Regular maintenance makes taking care of a mansion difficult but manageable. We had let our maintenance program slide after Dad died. We did replace the boathouse dock nearest the beach in time for the 1883 centennial celebration with funds we received from selling the Consuelo, but we not only had to go to court to gain possession of Comfort Island, we also inherited no funds that would have assisted our maintenance efforts.
New York State has the distinction of levying the highest overall taxes in the country, and the local tax collectors have a predisposition to fleece the islanders who receive no services in return. Deb thought we should sell and move on, and I saw her point.
Indeed, it ...view middle of the document...
It was a excellent decision because he did a fine job assisting my programs that year and for twenty-five years in all before he moved on after 2011.
By 1992, I knew he had become quite handy working on family construction projects because I’d been to their camp and seen some of the work he’d done. It occurred to me that he might be able to help me tackle some the Comfort Island maintenance problems. We assessed what needed to be done and Peter quickly demonstrated that he was an efficient and tireless worker. I paid him what I could his first season at Comfort, and after that he became the third member of the “unpaid help team” along with Kira and me.
It had been thirty years since Dad had initiated the last restoration, and the house was one-hundred-and-ten years old when Peter and I began the “Home Depot” restoration project. The roof needed work, windows on the second floor were deteriorating, the boathouse was being held together with what amounted to a Band-Aid and all the original cement was turning to sand.
One of my tennis students, Jerry Ingerson, was a building contractor and he came to the island after we played doubles one day to assess what needed to be done. He was like our Pomeranian “Brooklyn” chasing chipmunks as he darted around under the house and when he ran around on the roof holding a rope with one hand, I questioned his sanity. I wouldn’t have considered walking on that roof no matter how many parachutes and ropes I had attached to me.
It didn’t take him long evaluate what needed to be done. I was glad to be sitting down enjoying a frosty, cold beer when he announced, “I could bring my crew out here and put this place back in first rate shape for one-point-four million dollars.” I gave that comment a sardonic laugh before Jerry continued on saying, “You have a serious situation on the corner under the dining porch. The timbers are rotten and it looks as though it could collapse at any time. It scares me, and I think something should be done very soon.”
If it scared him, it terrified me, and we agreed to barter tennis lessons for having his crew come and rehabilitate the problem area. This was an exception since we hired very little outside help to come work on our projects.
Once the porch corner was repaired, Peter and I addressed the rest of the supports under the house. The stone piers that support the porches were threatening to collapse because the cement was giving way. Peter replaced several of the joists under the front porch first. Next he used jacks to keep the porch in place while he worked his way around the house pointing-up or in some cases starting from ground level rebuilding the rock piers. I remembered Mr. Papworth’s explanation about cement returning to powder and sand after eighty years as Peter used a screwdriver and his fingernail to dislodge the antiquated mortar.
I set up a work area on the front lawn where I used a wheelbarrow, a hoe, and a shovel to mix the cement with a garden hose nearby to...