The old Robinson house, one of Millville’s historic landmarks for more than 100 years, is looking rather sprightly at its new location on Cedar Drive.
This two-story farmhouse was the place many locals will remember from its old location — the fields across the street from the Millville Emergency Center. The last Robinson descendant to live there, Pearl Robinson, said parts of the home dated back to the early 1800s — and the new owner, Charlotte Conaway, confirmed those dates.
Conaway tackled what some may have considered a daunting task, in purchasing the old Robinson place. But she didn’t hesitate to take it on. In fact, Conaway said she’d purchased the house even before the movers had settled it onto its new foundations on Cedar Drive.
“I kept seeing it out there, and I knew they were getting ready to move it,” she said. “I thought, ‘Someone ought to try to fix it up, try to restore it a little bit.’ I just thought it would be too bad to let it go.”
Conaway said it would have been impossible to restore the home to its original condition — she needed to make some serious structural improvements, for instance. And while they had originally planned to save the plaster and lath, she said they’d lost too much of the original insulation (which consisted of shredded newspapers).
“We had to rebuild it from the bottom up,” she said. However, other than a small, 12-foot by 12-foot addition at the back (mud room, utility closet, half-bath), Conaway did preserve the home’s basic exterior.
They saved the “fish scale” shingle siding under the eaves, and the scrolled woodwork gracing the gable over the broad front porch. Elsewhere, the home still sports the traditional look of lap siding — unless you look closely, you might think Conaway had simply rolled on a fresh coat of paint.
She said they stripped off the old aluminum siding, considered saving the boards, then removed them, too — and then agonized over what to put back. “It was either vinyl or new wood,” Conaway recalled thinking at the time. “But wood is really, really expensive — and I didn’t think vinyl would do it justice.”
After a little research, she settled on cement fiberboard instead, in a muted, natural tone. “I’ve learned a lot about materials,” Conaway pointed out.
Inside, she’s opened and enlarged the kitchen area, adding some modern amenities — but leaving some classical touches, too.
To the maximum extent possible, Conaway said they’d tried to leave all the first-floor ceiling beams exposed. For some reason, one of them was never finished and remains rough-hewn, providing a bit of rustic charm.
And she’s left one of the original uprights exposed, too. That beam bears the round pegs and rectangular notches of the old mortise-and-tenon construction — and runs from the foundation all the way up to the attic, above the second floor.
Elsewhere around the house, Conaway recognized Joe Skinner for his work in refinishing an original mantelpiece (now for a gas fireplace), built-in cabinets and various sets of doors.
The narrow double door at the front entrance still bears the original hardware, and there’s a unique set of double pocket doors — the originals — leading from the large living room area into the kitchen/dining room.
A tiny spiral staircase leads from the kitchen to a second-story bedroom, and onward to the attic. (The main staircase descends at right angles into the living room.)
Conaway has refinished that bedroom and two others, adding a bathroom in the master bed. The other bath was once the one and only, she pointed out — it was huge, reflecting the old practice of simply setting one entire room aside for the purpose.
Conaway has replaced the free-standing tub, but maintained a somewhat old-fashioned feel by installing side-by-side pedestal sinks instead of a modern, two-bowl vanity.
The project’s been a year in the making, but Conaway commended local contractor Gordon Price’s crew, and Joe Skinner for his work in restoring some of the old woodwork to its original luster.
“If I had the money, I’d do it all over again,” she noted. “It was really interesting, and seeing the old place restored makes it all worthwhile.”