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Protective sheets covered the front parlor’s hardwood floors. Light through tall, rippled glass windows flooded the empty room in a house now under renovation at 40 Main Street.
John Madzula II purchased the property in late November 2016, intending to finish work started by former owner Abigail Kende. He also hopes to one day use the space for his law offices. Turning slowly to glance around the bright parlor, he said, “The front room would make a perfect office.”
Past two fireplaces set in plaster walls in the parlor and large living space sits a kitchen overlooking a tidy backyard. The late Victorian Queen Ann architecture near the intersection of Church Hill Road had joined the many historic facades on Main Street, built in 1893, according to Town Historian Dan Cruson’s records. The entranceway “was like a tower,” Mr Cruson said, with decorative shingling. Standing under the intricate slate roof that Mr Madzula says will “last my lifetime,” he stood on a front porch looking across the street at 33 Main Street, which once was Atlantic & Pacific groceries, later occupied by R.H. Beers & Co, a general store, and that is now Dere Street Restaurant.
A “great view of Main Street” is just part of the house’s charm. Mr Madzula reached inside the wall and pulled out a solid, wood-framed pocket door. He looked overhead at the 9-foot-high ceilings and then peeled back the protective floor covering. The Brazilian cherry hardwood planks ran diagonally across the main rooms downstairs.
With home improvements already begun by the former owner, Mr Madzula said, “It was in great shape when I bought it.” Glancing at the space around him in late winter, he said, “Even on a cold day the sun warms it up.” Mentioning some of the construction features as he walked back toward the kitchen, he said much of the basement foundation contained brick.
“It means you had status back in the day,” Mr Madzula said. Pondering that detail, Mr Cruson agreed that few clay deposits are in the area; the nearest possible clay was in Redding, he said. “Brick architecture is unusual in Newtown.”
Stepping through a wide doorway and into a large room where he will soon install kitchen counters and appliances, Mr Madzula pointed to a back staircase, also leading to the second floor. The strictly functional flight of stairs is unlike the grander front stairs off the entrance and meant for display. Beyond the stairs he has added closet and pantry space, but is “trying to keep what we can of original character,” with modern updates.
Mr Madzula initially learned about the house through his friend and realtor William “Bill” Piccirillo. “[The house] had been sitting for years and Bill approached me and said something to me about it being a good project for me and my dad to restore.”
Mr Madzula’s father, John Madzula, owns JSM Associates, an architect and construction firm. Both Madzulas have done “a lot of historic renovations,” including houses in Newtown. Looking through the front windows beyond the flagpole, Mr Madzula mentioned that his father “restored the Meeting House in the 90s,” and did the Dana-Holcombe House on the corner of West and Main Streets several years later. Mr Madzula had worked with his father for roughly a dozen years before going to law school, he said. He had spent time in Rhode Island and “came home in August,” he said.
Considering the old walls around him, he said, “I think you have to have a vision for this place and the resources.” With his father’s company doing much of the work, he said he can control expenses.
Heading up the broad front stairs he reached the second floor, and knelt down to look more closely at pine wood floors. Bathrooms were partially finished and as his father looked at the house dimensions on paper, something was not adding up, Mr Madzula said. A search along the hallway and past guest bedrooms revealed a walled-off hidden space at the end of the hall. Opening the area up again creates enough space for a laundry room. Mr Madzula stepped inside the previously hidden nook, wondering why it had been walled off.
The house has “lots of little charms,” he said, such as the original floors, natural light, stained glass details in many windows, and intricate woodwork. Heading back down to the kitchen and stepping up to a window, he could see past backyards to Church Hill Road and across to the new Hook & Ladder firehouse.
Mr Cruson confirmed that a long-ago phone exchange was located at 40 Main Street, although he believes the property was initially a residence. In 1910 it became the exchange, which was previously located above R.H. Beers’s store across the street. Mr Beers, who ran the exchange, would have to step outside and use an exterior staircase to get to it. Once the exchange became too busy, it was relocated to 40 Main Street. “It operated that way for a good long time,” Mr Cruson said. As phone traffic became heavier, in the 1920s the exchange moved out to another building in town.
The house reverted to a residence and eventually became John Holian’s general law office, Mr Cruson said.
The home has an earlier, dark spot in its history. Mr Cruson mentioned former town treasurer Charles Northrop, who lived there around 1905. Disagreement arose over unaccounted funds. Mr Northrop’s daughter was in college at the time. “He used funds for her tuition, presumably,” Mr Cruson said. “It was known he was in financial need.”
Remembering the story, Mr Cruson said, “Suicide. He hanged himself in the foyer,” and was discovered by his 10-year-old son. “He had intended to return funds…” Mr Cruson said.
Gong back to the 1890s, Mr Cruson envisioned Newtown as primarily agricultural at the time, “on the verge of the industrial era.” The flagpole was already installed, and as the Victorian era came to an end, there existed a “sense of inevitability of war in Europe.” At the time, city people would visit the “bucolic Newtown.”
John Holian had used 40 Main Street for an office in the late 1940s through July 1, 1981, when he sold to Joan and Robert Dyer, who ran an insurance business, said John’s son and Newtown resident Tim Holian. Tim Holian had also rented space from Mr Dyer to use as a law office from 1983 until 2001, he said. Years later the house sold to Abigail Kende, who “was restoring it.” Mr Holian also noted part of her upgrades included the slate roof that “will outlast all of us and then some.”
Using the residence as office space was a “nonconforming use,” but the location had a history of business uses. The old phone exchange was one, and Mr Holian can remember “wires in the basement that don’t go anywhere.”
He also recalls the pocket doors. “I remember as a little kid I was amazed that they disappeared into the wall.”
During his later time there in the law office, Mr Holian said, “I thought it was kind of maudlin — a relative of the [former treasurer] had stopped in for photos. I never knew his name, he asked to take pictures, and I never saw him again.”
With finishing work to do both inside and out, and furniture waiting in storage, Mr Madzula in early March estimated that he would be finished in a few months, and looked forward to September’s Labor Day parade, which he will be able to watch from his front yard.