Jim and Jeanette Zavislan build on historic preservation at East Bloomfield
EAST BLOOMFIELD – In 2015 Jim and Jeanette Zavislan, then from Pittsford, were looking for a ranch on about 10 acres.
Instead, the Empty Nesters fell in love with a circa 1840 Greek Revival-style two-storey house known as the George and Addison Wheeler House with a large barn on over 100 acres. Jim, a professor at the University of Rochester, and Jeanette, a freelance tech writer and avid gardener, have since embraced country life on their Grimble Road property.
“Our three grown children love to visit to enjoy the fresh air,” said Jeanette.
The Addison-Wheeler property, on the south side of Grimble Road, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 as an outstanding example of 19th century rural Greek Revival architecture in Ontario County. Late last year, the Zavislans purchased two acres with a barn that was original to the property on the north side of Grimble Road.
With the acquisition of the property, the list on the National and State Register of Historic Places will be updated. It is one of 18 locations recommended this fall by the New York State Council for Historic Preservation to be designated for state and national registers of historic places.
“Property line extensions happen quite often,” said Virginia Bartos, historical preservation program analyst at the Division for Historic Preservation / NYS Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, “but more often with historic neighborhoods.”
Bartos assisted the Zavislans in the nomination process. The amended list is now on the New York State Register of Historic Places and will be forwarded to the National Park Service where it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. If approved by the registry keeper, the appointment is signed and entered in the national registry.
The “old place”
To some longtime residents, the George and Addison Wheeler House is known as the “Old Place”.
The name can be attributed to Bill Houghton, who purchased the property in 1948 and remained there until his death in 2013.
“The previous owner had let the house deteriorate considerably,” Houghton wrote in a brief history of the property. “In fact, so much so that when Marie, my wife and I showed it to a close friend, his comment was ‘why do you want this old place’?”
Mary’s reply, according to Bill: “In case you didn’t know, you just gave us the name. It will be called “Old Place”.
Originally, the Grimble Road property contained three barns, a cooler, a stake and a toilet. After acquiring the property, the Houghtons undertook significant restoration efforts and these buildings were demolished. Two of the barns remain; one on the south side of Grimble Road, east of the house, and one on the north side of Grimble Road, the one now united with the property.
The north side barn, from its frame, appears to date from the mid to late 19th century and first appears on a 1904 map. Ray Henry, Retired Town Historian of Canandaigua and Gary Jones, who are familiar with the barn, describe it as a two bay English barn with doors on the east and west sides of the threshing bays. There is an attic between the two bays with a hay / straw mower at each end of the barns. The basement could have housed livestock such as cows, pigs and possibly sheep.
Wheeler Family Cemetery
The expanded list also includes additional information describing the Wheeler Family Cemetery, located west of the house in a wooded area set back from the road.
Bill Houghton’s story describes George and Phoebe Wheeler, the original landowners, and their son Addison who built the Greek Revival house. The couple experienced “difficult times raising their large family.”
The couple lost at least three children at a relatively young age and set aside a small piece of land to secure as a family cemetery. Phoebe died in 1834 and George in 1837. Both are buried, along with other relatives, in the family cemetery.
The cemetery is arranged in four parallel rows, oriented north-south, and is surrounded by a wooden fence, painted white. The openings are on the north and south sides of the fence. Sixteen burial sites have markers, mostly for members of the Wheeler family with a marker for the former owners of the property, the Houghtons, who documented the house and cemetery for inscription in 2005.
Restoration and future
The current owners have received assistance from the East Bloomfield Historical Society and continue to work with representatives from the New York State Register of Historic Places. They upgraded the infrastructure of their iconic home – relocating, insulating and renovating it, as well as installing solar panels and a geothermal heating and roofing system.
Beginning in early 2019, Jeanette began cleaning decades of objects from the barn on the north side with a view to starting the restoration of the barn.
A mid-20th century ranch located west of the barn was used by several local fire departments for training and burned down last summer. Once cleared, barn work could begin.
Local contractor Scott Carlisle is overseeing the restoration of the barn. Already completed, drainage is added to preserve the integrity of the barn foundation.
Using heavy steel beams, Carlisle oversaw the lifting of the barn from its foundation to allow B & B Builders of Canandaigua to pour concrete to replace the collapsed foundation. Coming up is the replacement of rotten parts of the structure, including the sills on the west side of the barn and an interior post. The roof will be replaced, hopefully by the spring.
“Due to the strong winds there, we hope to install a metal roof,” Jim said.
Part of the restored barn will be used to support the Grown on Grimble Farm couple, or as Jim puts it, “It’s a labor of love.”
Jeanette had a farm stand last year, and the barn will become a staging area and provide storage space.
“This will be our fourth year of producing maple syrup and growing organic vegetables and flowers, the second year of selling firewood and the first year of harvesting shiitake mushrooms,” said Jeanette.
Jim – who takes inspiration from the example of Bill Houghton, who remained on the property until he was 90 – said they wanted to support Jeanette’s business as well as carry out the preservation effort.
“The barn cannot be replaced,” Jim said. “We like to think that our agricultural and restoration efforts on this beautiful property are a tribute to those who rest in the cemetery.”
About the designation
State and National Registers of Historic Places are the official lists of buildings, structures, neighborhoods, objects, and sites important to the history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture of New York and the nation.
The same eligibility criteria are used for state and national registers. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the New York State Historic Preservation Act of 1980 established programs for national and national registries. In New York, the commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, who is also the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), administers these programs.
According to one estimate, there are over 120,000 historic properties statewide listed on the National Register of Historic Places, either individually or as components of historic districts. Landowners, municipalities and community organizations from across the state sponsored the nominations.