EASTON, Pa. (AP) - Older Easton homes are often associated with their former owners.
Rob and Amy Collins own Oliver Fehr’s home at 19 S. Fifth St. The Italianate Victorian is big and it’s welcoming and it wears its history well in all its decay and bloom.
Fehr and his wife, Christina Louisa Seyfried Fehr, bought the place the year after it was built in 1869 by a merchant named Lane. They raised daughters Dagmar, Anna and Carrie there. It didn’t leave the family until 1969, not long after Carrie’s death.
But as Amy, 36, and Rob, 46, said Wednesday afternoon while sitting around the kitchen table in the not-nearly-finished home they’ve owned for 11 years, Oliver might have checked out in 1932, but, as the Eagles suggested, he could never leave.
At least until he was politely asked.
They had yet to meet the longtime Easton Argus editor’s great-granddaughter Janet Gum when the strange stuff started to happen — stuff that Janet would later put into perspective.
There was the creaking of an upstairs rocking chair that just wasn’t there. And the smell of pipe smoke in the bedroom where Janet would later tell them Oliver spent his final years, taking delight in the children as they dashed by him. Rocking away and smoking his pipe.
“I said to Oliver that you need to stop,” Amy said when she’d simply had enough. And the ghost kindly did, she said.
There was the 3 a.m. panic when Rob awoke to hear someone walking up steps where there were no stairs. First the kitchen door opened and closed, then the hurried clip-clop of wood against wood, as someone rushed to the attic, followed by heavy steps on the floor quite clear from the second-story bedroom. Rob, who is always warm, felt a deep chill. Amy, who is always pulling on more blankets, was soaked in sweat.
Usually, sound from the third flood doesn’t come through. But this early morning - a date that turned out to be just after Christina Louisa’s death and just before a family birth - it was quite clear.
“It sounded like a big man walking,” Rob said. He figured it was best to stay in bed and stay quiet. If there was going to be a battle, it would be in their bedroom.
But, suddenly, the noise jumped down the kitchen. The door opened and closed and it was over.
“Why would a burglar run up to the attic and then run out?” Rob asked. “Down steps that don’t exist.”
Janet, who spent summers as a child in the house and died in 2015, taught the Collinses about their house years before after she sought them out. She gave them family photos and treasured stories.
The stairway? Originally it was at the edge of the kitchen, right where Rob heard the footsteps. It was moved years ago to the center of the house, where it remains.
And then there was Fred. He’s quite a famous ghost already, known to all as the inspiration for the Freddy Awards at the State Theatre.
Anna Fehr and her husband, Fred Ackenbach, moved back into the house at the beginning of the Depression to share space with her sister, Carrie, who never moved out.
J. Fred Osterstock, “a distinguished looking gentleman who managed the company that owned the theatre from 1936-1965,” according to the State’s website, was pals with Anna and Fred’s son Harry and they often played cards in an upstairs bedroom, Rob said.
Soon after buying the house, Rob often heard the front doorknob turn, and he wasn’t quite sure what to think. But one day he was right next to the door when it happened. He grabbed the knob, turned it, pulled the door and looked out. To see no one.
Fred, Rob figured, was coming over to play another game of cards with Harry.
Living with ghosts can be stressful, so Rob, who grew up in Clinton Township, sought out some help and he was told to invite the previous residents to leave.
“I told them it was time to move out,” Rob said. “I thanked them for taking care of the house. … We’re going to take care of it” and raise our family here, he said to Oliver.
And in the ensuing seven or so years, there’s been “nothing major” supernatural in the Collins home, he said.
The house is more romance than horror, Rob and Amy said.
Because, without the house, there likely would be no Rob and Amy, no boys 5 and 6 years old; no girls ages 7 months and 2 years.
“This house brought us together,” Amy said.
As Rob tells the story, having been in construction for much of his life, he was looking for an investment property. A building where he could fix up one side for renters and the other for himself.
“Not this,” he said as he looked up at his huge green Victorian with its shotgun windows off the front porch and a hidden foundation where a turret — common to such architecture — likely was to go but never did.
But 19 S. Fifth St. kept turning up on the MLS search.
“It just kind of drew me in,” he said. “I’d drive by. I’d sit on the porch. It wasn’t even my house and I’d sit on the porch. After a couple of weeks, I called the agent. It’s how I met my wife.”
He was an assistant manager at Lowe’s in Bethlehem Township. Amy worked in customer service. The tour of the home was scheduled for lunchtime.
Rob, who has a certain charismatic charm, walked over and asked her, “‘Do you want to take lunch and look at a house with me? It’s where we would raise our future kids. How many kids are we going to have?’ I didn’t even know this girl.
“We started dating a month after that. We were engaged a year later. When you know, you know.”
It was the house that got her.
“When I saw this house, my eye was drawn right to it,” said Amy, who grew up in Bethlehem Township. “If I looked at the neighborhood” she might not have followed through, although the block is much improved in their time there.
“One thing about this street, as soon as you turn down it, it feels like a different place,” she said.
“We closed on the house,” Amy added, “and he handed me a key and said, ‘I just bought you a house.’”
And what sort of house was it once they opened the front doors?
“It really needed a lot of work (but) it was beautiful,” she said. “It’s come a long way. It was nearly unlivable.”
The chandeliers were gone. A parlor mantle with Apollo in the center was missing as well, although former owners gave it back about a year ago, Rob said.
After Gum, who inherited the place, decided not to move there, it was an Easton Upholstery warehouse for years, Rob said. They had planned to use it for showrooms for their furniture, but that didn’t come to be, he added.
It was bought in 1995 for $35,000 and work was done on the home, but it wasn’t completed, Rob said. It was called a “work in progress” in a newspaper account.
By the time Rob got it “at the top of the market” for $165,000 in 2005, the challenge was immense, he said.
More than a decade in, the couple, who admit they’re not wealthy, are still at it.
Bit by bit. Day by day. It now needs a new furnace.
There’s always something.
“She does blame me,” Rob said with a laugh. “It’s love-hate. I love this house and she hates me for it.”
Are they where she figured they’d be?
“Yes and no,” Amy said. “It depends on what you are referring. We’re a little behind (on the house) but when it comes to family, we’re right where I wanted to be. This house was meant to have a lot of people in it.”
Replastering one bedroom - drywall was out of the question in this restoration - took Rob 300 hours and 500 feet of Fiberglas mesh. It was a success, but the house is not done. Not even close. And it probably never will be.
It has hiding places and surprises and hand-painted plaster that struggles to survive.
When they sought an assessment in an effort to refinance, the person gave them their money back, Rob said. On an interesting block of eclectic architecture, there was nothing with which to compare the home. The closest Rob can come up with is the Asa Packer Mansion in Jim Thorpe, also an Italianate from the Victorian era.
Rob likes to use the word steward to explain his role in his house’s history.
Maybe one of his kids will take it on. Maybe not.
“Stability. Home base. I’m done moving,” he said. “We’ll see how this works out. … I love old stuff. I feel like I should have been born 100 years ago. … It wasn’t bought as an investment. That walnut doesn’t exist anymore,” he added as he looked at the beautiful dark wood that rises with the front staircase.
He will do no harm. And, perhaps, some good, he said, in a house he plans to own the rest of his life.
And with the place’s history, maybe for some time after that.
“Much like marriage, this house is a lifelong arrangement,” Rob said.
Information from: The (Easton, Pa.) Express-Times, https://www.lehighvalleylive.com
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