Sharon twp.: Bill Dague always harbored a dream of living in his family’s homestead.
The Greek Revival farmhouse had passed through five generations of his family, but Dague had never lived there. His father grew up in the house and he’d visited his grandparents there, but for 40 years or so the family had rented it out.
The house had gotten run down over the years, and it wasn’t built for 21st-century living. But Dague’s fond memories still gripped him.
Then, about 2½ years ago, the home’s longtime renters announced they were moving out. Dague and his wife, Connie, were faced with a problem: To attract new renters, the house would need a lot of work. But the expense involved didn’t make economic sense.
“We said, ‘OK, what are we going to do with this?’ ” he recalled.
What they did was turn their problem into an opportunity.
The Dagues — he’s the service manager at Copley Auto & Collision; she’s the business manager at Stress Analysis Services in Bath — decided to renovate and expand the house to make it their home. Now the house combines the charm and quirks of a 19th-century home with the amenities of modern life.
The couple retained as much of the original house and its flavor as they could. They kept old pegged doors and door hardware. They returned pieces of family-heirloom furniture to their original spots. They even kept inconvenient but authentic features such as a treacherously steep back stairway and a door that’s so short adults have to duck to pass through.
Yet they also gave the house modern-day upgrades, including a sunlit family room, updated bathrooms, an expanded kitchen and a new heating and air conditioning system.
The changes made the house as livable as it is quaint.
Connie Dague said she never would have agreed to live in the house before the renovation, but she’s happy with the results.
“This was a dream of Bill’s that he’s always had,” she said.
The house is believed to have been built in 1837, although old records differ on the date. It was built by Bill Dague’s great-great-grandparents Erastus and Mary Ann More Bissell on land that is thought to have come into the More family when it was part of the Connecticut Western Reserve.
The house has a colorful past. It became the home of the Bissells’ daughter Julia and her husband, Dr. L.S. Ebright, a surgeon and active Democrat who once hosted President William McKinley for an overnight visit at the house. A pair of teacups used to serve the president are still displayed in the living room.
The Ebrights’ daughters, Mary Ebright Dague and Ruth Ebright Finley, gained fame as writers. Mary Dague — Bill Dague’s grandmother — wrote a nationally syndicated food column called “Sister Mary’s Kitchen” and revised The White House Cook Book. Ruth Finley, a former society writer for the Beacon Journal, went on to become a book author and an editor at several national publications, including McClure’s magazine. But her greatest claim to fame wasn’t revealed until after her death: She was a medium who co-wrote the book Our Unseen Guest, a noted work in the psychic world. She wrote it with her husband, Emmet, using the pen names Darby & Joan.
Mary Dague lived in the house with her husband, William Irvin Dague, who was in the insurance and real estate businesses and also had car dealerships in Wadsworth and Medina. He was appointed Wadsworth postmaster under President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, Bill Dague said, but there was just one problem: William Dague didn’t live in Wadsworth, a requirement for a postmaster. So the postal code for the section of Sharon Township where the house is located was changed, and to this day the house has a Wadsworth mailing address.
The house was expanded, probably in the 1800s, and at some point indoor plumbing, electricity and aluminum siding were added. But little had been done to update the house in the 40 or so years since Mary Dague was widowed and moved in with her son and his family.
Bill and Connie Dague hired contractor Mike Gruver of M. Gruver Construction in Wadsworth to take on the renovation. It was a natural choice, since Gruver’s mother-in-law and Bill Dague’s mother had been close friends.
Gruver’s father had even done work on the house. During the renovation Gruver came across a list of materials that had been jotted years ago on some ductwork, and he recognized at once his father’s distinctive printing.
Architect Mike Benya of Wadsworth designed the addition, which includes an expansion of the kitchen, the addition of a family room and the construction of a first-floor bedroom and bath that were intended for Bill Dague’s mother, Peggy. Sadly, she died earlier this year before the house was completed, so the space is now the Dagues’ master suite.
An exposed beam in the kitchen marks what used to be a wall between the 1800s addition and an old porch, which was removed in the new renovation. Beaded-board cabinet fronts and mushroom-color paint give the kitchen cabinets old-house charm, even though the room is outfitted with new stainless steel appliances and a granite-topped island.
The Dagues kept the old pantry off the kitchen and its original cupboards, although they added a cabinet to hide the microwave. They retained the pantry’s low counter with its marble pie-making slab, built to accommodate the short stature of one of Bill Dague’s ancestors.
A powder room on the first floor has a cast iron sink that was moved from upstairs and refinished, and the dining room still has its original wainscot and fireplace. The fireplace, however, got a new hearth after the original collapsed during the renovation. “You could actually stand in the basement and look up the chimney” into the dining room, Gruver recalled.
Throughout the house, antique furniture collected by Bill Dague’s mother is displayed, along with other pieces handed down through the family. An old spinning wheel in an upstairs hallway is back in the same spot where Bill Dague used it to pretend he was ship’s captain when he was little.
The Dagues kept the original poplar and pine floors and matched new poplar flooring in the addition to the old. Bill Dague likes that a small a patch of gray paint remained in one bedroom after the floor was refinished. “It was really a hidden treasure,” he said.
The renovation was not without its challenges, Gruver said. One of the biggest came when a storm dumped 4 inches of rain while a new basement was being dug under the 1800s addition. The old dirt walls gave way, he said, but luckily the beams that had been installed earlier that day kept that part of the house from collapsing.
“Every day was a surprise,” he said with a wry smile.
What the Dagues hope won’t be a surprise is the home’s future fate.
Part of the plan for the renovation was to create a home the Dagues’ daughter and son-in-law, Janice and Jerry Nadeau, would eventually take over. Connie Dague said the Nadeaus were consulted on everything down to the choice of light fixtures, so the house would be suitable for everyone. They even agreed on a wallpaper ban, she said with a laugh.
The hope is the house will remain a family heirloom for years to come.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.