House for Sale: Home by Tumbling Water
With all the windows closed, we couldn’t hear the waterfall that recent rainy day when we visited with owner Ruth Steffman, a wonderfully alert 85 years of age, and one of her two sons, Jim, who lives with his wife and five children nearby. However, that surprisingly huge waterfall was very much a part of the view from the living room and glassed-in porch windows. On the spacious lawn leading up to it, we spotted brickwork here and there, as well as parts of stone foundations–all remnants of long-ago times when these falls provided the power to manufacture everything from coffin hinges to sleigh bells. And gurgling along just below us, on the right side of the house, was Mine Brook, which empties into the Connecticut River a quarter of a mile away.
Ruth and her late husband, John, purchased this unusual property, located between Middle Haddam’s Episcopal and Second Congregational churches, from a veteran of the Spanish-American War. The year was 1956. They raised their two sons, Jim and Bill, here, did a lot of restoration and made improvements, and, of course, the place with those soothing water sounds became an integral part of their family life, particularly Jim’s.
“When I married and moved out of the house to East Hampton, I couldn’t sleep,” Jim told us. He consulted doctors, tried various medications, and even went so far as to have an operation for what was thought to be a deviated septum. Nothing worked. Then one day he purchased a sleep recording of waterfall sounds–and he’s slept like a baby ever since. Now even his wife of 18 years relies on those recorded waterfall sounds.
Ruth loves the sounds, too, and even now isn’t totally convinced she should sell. But, as Jim and Bill point out to her repeatedly, it’s really too much house for her at this point in her life. They’re asking $550,000 (with almost one acre).
But where will she go? we wondered. “Well,” Ruth replied slowly, “if I must go, then I want something nearby and on water.”
“We’re looking,” Jim said, adding that he’ll feel sad, too. “When I sold my store and gas station a few years ago, it was a while before I could drive by–and this place is even more a part of us. But it’s time.”
Later, after coffee and delicious muffins, we meandered around the various rooms. Built between 1780 and 1786 by a sea captain by the name of Elijah Johnson, for whom the house is named in various histories, it is today a two-story structure built into the side of a slope, with original foundation walls on two sides. The entire building is currently sheathed in cement-board siding, but much of the interior was protected over the years by a layer of sheetrock and has since been restored. There are five bedrooms but just the one bathroom downstairs, although it’s situated beneath a very large bedroom upstairs, which could easily accommodate another. The large fireplace in the cellar, one of three in the house, has a beehive oven. Flooring and wallpaper remnants suggest that the basement was used as a living space in the 19th century and, with a little work, could be again. A new owner might want to modernize the kitchen, but it’s also perfectly fine as is. And we loved the heated porch overlooking the falls.
After touring the house, we walked with Jim up to that waterfall. Apparently it has plenty of flowing water year-round. Jim told us about playing hockey on the pond, now partially filled in, above the falls and how he once seriously considered having the falls generate power for the house. Certainly, we agreed, something a new owner might want to do.
But if you’re seriously considering becoming the new owner of this unusual and very historic property, we have a little advice for you: i.e., best be sure Jim and Bill have found a nice new place for their mother–”nearby and on water.”