Sunday, June 15, 2014

In Remembrance of "Cedar Cottage"

This is quite similar to that first apartment.

        When I was in college, my husband and I lived in a brick garden apartment in a suburban area. This allowed me to get to all the clinical sites in which we were rotated.  As soon as I graduated, I wanted to move to a place that had a place for a garden, and for pets.  In 1981, in Northwestern New Jersey, about thirty five minutes West of New York City, such a thought may have well been a pipe dream.  Most people laughed at the idea of a young couple being able to buy a home in New Jersey.  Being potentially commutable to jobs in New York City made housing in that area of New Jersey, incredibly expensive. The property taxes, even then, were exceedingly high also.  Still, this is what we knew, and what we wanted. We wanted to own a home we could afford.  It took a number of realtors and almost a year of working on looking every weekend and a fair measure of luck, before we eventually located what was likely the only house we could afford.

                  In Northwestern New Jersey, nestled in the Ramapo Mountain Range was a cedar home on the side of a mountain trail.   It had been built in the 1940s as a small Summer home near a lake.  Although it had been intended to be a vacation home, the young couple who owned it prior had done a good job of making it look and feel like a year round home. They were moving now because they had recently had a baby and needed more space.  For those of you who remember 1981, there had been a recession. The interest rates for housing were fourteen and a half percent if you were lucky enough to find someone who would lend to you. The problem was not simply the exorbitant housing costs in the region, and the high taxes, and very high interest rates at the time, as well.  We were eventually lucky enough to owner finance the house, which was doubly a blessing because we had only the meager credit rating we attained through one student loan. The closing of the house so  tentative and so "skin on your teeth" that we weren't sure, even during the closing itself, that it would occur at all. We left the closing with only seventy dollars cash left in the world.

                 Just after, we joyously gave notice at our apartment and moved into our new home. They had a waiting list and so they didn't mind at all that we were departing, and that they could likely raise the rent we had been paying.   The new house was a lovely cedar sided ranch home.  When we acquired it, it had a living room, and eat in kitchen, one full bathroom, one closet, and two bedrooms.  It also had an attic and a basement with a partially dirt floored cellar.   It had a lovely landscaped front and back yard with much shade. It also had only about 500 square feet !   The first thing we needed to do was sell our bedroom suite.   Our new home was small enough that every piece of furniture had to be selected specifically for the space available.  In fact, even its stove was a special small stove, not unlike the type you might find in a New York City apartment.

                    It didn't take long for us to understand how tight the space really was.  We coped by paying bills and eating breakfast on the picnic table outside.  Next, we  built bookcases and built in niches in walls.  We had a local handyman advise us on planning and next we had closets added to the bedrooms. We parted with the larger furniture which had been in our garden apartment some of which sat in the basement..
In the first Winter, we learned how cold a "Summer house" really could be. The following year, when our income tax refund came, we had insulation blown into the exterior walls.   Our little house might have been shockingly tiny to my mother, but I loved this small home.  Everything from the kitchen to the bathroom was highly organized and neat. It simply had to be.

This is an example of how we placed clustered built in shelves in white walls, in almost every room.

                    Three years later we had new space challenges when our daughter was born.   At about  the same time we had a complete new septic system installed which necessitated a total dig up of the entire yard. We replaced the oil forced air heating system with a new one.  We had the entire home rewired and electrically updated.  The following year, we were expecting a second child, and we commissioned an addition to the house which improved the issue of such low square footage.  This was a big deal because building on a non-conforming house (by virtue of small size for the area) required a variance as well as taking a small second mortgage.   The addition was complete and we once again loved our home as we brought home a second baby, this time a son.  The addition had its certificate of occupancy two days before I brought our son home from the hospital !

                    It didn't take long for us to realize that although with tight and careful planning, we could manage two babies there, but that as they grew, the size of the house would be somewhat handicapping.  Our private mortgage was not a thirty year variety and would be paid off much sooner than most others, even with a small second mortgage. . We were reticent about taking on a thirty year mortgage and about owing much more money. We also really loved the house we had put so much work into.  Still, property taxes were very high in the region and they were likely to continue to climb. Buying a larger home in New Jersey didn't seem possible. We looked at several homes but I couldn't work more than part time with two small babies. In fact, working at all with such tiny children was difficult.  We were already struggling as a new family of four.

                    The matter was settled on a short vacation trip to the Richmond, Virginia area in the mid eighties. While in Richmond,  I happened to grasp a Homes magazine, and I said, "If that house is that price, then I'll buy it."   At the time, the up and coming suburban counties within commuting distance to Richmond which were as yet, largely undiscovered, were very reasonable. We called a realtor, who showed us twelve other houses before showing us the one we had actually called him about from the magazine.  When we looked at it, we took a cash advance on our debit card and wrote a contract to buy it, contingent on a home inspection.   In a move which showed both the courage and exuberance of youth, we bought the house, and cut our holiday short in order to head back to New Jersey to sell our home there, in order to close on the new house, within the contractual three months. We were naive enough to think that it would all work out, and do so easily. We did not have jobs in Virginia when we initially bought the house.

                     It took a couple of months to sell our beloved "Cedar Cottage". We made home information sheets which were uncommon at the time in NJ, and  left multiple copies of them on the cigarette machines in every restaurant or convenience store in NJ that we could find.   Somehow, the sold on time for our asking price. I don't mean to imply this was easy, because it wasn't.   Our baby son was hospitalized the week before the closing. Almost immediately after the sale  of "Cedar Cottage",  a truck hit our car as we sat in a 7-11 parking lot, just a mile from the closing attorney's office in New Jersey.   However, the house sold and the couple that left the original closing four years earlier, in which the house was purchased with seventy dollars in the world, now left New Jersey with two babies, two dogs, a Ryder truck full of possessions, and enough money to put half down on a normally sized house, and to assume its low interest mortgage.   The "Cedar Cottage" had benefitted from  a family who loved it and updated its essential systems, its garden and its decor, and it paid us to start anew elsewhere in a place with elbow room for us all.    Virginia and all the homes that came after every three to four years or so, has been good to us.  However, I have never forgotten the special feelings conjured by our very own first home.

                    In 2000,  while on a flight to Russia, we happened to speak to a woman behind us on the plane who was a realtor in Northern New Jersey.   Coincidentally, she had sold our "Cedar Cottage"  to someone else !   It was good to know that the house was still being well cared for and had risen in value even more.

                   This week I decided to look up "Cedar Cottage's" address on the internet.    Oddly, nothing came up for the address.    Then I ran the  approximate addresses of neighboring houses.   Then I looked on Google Earth.    Something was wrong !     "Cedar Cottage" was gone !     I wondered if it had burned down.  Then I wondered if a neighbor had bought it and torn it down to get more yard.   This just didn't make sense to me. I was surprised as to how upset I was at the possibility that my beloved first home wasn't there anymore.     I thought about it for a few days and then on Friday,  made some phone calls. I finally had the answer to my quandary

                    "Cedar Cottage" remained the property of the family to which we had sold it until 2000 when it sold again to a single woman.   She kept it until 2007 when she sold it to a single man.    The man had gray vinyl siding placed over the brown cedar siding that I had so well remembered.   In addition, as the area was developed and the mountain trails went higher into the mountain, adjustments were made to the name of the road.   The county kept the original road name that I would have recognized into the lake community, but when the started the curve to ascend the mountain, they changed the name of the road.  "Cedar Cottage" has a new road name and a new house number.   This was made clear on the newest area tax map which says, "road formerly called...." etc.    The new owner also added a new main door to the house, which furthur muddied the waters for me when looking at the Google images.  In addition, the modest lake community which was occupied mostly in Summer has gone decidedly upscale.  Many of the houses received complete revisions or additions following our departure.  Many of the homes which originally had only one story, now have two and look as if they had the benefit of an architects plan for such an addition.  Of all the homes around it, I only really recognized one. I can't tell you how happy I am that "Cedar Cottage" has not only survived but continues to be loved and enjoyed as much as we did. Today, there is less of a disparity in the prices of homes in different states, in part due to the ability of many people to live almost anywhere and telecommute. However, at the time it was still possible to sell high and if you looked carefully, buy more elsewhere for a lower price.

                 I still keep an eye on the other homes in which we have lived, and they are also doing fine.

This is a link to another post I did on another blog concerning this house which discussed small space living:



  1. I read ever word. I miss my birth home even after being gone for 3 years. I do a google search. I ride by and stop when we return to Indiana and Beau whines in the car window, remembering playing in the snow. And I see a house that was purchased not with love, but a low ball figure. The trees, bushes, flowers, and fence are gone. Where once was a loved home surrounded with beauty, is now just a structure, and I want to cry.

    1. LJ,
      I am so sorry. The best we can hope for is that the person either falls in love with the home and crowns it with the lovely touches that your own family did in years of living there, or that a new purchaser does.
      Some years ago, my parents home that I grew up in went to a couple who bought it and changed it in order to sell for a profit. It hurt us every time we drove by. It took years but the third owner after my parents loves the house and when I was last there with my son the house had a new lease on life and really was a home. Have faith that eventually the right family will acquire the home and love it as it deserves.