The front facade of Heller House remained largely unchanged since Michael Heller built it and four generations of Stevers owned it, that is until the 1930s, when the owner “updated” the house, turning it into a Colonial Revival farm house.
First, a white Colonial Revival porch with two columns was built with two sets of stone steps leading away from the house.
This present front porch which did not exist in the original plan as seen in earlier photographs, is constructed of a barrel vault-ceiling, and supported by two wooden columns. A wrought iron banister and handrail was anchored into the concrete porch floor and into the stone walls of the house for support.
The front door entry was also modernized: the entire wall the width and height of the hall was removed and replaced with a Colonial front door, flanked by two narrow side lights. An arched colonial-style transom window replaced the simple, original rectangular panes over the door.
The basement was excavated, its contents removed and deposited in front of the house forming a terraced bank of earth. This elevated the soil line considerably, raising the lawn to its present height.
Miraculously though, beneath the overhang of the roof over the fascia, original woodworking details seemingly remain untouched since the time first applied. In all likelihood, the exterior stone was not covered in stucco.
By December, the cellar was pressure-washed several times with a chlorine solution to eradicate mold and mildew. After cleaning and establishing adequate lighting, assessments on the condition of the beams were made. The discovery of moisture wicking through the mortar at ground level contributed to rotting the butts of the floor beams. Dampness and the presence of termites contributed to instability of the building. Coupled with dry rot in other places of the beams required the installation of new lumber.
Posts were installed on the concrete floor against the walls where floor beams butted into the walls, and a lintel enabled the floor above to rest on these supports. Erickson used non-arsenic preservative posts and lintels which should render the structure stable at the cellar level for many years.
Two WWI steel I-beams from nearby Bethlehem Steel Corp. installed in the 1930s support the center floor above, further indicating dampness as the culprit weakening the beams.
An old inadequate furnace was removed along with early knob and tube electric service.
On the first floor, the kitchen required intensive restoration by removing the floor, starting on the northwest corner. This revealed evidence of a doorway which opened opposite the south wall of the Heller House, giving easy access to the nearby root cellar.
The fireplace hearth and beehive oven were restored back to their original condition with the removal of stone and debris, “enough to fill a dump truck,” said Erickson. The beehive oven requires an exterior door to remove burned ash, according to Erickson, which was sealed over years earlier. The chimney still needs work to draw an adequate draft up the flue so smoke doesn’t billow into the room.
The kitchen ceiling was re-plastered. As in the cellar, the knob and tube electric service was removed from the kitchen and the entire building. New electric service was installed according to code, allowing period wall lights to illuminate the rooms.
The second floor interior walls revealed a few surprises: horse and hog hair mixed with the mortar for the stone walls, then several layers of plaster covered the stone. The discovery of a thin layer of canvas, most likely adhered to the plaster with wheat paste was covered with a lime green and/or red oxide paint applied on the surface.
The attic floor was cleaned of a layer of coal dust. This enabled air conditioning duct work to be concealed.
With the foresight of former owners and a little bit of luck, Erickson discovered in the nearby garage all of the original exterior doors to the Widow’s House with original hardware. Once cleaned and stripped of several layers of paint, the doors will be hung in their perspective doorways.
Lastly, all c.1950 aluminum storm windows and screens were removed. Future projects include the restoration of original windows, from mullions to glass.
When the two original door entries into the building are installed and the restored doors hung, the two porches in front of the doors will be researched and rebuilt. These were removed well after 1923 with new ownership, and depending on their condition, may have been removed due to their age and condition
During the mid-1930s, the most profound and modern alterations occurred to the interior of the house.
In the hall, a colonial-style staircase replaced an earlier one, and narrow oak flooring was applied over the original wide planks. One
room on the second-floor shows evidence of original chair rail in the plaster. The doors appear to be original. Since no electric service existed, a central circuit box was installed in the basement, providing full electric service throughout the house. Telephone service was available as lines were installed on Friedensville Road.
The installation of a coal-burning furnace, later converted to fuel oil, heated hot water for cast iron radiators in every room.
Plumbing was retro-fitted from the basement to the second floor. Replacing an earlier wood-burning hearth, the kitchen was modernized twice: once in the 1930s and again in the 1950s.
A sun-room was added off the kitchen’s south wall, the floor concealing an ancient hand-dug, brick-lined well.
Two bathrooms were added at this time—a powder room off the kitchen on the first floor, and a full bathroom over the kitchen on the second.
The random-width flooring planks seen in most of the rooms were cut from nearby woodlands.
A pristine attic still features original floor planks, lath and plaster walls, and peg and beam roof construction.
Saw blade marks made by the sawmill are still visible as are the chiseled Roman numerals, indicating the placement of beams during construction.
The Widow’s House, built in 1850, was the home of Peter and Anna Stever. Peter was the brother of Baltzer Stever—second owner of Heller Homestead. The Widow’s House eventually became a rental property for tenants after the 1930s.
The kitchen required intensive restoration by removing the floor, starting on the northwest corner. This revealed evidence of a doorway which opened opposite the south wall of the Heller House. A second door was originally placed in front of the building where a window is at present.
The fireplace hearth and beehive oven were restored back to their original condition. The chimney still needs work to draw an adequate draft up the flue.
When the two original and restored entry doors are installed and window shutters replaced, the two front porches will be researched and rebuilt. These were removed well after 1923 due to their age and condition.