Cobblehurst is a landmark on Ridge Road in Gasport
The Cobblestone Museum’s planned reopening July 15 will be a welcome event, according to Museum director Doug Farley.
In light of the coronavirus, new safety precautions will be observed. Traditional cobblestone tours will still be offered this summer, but by appointment only at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Each tour will be limited to four people from the same household or group. Guests and docents will be required to wear a mask. Reservations and payments should be made in advance on the museum’s website or by phone.
A highlight of the reopening will be the unveiling of a painting of Cobblehurst, a historic cobblestone home at 8856 Ridge Rd. in Gasport. That artwork has been donated by owners Victor Monter and Julie Scanio.
The couple, who have just sold the home, have done a fantastic job of preserving the structure for the benefit of everyone, including future generations, Farley said.
“We are so happy to celebrate their achievement by displaying the painting,” he said.
Farley said Cobblehurst has always been a building that has garnered a lot of interest from folks, and the Cobblestone Society was very pleased when the owners allowed them to include the building on their 2019 Cobblestone Tour of Homes.
“Based on attendance reported after the event, Cobblehurst was the most visited site on the nine-building tour,” Farley said.
According to information provided by the current owners, Cobblehurst was originally built in 1834-36 as a Quaker church. The Quakers buried their dead in an adjacent cemetery during this period.
A history of the house, compiled by Darrell Mantei in July 2000, says the Quakers moved to new quarters in Gasport in 1905. The building sat vacant until 1917 until it was purchased by a Mrs. Pratt from Albion in 1917. Mantei writes that Pratt remodeled the house with exquisite taste and much money.
She toured Europe for ideas and brought back the iron fireplace utensils. She had a cellar hand dug under the building, with 5-foot thick walls to support the foundation; added a second story with the construction of six dormers; built a cobblestone wall on the north and west sides of the property; added a pantry room, porches, patio, garage with apartments for servants and a toolshed; all of which remain in good repair today.
Inside, the house was done in Mission style, with the liberal use of oak in the stairway, baseboards, cupboards and built-in drawers and leaded glass wall cases. Pratt appointed the house with several stained glass windows (which the current owners said are Tiffany), the iron fireplace utensils from Scotland and three hanging five-bulb bronze light fixtures from the Roycroft Guild in East Aurora. All remain in good shape and working order today.
Mantei lived in the home with his wife Barbara and raised their children there after purchasing Cobblehurst from the William Webster family in 1967.
Monter and Scanio also provided a column written by former Orleans County historian and longtime director of the Cobblestone Museum C.W. “Bill” Lattin, called “Bethinking of Old Orleans,” in which he writes about Emma Reed Nelson Webster, a one-time owner of Cobblehurst.
Lattin had no recollection or information on the owner identified as “Mrs. Pratt.” However, in a notebook which Monter shared, there is a lengthy, hand-written letter by a man who was hired to help build the house and he speaks about Mrs. Nelson having a nephew in Kenmore named Pratt.
Lattin also shared in his column that Emma Reed Nelson Webster was a philanthropist who endowed the Orleans County community with both physical and financial gifts. Her first husband was Dr. Edwin J. Nelson, a dentist in Utica who also had an interest in a knitting mill. After his death, Emma married Frank D. Webster, a former resident of Barre who later ran a truck farm on Long Island.
It says Emma never forgot her native home or relations and often visited Albion for family reunions. She also purchased and donated the brick home on North Main and Linwood Avenue in Albion for the home of Daughters of the American Revolution. Emma and her husband eventually purchased the former Quaker cobblestone meeting house on Ridge Road and remodeled it into a residence called “Cobbleshurst.” (According to this information, it was the Websters who named the residence Cobblehurst.) Lattin said it was Emma who laid out the elaborate gardens, stone walls and garden pond and built the sun porch on the north side. Owners in the 1950s and 60s added the pool, he said.
As Lattin also wrote that Emma died in 1931, it is reasonable to assume that William Webster, from whom the Manteis purchased Cobblehurst, was a descendent of Emma and Frank D. Webster. Mantei’s writeup states that after Mrs. Pratt died, the house was used as a bed and breakfast in the 1920s. He said five or six families called Cobblehurst home during the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. He said some raised gladioli, one raised chickens and it was a restaurant briefly. There is no information on the date when the Websters purchased the property.
Monter and Scanio have the guest book from the 1920s when the home was a bed and breakfast. It is full of compliments on the hospitality and the cuisine.
Mantei also wrote that Cobblehurst was the site for the broadcast of a morning breakfast show at one time.
Cobblehurst had again been abandoned and sat empty for seven years when Monter and Scanio purchased it.
The young couple met on a blind date. Scanio grew up in Tonawanda, and Manter in the Southern Tier. He attended Jamestown Community College, and then transferred to Buffalo State and the University of Buffalo to study mechanical engineering. He worked in Buffalo for 15 years, having a very successful career in his profession. Seven years ago, just before he met Scanio, he bought his first house in Lockport – an 1860s home, which he renovated.
Soon after meeting Scanio, Monter bought another property – a large commercial building in Lockport. Scanio had an antique store on the first floor and there were apartments upstairs. By now, Monter had the “bug,” and they purchased several others to renovate and rent.
After the couple married and had their son, Bradley, who is now 4, Monter decided to change his career. He was working as director of business development for a plastics company in Niagara Falls, a position he gave up to become a landlord.
“I was gone all day and getting home late at night,” Monter said. “I never saw my son, so I decided to leave my career.”
Monter said they buy the worst houses and renovate them into buildings which totally amaze people.
“I’m a one-man band,” he said. “I have several who help when I need it, but I do 98 percent of the work myself. Being an engineer, I can also do the blueprints.”
He is currently doing two major renovations in Gasport, one which has been sitting for years and the other an 1850s building with the foundation collapsing and the roof caving in.
They were expecting Bradley when they decided they needed a bigger place.
“I wanted an older house, and Julie was adamant about having a pool,” Monter said.
Cobblehurst fit both their wishes.
“We looked at it, and it was in such bad shape,” Monter said. “It had been empty for eight years and the roof leaked. The hardwood floors in the Great Room were all warped, in some places raised six to eight inches. Plaster was cracked on the walls and hanging from the ceilings.”
But the house had an enclosed sun porch on the front with a pool.
They closed on the property July 3 five years ago.
Not only did Monter take up every piece of flooring, sand it and trim it to fit, but replastered all the walls and ceilings, installed new electrical service and converted one of the five bedrooms upstairs into a walk-in closet. Outside they removed five dump truck loads of leaves.
“We got a ton of history with this house,” Monter said of the 5,200 square-foot home.
He explained it was built on a sand bar in a dried up lake bed under the house. The home sits on 2 1/2 acres. If they had stayed there, Monter was planning to clean out and rebuild a pond in the west yard. He said none of the materials used in the house are native to the area. Mrs. Pratt had everything (except the cobblestones) imported from Europe. Cobblehurst was one of the first homes on Ridge Road with electricity and running water, he added.
The last year it was a bed and breakfast, more than 400 people visited from all over the world, he said.
In addition to the giant fireplace in the Great Room, there is another in the master bedroom upstairs.
The couple made the decision over a year ago to live in Gasport five months of the year and set up permanent residence in Florida, where they plan to buy in a retirement community. They put Cobblehurst up for sale, and when there were no prospective buyers, they decided to stay and have a winery there. A small room overlooking the west lawn was converted into a tasting room and they applied for all the necessary permits.
“We had only five days left in our realtor’s contract and we weren’t going to relist it,” Monter said. “The same day I got my permit in the mail, we got an offer on the house.”
They are in the process of moving into an apartment in the building he is renovating in Gasport. They currently own more than a dozen rentals in the Lockport area, and Monter is looking at another “fixer-upper” on Route 31.
Monter said he first talked to Farley several years ago and asked him if he had any history on Cobblehurst. When Farley asked Monter and Scanio if they would participate in the tour of homes, they said, “Let’s do it.”
“We expected a dozen or so people, but two tour buses pulled up in front, followed with cars by the dozens,” Monter said.
The new owners, who will be moving in shortly, are a couple from the United Kingdom, Monter said.