Nancy Sorbella of Carmel, N.Y., looks at the dated and faded wallpaper on the walls, the exposed wood above the master bedroom ceiling, the flaking paint in the kitchen and the boarded up windows of an old and dilapidated Newton home and sees something no one else sees: potential.
The 112-year-old property at 427 N. Third Ave. E. has certainly seen better days, and Sorbella ought to know better than anyone. It belonged to her great-grandmother’s sister from 1910 to 1965, before it was passed down to her daughters from 1965 to 1985. Sorbella remembers the Victorian farmhouse well.
“I used to come every summer growing up with my mom,” Sorbella said. “We’d stay with my grandparents, so I was always here. I brought friends here and lived here in the summer. I loved the house and I took pictures. There are like five other houses in the neighborhood that were in my family.”
However, those other properties did not resonate with her as much as this home.
Although she lives 1,000 miles away, Sorbella visits Newton almost every month. She said her family lineage in Newton dates back to the 1800s. Which is an impressive feat considering the city wasn’t established until 1846. Sorbella’s mother, Mary Jo Niskin, still lives in Newton.
Following in the footsteps of her mother — who serves on the city’s historic preservation commission at age 94 — Sorbella has a passion to maintain the history of the property. So far she has chronicled her journey and progress through the Instagram account @1910carlhouse.
“When I found this, it resonated with me because it was in my family and I’ve seen it when it was beautiful,” Sorbella said inside the entryway of the house. “I’m really into historic preservation. We like old houses and my mom is so into that, too. I might as well restore a house here in Newton.”
HOW ON EARTH DID SHE FIND THIS PLACE?
While on a visit to town, Sorbella was shown some of the old family homes to pass time. The house she remembered from her childhood had since become abandoned, was open to the elements and became a victim of squatters. It was an eyesore for neighbors, if they could see it behind the forest of weeds.
By the time she made it back home in New York, Sorbella could not stop thinking about the old house. She researched the home and was able to track down the owner. After working with the former owner’s attorney, Sorbella was able to acquire the home and begin the process of saving it.
During a recent trip to Newton, Sorbella visited the home. Roger Seiser, a local contractor, cleared the house of hoarded materials and trash before Sorbella arrived. Amongst the refuse was also treasure, like a vintage RCA Victor radio and an ornate doorbell. But Sorbella was mostly interested to see the space.
Seiser said there was “about five to six feet” of detritus in every room before he and his crews began packing it all in dumpsters in the spring. It took a couple months to remove everything. Some items were recovered for Sorbella to sift through, mementos that could bring out the home’s historic character.
With a flashlight in hand, Sorbella toured through the home on Aug. 1. It’s showing its age, and the amount of damage to the structure would require extensive work and a lot of money. But rather than be scared off by the thought of all that, Sorbella only became more determined to see the project through.
“It might be too much or I might be out of my mind,” Sorbella said. “But when I make my mind up, I pretty much do it. I’m not sure how I’m going to get there exactly, but I think I will … I’m so excited, and I’m so excited to figure out what’s next. I’m just trying to do something good.”
Seiser added, “And I tell you what, the neighbors are excited for it, too.”
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext 560 or email@example.com