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Turning a Page on an Old House

Grantham Men Dismantle and Sell Off Buildings to Make Room for Library

  • Andy Gelston of Grantham changes the position of his ladders while tearing the roof off a home in Grantham, N.H. Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Gelston works part time at the Dunbar Free Library next door which bought the property the house sits on to make way for an expansion of the library. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Andy Gelston of Grantham changes the position of his ladders while tearing the roof off a home in Grantham, N.H. Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Gelston works part time at the Dunbar Free Library next door which bought the property the house sits on to make way for an expansion of the library.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Joey Holmes, assistant librarian at the Dunbar Free Library in Grantham, checks out an audio book to Deborah Cheever of Grantham Thursday, June 12, 2014. Holmes lived for 23 years early in her life next door to the library in a house that is now being dismantled and sold for salvage to make way for an addition to the library building. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Joey Holmes, assistant librarian at the Dunbar Free Library in Grantham, checks out an audio book to Deborah Cheever of Grantham Thursday, June 12, 2014. Holmes lived for 23 years early in her life next door to the library in a house that is now being dismantled and sold for salvage to make way for an addition to the library building.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Wallpaper  surrounds the front door of the house as it is being dismantled to allow the Dunbar Free Library to expand in Grantham Wednesday, June 11, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Wallpaper surrounds the front door of the house as it is being dismantled to allow the Dunbar Free Library to expand in Grantham Wednesday, June 11, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Peter James of Grantham digs a spirea out of the garden of a home that is being dismantled in Grantham to make way for an expansion of the Dunbar Free Library Wednesday, June 11, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Peter James of Grantham digs a spirea out of the garden of a home that is being dismantled in Grantham to make way for an expansion of the Dunbar Free Library Wednesday, June 11, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Andy Gelston of Grantham has been disassembling a house in Grantham with Tom Ten Haken, not pictured, to make way for an expansion of the Dunbar Free Library Tuesday, June 10, 2014. The pair are selling the salvage to benefit the library.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Andy Gelston of Grantham has been disassembling a house in Grantham with Tom Ten Haken, not pictured, to make way for an expansion of the Dunbar Free Library Tuesday, June 10, 2014. The pair are selling the salvage to benefit the library.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Salvage from the house being dismantled next to Grantham's Dunbar Free Library is being sold to benefit the library, Wednesday, June 11, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Salvage from the house being dismantled next to Grantham's Dunbar Free Library is being sold to benefit the library, Wednesday, June 11, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Andy Gelston of Grantham changes the position of his ladders while tearing the roof off a home in Grantham, N.H. Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Gelston works part time at the Dunbar Free Library next door which bought the property the house sits on to make way for an expansion of the library. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Joey Holmes, assistant librarian at the Dunbar Free Library in Grantham, checks out an audio book to Deborah Cheever of Grantham Thursday, June 12, 2014. Holmes lived for 23 years early in her life next door to the library in a house that is now being dismantled and sold for salvage to make way for an addition to the library building. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Wallpaper  surrounds the front door of the house as it is being dismantled to allow the Dunbar Free Library to expand in Grantham Wednesday, June 11, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Peter James of Grantham digs a spirea out of the garden of a home that is being dismantled in Grantham to make way for an expansion of the Dunbar Free Library Wednesday, June 11, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Andy Gelston of Grantham has been disassembling a house in Grantham with Tom Ten Haken, not pictured, to make way for an expansion of the Dunbar Free Library Tuesday, June 10, 2014. The pair are selling the salvage to benefit the library.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Salvage from the house being dismantled next to Grantham's Dunbar Free Library is being sold to benefit the library, Wednesday, June 11, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Grantham — After nearly 35 years of working part-time at the Dunbar Free Library, Joey Holmes still can’t resist peeking out the south windows once in a while to see what’s going on at her childhood home next door.

For the last 2 1/2 months, she’s been watching people walk and drive away with pieces of the house where she lived the first 23 of her 80 years — a window casement here, some vintage floorboards there — while volunteers dismantle it in preparation for the library’s upcoming expansion, including parking on the neighboring lot.

And the former Joey Dunbar tries not to mourn.

“I kind of hate to see it torn down,” Holmes acknowledged this week. “But I would have hated more to see them just bulldoze it and haul it all to the dump.”

The library’s trustees and director and four other part-time employees were thinking and saying pretty much the same thing, after the library bought the property from its most recent owners in 2009. The trick was finding someone to pull apart the house, the attached former general store, and the barn out back and clear the lot without dipping too deeply into the nearly $385,000 that Grantham taxpayers and library supporters have raised through Town Meeting votes and pledges and bake sales. The whole project is expected to cost between $750,000 and $850,000.

Then one day last winter, Tom Ten Haken was talking in the library with part-time employee Andy Gelston, his neighbor, about Ten Haken’s search for metal roofing with light rust for a do-it-yourself project he was working on in his own house.

“I pointed right through his window at the roof of the barn and said, ‘I want that,’” Ten Haken recalled this week. “It had the perfect patina I needed.”

Next thing they knew, library director Dawn Huston was telling them that all the buildings were coming down, and Gelston suggested that he and Ten Haken lease the lot from the town for a dollar, buy the buildings themselves and try to sell what parts they didn’t use for their own projects. The two men are turning the proceeds over to the library expansion fund.

“The more we talked, the more we convinced ourselves we could do it,” Gelston said on Wednesday, after a morning of peeling shingles off the roof of the main house. “We knew there was a market for things like this, but not how much of a market. It became a matter of taking it apart, and letting the market come to us.”

With snow still covering the ground and with a deadline to clear the lot by the end of June, they set to work in early April. The interior of the main house took up much of the time, as did pulling out window frames without breaking them.

“You’ve got wood that’s 100, 150 years old, some of it nailed tight to other boards,” Gelston said. “It gets dried out. If you’re not careful, it can splinter easily.

“You just have to take it one board at a time. Otherwise, it’s so overwhelming. Tom’s first takeaway was, ‘This place is really big.’ ”

While the house and the former store — which predated Joey Dunbar Holmes’ tenure there — turned out not to contain as many large posts and beams as the salvagers had hoped, those buildings and the barn so far have yielded enough material for do-it-yourselfers to pay about $1,200 into the expansion fund by the middle of this week.

“We’re not asking a lot for the lumber,” Gelston said. “We’re trying to find good homes for it, more than for the money. And we have a scheduling crunch. We don’t have the luxury of letting it sit. So we put on our Old Yankee Trader hats and see what we can get.”

And while the unraveling isn’t yielding much in the way of Antiques Road Show-worthy treasures, some of it has been illuminating: Boston and Manchester newspapers from 1942 between linoleum and plain pine flooring in the main house. A box of newspapers from the early 1880s. Liquor bottles in the walls. Bottles and plates and a 1934 license plate under the barn — “an archaeological midden,” Huston said.

“The frugality of these people has been something to see,” Ten Haken said. “Andy was hoping for a bag of gold, but nothing like that, yet.”

And no shortage of memories for Joey Holmes, whose great-uncle Lorenzo Dunbar in March of 1900 offered the officials of his native town “a tract of land on Main Street and money with which to build a town library in memory of his wife, Ellen,” according to a centennial history of the library by former longtime library trustee Ella Reney.

“There was not much traffic when I was growing up there,” Holmes said. “I was able to roller-skate right out on Route 10 without anyone worrying about me. We heated the place with a coal furnace, and there was no phone. When the fire department built their station in, I think it was 1953, it wasn’t manned, so they had a phone installed in my folks’ home for people to call.”

Meanwhile, the library still was sharing space in the building next door with the office of the Grantham Selectboard, which was heated with wood until the mid-1970s, and the local Ladies’ Aid organization.

“Kerosene lamps provided lighting and a ‘two-holer’ was built at the end of the hall,” Reney wrote in her history of the library.

Holmes recalls how, in her time, children going to the library had their reading decisions made for them by librarian Bernice Howe, daughter of founding librarian J. Madison Howe.

Come the 1990s, the Selectboard relocated to town offices on Dunbar Hill Road, and the library underwent its first major expansion. By the end of the 1990s, a second-phase expansion included extension of the parking lot, installation of central air-conditioning and the connecting of computers.

And still the town, and the library’s needs, kept growing, thanks in no small part to the spread of second homes at Eastman, and a wave of retirees and families. Circulation topped 70,000 books, DVDs and other materials in 2013, up from a bit less than 38,000 in 2003. The current expansion plan envisions renovation of the current building of 2,260 square feet, and an addition of 1,444 square feet that will allow the library to fully comply with regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Huston said. There will also be a near doubling of parking spaces to 30, eliminating the need for patrons to park across Route 10.

Which is why Joey Holmes is taking the fading away of her former home for the team.

“I saw some people the other day bring some timbers to Newport for a house and barn,” she said. “I’m glad to see (the salvaged materials) being used.”

As are the men putting the sweat equity into their removal.

“It ended up being a win-win situation for everybody,” Ten Haken said.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.