by Larry Austin
A small piece of the 19th century has found a new home on Baseline Road, thanks to a two-year effort by an Island family.
Bryce Shipman and his wife Robin are inviting Islanders to visit their home at the corner of Baseline and Fix roads to see an 1840s carriage house that Bryce found on a property near Ransomville, disassembled, transported to the Island and reassembled piece by piece over the last two years.
Other than some modern vinyl siding on the outside, the house looks as if it has always stood 280 feet behind the former Asa Ransom House, now owned by the Shipmans. It's tucked in behind the Grand Island Fire Co. substation on Baseline and nearly invisible from the road. Friends and neighbors are knocking on the Shipman door looking for the piece of 1840s architecture that the Shipmans and their friends have established.
"In fact, people are constantly asking, 'Where is the carriage house? Where is this place you keep talking about?' " Bryce said.
"They don't even see it back here."
"We're tucked back in here, and everyone tells us this is like a cabin in the woods because it's so far away from everyone, and you can't really get to it," he added.
The entire house is a period work of art. Small, two stories and just 18 feet by 26 feet in size, the rooms look spacious inside without the requisite television and electronics of modern homes.
"We are willing to show it to anybody who wants to see it," Bryce Shipman said. "Take a walk back into the 1800s."
Once inside, visitors will see the exposed beams and hand-hewn logs, and even the 170-year-old circular saw marks on the wood of the floor, which came from the roof of the original structure.
"The water saw up in Lewiston from the 1800s cut all these black walnuts. We incorporated as much of that into the floor as possible. That's really cool," Bryce said.
"We took all the pieces from the outside and put them on the inside, so the whole inside of the carriage house is actually barn wood," Shipman said.
Shipman dealt with some termites on the surface of some boards, "But that just adds to the ambiance of the whole room."
The original structure was owned by Shelley Sheehan of Dickersonville Road in the Town of Porter. Shipman paid her a visit two years ago when he was looking for siding, but he ended up taking the whole building, numbering each piece, and reassembling it with the help of friends and family in a type of barn-raising in the fall of 2010.
"Oh, the precision. We took it apart and put it back together without missing a beat," Bryce said. "It went right back together the same way it came apart. By numbering it, it gave us the ability to know where they went and it was just a matter of nailing and putting it back together because it did not deviate one bit from the time we started putting it back together."
Like builders in the past, Shipman let nothing go to waste. 'Every piece of wood that was taken down was re-salvaged in some way in the house, that's for sure."
Shipman even used five pin oaks from the property as beams for the new porch on the recommendation of a volunteer.
"My wife said, 'I wish we had a porch.' And that's all it took. I said we need to use up this wood anyway, so we put the porch on."
It could act as a guesthouse or an art studio for his wife, Bryce Shipman said. Though Robin likes the idea now, when Bryce went to his wife with the thought of moving the whole house back home, she wasn't keen on the idea at first.
"Yeah, when I went to Robin, I told her, I said, 'Rob, I need you to look at this picture on Craig's List. And she was like, "No, we can't do that."
"In fact, she didn't want it. She didn't want the carriage house at all when we first got there. She said, 'Drive on by,' because it was green and it was really ugly," Bryce said. "I said, 'Well, we told her we were coming. We've at least got to stop in to her house. And when we stopped in and finally went inside the structure, once we got into the carriage house, and the fact that the stairway was so cool, she said okay.'"
"All she said was, 'Well, you're going to have to get it there, but I'm not sure what you're going to do.' And it set behind our garage for a year under tarps because I just didn't have time to do anything," Bryce said.
In the end, Bryce said, he couldn't have done the job without his wife and children, who he said are "at the top of the list" to thank them for making the project a reality.
"We've had lots of people volunteer, tons of people from the church," he said. People have continued to gather and help since the initial barn-raising.
"The barn-raising was the easiest part," Shipman said, "but that laid the groundwork for the rest of the structure."
Shipman said hard work followed, including putting in insulation, getting supplies, dealing with termites, putting in plumbing, shingling by himself, and falling off the roof twice.
Bryce's 21-year-old son Jake had a love-hate relationship with the process.
"Dad, I'm going to burn this thing to the ground, because you're going to die," his son Jake said.
Despite the hard times, "friends came through when we needed them with advice," Shipman said. "Anytime we had a problem we would call contractors and they would come out and tell us what we needed to do and told us what we were doing wrong."
Doug Learman of the Town of Grand Island code enforcement advised also.
"Without him it wouldn't have got done right," Shipman said. "He was a stickler for all the codes, and we wanted to follow the codes."
Though the house has electricity, it won't have modern electronics.
"It's quiet. We don't have television; we've got old board games," Bryce said.
"No WiFi, which my daughter laments. She goes, 'Dad, we've got to get a big television.' I'm like, 'Nah, we're not there, kid.'"
The endeavor was inspired by the Shipmans' love for history.
"My wife and I have always liked post and beam structures, and, I don't know, we just like the past," Shipman said. "I think by maintaining this and not losing this structure, we're honoring the past. We just kind of like the thought of living in an old rustic cabin out in the woods somewhere."
"Even though we're right in the middle of Grand Island, we feel like when summer hits we're going to be out in the woods somewhere pretty far away, just by walking into this room."
"It's like walking back in time," Shipman said.