Chincoteague's Oldest House Moved for Restoration
By Devin Loftus | Online Only | July 6, 2010
The oldest house on Virginia's Chincoteague Island, the Capt. Timothy Hill House, has added another chapter to its history.
Last Monday the two Broadway actors who now own the c. 1815 house moved it from its second site on Main Street to its third site on their property in Chincoteague. In its new location, the Capt. Timothy Hill House will undergo restoration slated to be completed by this October.
Some might call it luck, others fate, but for Paul Brzozowski and Louisa Flaningam, discovering the rotting Capt. Timothy Hill House was a little of both. Flaningam recalls the time she spent on the island with her family as a girl, and her love for the wild Spanish stunted mustangs the island is famous for. This love brought her back to the island with her husband. The New Jersey couple, who have been acting for more than 40 years, have now discovered a new passion for history and preservation.
After driving past the dilapidated Hill House many times, the couple considered buying it to use as a bicycle shed. Then-owner Richard Vesely eventually agreed to Brzozowski and Flaningam's offer.
Fate had bigger plans for the 188-year-old house. While the couple was examining the property last winter with Heartland Restoration's Timothy Robinson, a broken clapboard fell, revealing a carved ship, one of 39 such figures on its walls. Robinson felt the house held a story and should be preserved and shared.
Brzozowski and Flaningam then sought out Carl Lounsbury, an architectural historian at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, who confirmed the house's importance.
"I went to see it, and turns out it was historically significant," Lounsbury says. "Evidence shows it had a wooden chimney, which is very rare architecturally."
The 17-by-16-foot house was covered with tarps, the roof had caved in, and there was extensive wood rot, Lounsbury remembers. Despite its condition, the house had survived by being "well built, unusual, or lucky," Lounsbury says. The Hill House is one of very few "plank homes" surviving in this region, he says.
The house's first owner, Timothy Hill, was shipwrecked in the area in the early 1800s. The earliest record of Hill is a deed of purchase dated April 11, 1822. Generations of Hills have occupied the house since, including Jennie Hill, granddaughter of Capt. Timothy Hill. Jack Hill is the last living descendant of Hill to occupy the house, residing there until 1954.
"[This process] is like historical CSI work, trying to piece together the evolution of the house and getting a picture of a family," Flaningam says.
Planning to open the home as a museum, the couple relocated the house a half a mile away, to a site easily accessible to the public. Robinson of Heartland Restoration, based in Madison County, Va., oversaw the June 21 move.
The owners, along with the help of Robinson and officials at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, are trying to restore the house as close as possible to its original form while ensuring that it will stand for its next 188 or more years.
"[Everyone involved] wants to do this right," Flaningam says. We're hoping to get it on the Virginia Register and the National Register for Historic Places. Then we'll feel like we really accomplished something with this."
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