Howard recalls the conversation with Hobbins. “He said, ‘This is Jim Hobbins. I have a problem I think you are going to solve.’ ” Jim proceeded to describe his growing family and their affection for the historic Connecticut River Valley.
They exchanged ideas. Jim and Linda told Howard they wanted a New England Colonial house, a perfectly proportioned box with a gorgeous front door.
At first, they couldn’t quite come to an agreement on the design. Then, Howard had a brainstorm. He happened to have an 18th-century house from Brooklyn, Conn., in stock. “I had a frame of this old house, all the posts and beams, all labeled. I told them it would be a stable and comfortable home for them.” At the time, Howard believed it was a 1790 house belonging to one of the children of Gen. Israel Putnam, a Revolutionary War aide-de-camp to George Washington. “When we found this place through my connections, it had holes in the roof and trees growing out the windows,” Howard says.
The plan would be to erect the 1790 frame and add a new wing that would maintain the look of the period. The main house would be a classic box, four rooms up and four rooms down, with a central staircase. An attic could accommodate another bedroom and bath. And a modern basement would provide more space and storage. The adjoining wing would have a spacious country kitchen centered on a large fireplace and a master bedroom upstairs. “And there would be a little staircase behind the fireplace, so they could get up there [to the master bedroom] without the kids knowing,” Howard says.
The idea clicked. “We got excited about it, and we decided it would be a great setting for all our old furnishings,” Jim says.
“I loved the idea of the heritage of it and the spirit of it, and that the house would not die — we would resurrect it,” Linda says.
And so the project began. Before the days of FedEx and e-mail, it took about 18 months to design, with lots of snail mail back and forth and phone calls.
The Hobbins family took a trip to New Hampshire to see Howard and the 1790 frame, which was lying in pieces on the ground amid the fall leaves. They stopped at the historic town of Deerfield, Mass., to look for inspiration for designing details such as doors and windows. The Hobbinses’ front door replicates the front door of the Wilson Printing Office in historic Deerfield; the main staircase follows the lines of the 1760s Hart House from Ipswich, Mass., which is on exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
The frame was delivered on a flatbed truck. On Dec. 1, 1979, a local builder began digging the foundation, pouring the basement walls and buiding a subfloor. Howard brought his own crew to erect the antique frame as well as the new frame for the wing; the builder then enclosed the structure and added the rest of the specifications.