspicious fire severely damaged the Riders Crossing Tack Shop in Vischer Ferry, a hamlet in Clifton Park, New York. Such an event always is difficult for the community where it happens. It is all the more traumatic when the fire is in a building that has fond memories for the people who have lived their lives nearby. The building, built in the mid-nineteenth century, was remembered by many as Olsen’s General Store, a place where youngsters could spend idle moments sitting on the porch, watching the world spin. The building housed the general store, and two apartments. After the fire, it needed help.
George and Karan Donohue, close neighbors of the closed tack shop, were worried about what would come of the damaged building. As it happened, they knew another couple, Joanne and Paul Coons, who lived in the area and had a reputation for doing careful renovations of old buildings. With another couple, Tom and Louise McManus, who also were neighbors living close by in a building the Coons had earlier restored, they acquired the building and started the long project of bringing it back to life.
This was not a commercial project, however, with income as its bottom line. For all six of those involved, it was a labor of love. It was not even merely a restoration of a building of some historic importance to those who lived near it. Its intention was to restore the building to be both true to its historic origins and sustainable.
Joanne Coons explained the project, saying, “We’re going to maximize what we can within historic preservation standards.” For example, the wood in the restoration came from the original building, if possible. Choice of materials was based on the “reduce, reuse, and recycle” philosophy. Wainscotting for the old walls and ceilings was carefully removed and cleaned up to see life again. New pillars and siding were purchased from an Amish saw mill. Original street-facing windows were rebuilt with Indow brand interior storms. Re-used interior doors, hinges and knobs came from the Albany Historic Foundation and Willow Hill Restoration in Fort Plain. Vermont Coatings from Green Conscience Home and Garden in Saratoga, a low VOC product made from milk whey, was used for all wood finishes.
Of course, some decisions have to take into account those modern technologies that improve on what was available in the 1850s. Roxul (a brand of mineral-wool insulation) and dense-packed and blown-in insulation cut down on heat loss in a building from a time when insulation was nearly unknown. A new standing-seam metal roof, made from recycled metal, was installed. Countertops were made of soapstone.Energy Star appliances were used. GE GeoSprings air source heat pump water heaters provide fossil free domestic hot water. Electric vent less heat pump dryers are used and all lighting are LED.
A ground source heat pump, provides for heating and cooling and save both energy and money. The average heating and cooling bill for the 4000 square-foot building is $73 per month. The heat-recovery ventilation system keeps the air fresh and filtered for healthier fossil free living. Hopefully soon the electricity will be provided by offsite community solar. This works nicely to preserve the historic nature of the building.
The driveway is made of rubblestone, which helps recharge groundwater cause less runoff and reduce storm sewer load.
What had been Olsen’s General Store in the memories of many residents of Rexford was reopened as the Vischer Ferry General Store and apartments. The name a reflection of its past, but it gives a new sense of purpose to what that name means. It is run by neighbor, Louise McManus. The store sells artisan-produced gifts for home and garden, local specialty baked goods and coffee. It has nice places to sit and enjoy life, where people can enjoy remembering earlier days.