Restoration of the Oliver House
By John & Cathy Giannini November 12. 2021
Published by Milton Renaissance Foundation
Before we bought it in early 2003, the Oliver House was essentially unaltered and abandoned for the last 35 years. Constructed in 1845, the small cottage (15' X 30') is very visible, and one of only four 1-story Greek Revival style houses built on high basements with Italianate porches in Milton. At the time it had only four rooms, ghost lines for the front and back porches, a central chimney, a hip roof and four 9 over 9 double hung sash windows. The wooden floor on the first level had rotted away leaving only dirt and a very low ceiling that would not meet current code. No bathroom or kitchen were attached. There was also no way to get to the second floor except for a ladder. The water well just outside the back door had caved in. To use the phrase "dilapidated" or "on the edge of collapse" was an understatement, but it was calling our name so we signed on the dotted line.
Photo by Siler Rothrock.
Looking at the positives, the Oliver House is in Milton, NC, historic district and had a "new" metal roof (12 years old). Two of the three mantels and most of the chair and floor moldings were still intact. The sash windows still opened and the four original doors were still on the property. The outside, second floor weathered boards were salvageable. We could see possibilities! Truth be told, we could have torn down the whole cottage and replaced it in less time and for less money, but we were in it for the real restoration process.
Just two blocks from the historic Thomas Day House, the Oliver House was placed by it's previous owners under Preservation North Carolina (PNC) restrictive covenants. PNC is a statewide, non-profit corporation, whose mission is to protect and promote sites important to the diverse heritage of North Carolina. We used the Department of Interior guidelines in the cottage's restoration because they offered five years of federal and state tax credits to help pay for the work. The process involved a good deal of paperwork and photos taken for validation of diligent progress and now when we look back through the pictures and writings it is daunting to see all the work and love we put into the cottage's restoration.
The Oliver House's basement first floor was three-brick deep with walls crumbing from moisture and exposure. We hired a structural engineer to give us advice on immediate foundation stabilization. Opting to replace all four walls, one at a time, created the appearance of the cottage walking on stilts!