Last month, a neighbor pleaded guilty to arson and other charges. “Thankfully, no one died,” said Dan Kiss, an assistant district attorney in Blair County, Pa.
But Rosenthal’s family heirlooms, such as her grandmother’s books from Russia, a hand-carved antique bed and a silk Persian rug, were destroyed. “There was nothing left,” she said. “It was a cinder.”
Instead of building something new to replace the house, she wanted to save something old.
The fire came after she had lived in Loudoun County for 30 years, watching it go from sleepy countryside to booming exurb of Washington, losing some of its weathered old barns and homes along the way to clear space for new subdivisions and mansions.
She wanted to send a message — that history is worth saving, and it doesn’t take new construction to get a fresh start.
So she’s in the midst of a multiyear project, dismantling an 18th-century house in Massachusetts piece by careful piece, packing the house into a tractor-trailer and moving it to the Rosenthals’ contemporary home in Purcellville. There, they will rebuild the old building like a giant jigsaw puzzle of hand-hewn timber and antique bricks.
Along the way, the Rosenthals have found all sorts of serendipitous surprises tucked into dark corners, from an elegant antique silver fork to rare and beautiful blue bottles to scraps of linen and shears that reminded Terri of her own clothing-design company.
They were surprised to find that the house had been taken apart and moved once before, and amazed that one of the families that had lived there shared ancestors with the Rosenthals.
“There are all these weird little coincidences, tie-backs,” Terri Rosenthal said. “It’s almost like it was meant to happen. Kismet.”
Doomed by development
Preservationists debate how best to save historic homes. Since many get torn down because they are stuck in the midst of increasingly valuable commercial land, the idea of moving them is seen either as a brilliant solution or a mistake that wrenches them out of their original landscapes and communities. It’s not easy to do, and it’s not cheap — it can cost $100,000 or more to dismantle and ship a museum-quality building. The Rosenthals are hoping to convince others that it’s not as daunting as it sounds; they think they can take apart and rebuild the Everett-Stanley House, named for previous owners, for less than the cost of a new home.
They paid $1 for the house and an estimated $40,000 to get it to Virginia. They don’t yet know what it will cost to rebuild.
Some preservationists in Virginia winced at the idea of an 18th-century New England structure being attached to a contemporary house in Virginia to create a large home for four generations of a family, as the Rosenthals plan to do.