250 — a New York Victorian

My partner bought the house — a grand Victorian just a stone’s throw from the George Washington Bridge — 23 years ago but wasn’t living in it. Once the occupants moved out he discovered the extent of the damage plus deterioration (both interior and exterior) and was actually contemplating selling it. He mentioned it to me one day and I asked to see it. As he puts it, from that point on I “became obsessed” with it. It had literally more than a ton of trash and mounds of raccoon feces. In fact, we’ve spent about 15 out of the last 18 months getting rid of raccoons internally and externally.

250 (as we call it) was designed in 1887 by the architects Robertson & Manning (Robert Henderson Robertson & Alfred J. Manning). Construction took place during 1887-1888 and was built for Mary Cornell Leffngwell. John Black Cornell of Cornell Ironworks deeded a parcel land to his daughter, Mary, in 1886 just before his death. Mary was married to an executive in her father’s company, Charles Russell Leffingwell. Charles and Mary had two daughters and one son. Their son, Russell Cornell Leffingwell, later became the 5th Assistant Secretary to the Treasury (Wilson Administration). In addition to a number of other positions he held, he was also partner and Chairman of JP Morgan. The house remained in the family for 79 years until after the death of the last remaining child of Mary and Charles – at which point it was sold.

The previous occupants neglected the house; some stripped away items like stained glass windows and Delft fireplace tiles, etc. So we’ve been actively working on restoring the house to its proper splendor.

I fell in love with the details, i.e., woodwork, etc. Then we started researching and discovered a ton of history on the house involving the architect as well as the original owners and there was no turning back. We’ve actually lucked out and found their descendants who have been wonderfully helpful in providing photos, details, information, etc. I sold my house in Virginia and… So, it’s become a labor of love as well as insanity. When we started out our place looked much like yours when you started. I have those frustrating days when it seems the house is fighting me back for all those years of neglect it suffered. We just repaired a section of the porch that had rotted and I’ve been so elated. Then we moved a debris pile away from another section of the porch, only to discover another 35sf of rotted flooring. Sigh.

Ha! Easier question might be what doesn’t need to be done!

  1. Roofing – along with replacement of Yankee gutters.
  2. Chimneys rebuilt, lined, repointed.
  3. All the brick and stone work repointed properly. In some places someone used cement instead of lime mortar, causing the soft clay brick and stone to deteriorate.
  4. Replace the godawful vinyl windows with the original wood sash windows – new glass, glazing, etc.
  5. Replastering ceilings and walls in a number of areas, painting the entire interior.
  6. Redoing floors, removing extraneous telephone lines strung throughout. Oh, and the fun of trying to maintain consistent wireless internet service in a house this size with plaster ceilings, 10′ walls on all but the third floor, not to mention solid wood floors!
  7. Pipe repairs as the previous tenant allowed water lines to freeze and rupture.
  8. Where possible, undo modifications which were made to the structure.
  9. Update electrical wiring; corrections in some sections.
  10. We’ve updated the heating and hot water systems, added hydronic floor heating in the kitchen.
  11. We removed years of overgrowth, as well as a number of trees that had caused damage to the retaining wall and discovered the following view of the Hudson River.

We’re chipping away at it almost daily. You can see some more photos on our website at 250 Renewed. I will be updating it within the next few weeks with our newest before and after photos. It was a pleasure to discover your website – I didn’t feel so alone or stupid taking on this task. It’s nice to see someone else who has done it and survived!