Editor’s note: This story was published exclusively in The Jefferson Chronicle DIGEST magazine prior to being made available online. To receive the DIGEST magazine when it is released digitally, subscribe free.
The old Winterbottom home – maybe you know it. It’s that big white house on Cozy Lake Road. There’s an old pine tree in front with a branch growing out of it that could be a tree unto itself. There’s the beautiful wraparound porch with the life-sized carved bear out front. It’s the place where the lights are always burning: 147 Cozy Lake Road, for the right-brained reader. It’s a house with some history, and due to one family in town, it’s a house with a warm, welcoming present (and presence) … and every chance for a bright future.
Erin and Rainer Engenhart closed on their home in May of 2002, and moved in just about one year later. Their first look at the house was not auspicious. Rainer fell through the porch, and again through the dining room floor. There were beams dangling from the ceiling, feasted on by termites. The furnishings, pipes, wires, fixtures, and appliances had long since been salvaged by the industrious and bold. The house was barely a shadow of its past lives or its current incarnation. To say the least, the decision to buy was motivated more by good feelings than good sense; and yet they bought, and they moved in.
Erin, a native of Holmdel in Monmouth County, and Rainer, originally from a small rural village in Germany, soon began to notice odd quirks of their “new” home. The rafters in the small sitting room were made of whole trees. Much of the joining was done without use of nails or other fasteners. As they ripped off the decrepit siding, they discovered a bronze eagle with the date 1768 under its feet. And then came a knock at the door. A photographer from the Jefferson Township Historical Society, hoping to shoot the home, told them a little about the history of the building into which the couple and their four daughters were settling.
After learning of the roots, so to speak, of the building where the six were building their nest, the Engenharts made a decision to proceed with a light touch. They agreed that the history of the home was worth preserving, but, as he put it, “we wanted to live in a home, not a museum.” After turning down numerous contractors who enthusiastically offered to tear down the house and build a beautiful new one, they found some people who would work with them on their vision. And through the years, their vision has come to light.
Oh, about the lights (always on) – Erin just feels it makes the home look as warm and welcoming as she hopes it seems to others. They love the idea that they are connected to the town’s past and present. From the lights to the big friendly bear to sitting out on the porch and chatting with passersby, they want to be as hospitable as this town has been to them.
One day, the couple had another knock at the door; it was descendants of the original Winterbottoms. Erin has a way of making strangers feel they have waited far too long to visit, and the guests were quickly ushered out to the porch for a genial talk, cradled in well-worn Adirondack chairs. The visitors expressed their shock and appreciation that the Engenharts had followed their grandfather’s landscaping so closely. Pleading ignorance, the hosts quickly learned that the driveway had been lined in lilac bushes as far back as any could remember. Erin and Rainer saw no such thing when they moved in, but they did plant cultivars from a huge old bush in the back yard along the drive. Sometimes history makes itself heard if it finds affection and care enough to give it a voice.
The old Winterbottom house and the Jefferson transplants with their blended family … the old rafters and the modern kitchen … the growing lilacs in the shade of a hundred-year-old tree: This is our town. It takes a slow hand to carry the past forward with us into the modern day. It costs time, and money, and effort – it takes compromise, and vision, and a lot of heart. But this is Jefferson at its best: a town with our roots in history, our eyes on the future … and our lights on to welcome all comers.