Old house curatorship programs revisited

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Old House Musings, Old House History

It was almost a year ago that I wrote about the historic old house preservation programs that had been implemented in several states. They’re called historical curatorships and involve a family restoring and maintaining an old house in return for rent free living over a period of time. In many cases the lease is for 25 years, but I have read about some that are for as long as 50 years. At the end of the lease the family normally has the option of renewing so they can continue to enjoy the fruits of their labor or moving. The programs aren’t about rent free living as anyone participating is going to be sinking a lot of their labor and money into the property they’re leasing. They are about saving old houses and an enjoyment of restoration projects.

In the Massachusetts program--photo from willowdalestate.com

In the Massachusetts program--photo from willowdalestate.com

If you are accepted into one of the programs, you’ll normally be given a schedule of tasks to accomplish within a certain period of time to meet the terms of the lease. A couple living in a historical old house in Massachusetts had to have the roof repaired within a year of occupancy and need to build a new barn by the seventh year. Many of the homes have been unoccupied for a long time and are in an advanced state of disrepair. The programs came about due to the states not having money in their budgets to maintain the homes until they could be renovated. Rather than allowing the historic old houses to suffer demolition by neglect, the state administrators were forward thinkers and established their curatorship programs.

New curatorship programs starting?

In the Delaware program--photo from destateparks.com

In the Delaware program--photo from destateparks.com

A county in Delaware was starting the program when I wrote the post last April and programs in Massachusetts and Maryland had already been operating for a few years. A year later all three programs appear to be successful and there are lists in each state of homes awaiting curators. North Carolina has a similar program up and running with the assistance of Preservation North Carolina. There are rumors of programs being started in Vermont and Pennsylvania, but evidently they haven’t been established yet.

A former president of the Lower Makefield Township Historic Commission and the Lower Makefield Historic Society already has the first old house picked out for Pennsylvania’s curatorship program if it begins operating. Helen Heinz has a doctorate in American History and specializes in Pennsylvania history as a college professor. The Satterthwaite House in Bucks County may date back to 1732 and she feels it might be perfect for a curator interested in saving the home in return for free rent.

Old house lovers who enjoy DIY projects might want to do further research on some of the great homes available through these programs and encourage other states to establish similar curatorship preservation plans.


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  1. 4 Responses  to “Old house curatorship programs revisited”

  2. Aug 26, 2011
    Hi Frank. I believe all of the homes are owned by the state governments. They were purchased due to their historical significance and the plan was to eventually restore them. Unfortunately, with the downturn in the economy and empty state coffers that plan was no longer feasible. These programs were created to prevent the homes from suffering further decay.
  3. Aug 26, 2011
    Hi Jeremy, from the condition of some of the homes I saw in the pictures, I would think it might be cheaper to rent a normal house. Most of the homes appeared to need a lot of work. However, if you can do most of the work yourself in your spare time, then it's possible you could come out ahead. As you said, I think the important issue is that historic homes are being saved instead of being lost forever. I think that is the reason many people are tackling the projects.
  4. frank
    Aug 26, 2011
    This is very interesting. How do you get a home approved for this program, as our town has a few old homes that appear to be vacant, but in decent shape?
  5. Jeremy
    Aug 26, 2011
    That is a great idea, I wonder how the cost benefit breaks down? With all the time and materials you spend remodeling the house, would it be potentially cheaper to just pay rent at a normal house? Either way, it is definitely a good thing that old houses are getting rebuilt instead of tore down.