Victorian-era home resurrected in Thamesville

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Bill and Karen Maxwell's home in Thamesville looks like a 135-year-old Victorian cottage, but a two-year renovation has been so extensive that the only interior item that remains from the late 1870s -- when their Ann Street house was built -- is a beautiful wooden bannister on the stairs that lead to an upper floor.

The Maxwells purchased the property in early 2010 when the house was in very poor condition. Originally from Oakville, the couple had been living in Elliott Lake, Ont. when they decided to move to Southwestern Ontario.

Karen Maxwell says they came to Chatham-Kent because housing was relatively inexpensive to purchase, and because of the small town charm held by communities like Thamesville.

"This is probably the last remaining area in Southern Ontario where you can find a reasonably-priced house to buy," Maxwell says.

"We found out that, in Chatham-Kent, a person could find a nice home for a reasonable amount of money."

They purchased the Victorian cottage knowing it needed an extensive makeover. Maxwell says the structure was actually sinking, and iron I-beams were needed to shore up the main floor. The rest of the house was in equally poor shape.

"It was literally falling down, and the yard was a mess. We were later told that the neighbours wanted the house demolished. It was the worst house on the street."

But the Maxwells saw something in the home that appealed to them, and they embarked upon a two-year adventure... and Karen Maxwell says she has no regrets.

After purchasing the property in early 2010, they hired contractors to begin shoring up the foundation, repairing the ancient cellar, and gutting the two floors. By the time the couple moved in, in November 2010, much of the house's interior had been rebuilt, although there was still a lot of work left to be done. It wouldn't be until the summer of 2012 when the couple could sit back and admire the improvements. And even now Karen Maxwell says there are still some small details to attend to.

What work was done? The main floor now contains a kitchen, a full-piece bath, a dining room, living room, mud/cloakroom and a small office. All of the walls are new, as are the floors and the ceiling. The floors are clothed in hardwood. Nothing remains from the original house except for the wooden stair bannister, which Maxwell said she fell in love with.

Upstairs, the original three-bedroom configuration has been charged to include two large bedrooms and a large bathroom/laundry room. The second storey has also received new walls, ceilings and floors. Everything is new, although in character with a Victoria-era home.

Moreover, all of the doors and windows are new. The house also has a new natural gas furnace.

Outside, the house has received a new roof, driveway and yellow siding. The wraparound veranda still contains elements from the original house.

Landscaping to the property has been extensive. All of the work was done by Maxwell, who graded the property herself, and planted shrubs and flowers.

An unattached garage was also renovated. Maxwell says three years ago the garage "was falling down, just like the house was."

She's so pleased with the results of their renovation that she says she wouldn't do anything different today if given the choice.

And her neighbours are pleased, as well; the couple has been congratulated by members of the community for having a deep faith in bringing the Victorian home back to life.

The Maxwells' home was among 14 properties nominated for a Mayor's Heritage Preservation Award, to be presented in February. Although their Victorian cottage didn't win, Karen Maxwell says their appreciation for their home hasn't been diminished.

"We just love it here," she says.

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