An old cottage made from a tōtara log found floating in the Manawatū River more than 150 years ago has undergone an exhaustive restoration at huge expense for a Foxton couple.
Jim and Sarah Harper have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in buying and bankrolling the restoration and relocation of what was the oldest house in the wider Manawatū.
The Harpers bought the house for $130,000 when it was empty in the middle of a farm paddock. They then moved it to a $70,000 section near the centre of Foxton.
The cottage was originally built in 1869 by George Nye, the first Mayor of Foxton. It was relocated from Newth Road to Harbour Street in April last year. It now sits on the same block as Foxton's replica Dutch windmill.
The Harpers are doing it for love.
"We are back-filling a financial hole...oh well, I could have bought a yacht, but this is our passion. We've gone in with our eyes wide open," Jim Harper said.
"We're saving an historical treasure. We wanted to give it a new life because it is very special."
And that was just counting cold cash. The couple had rolled up their sleeves with an estimated 4000 hours of their own labour, evident from the new paint work through to every screw, timber skirting,door handles and locks.
Most screws were cleaned up and reused. Every effort was made to ensure the house retained its character and authentic feel.
"Surprisingly most of the screws were in good condition and the locks were made from very good steel," he said.
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A special run of the original wall paper was given to Martinborough business Paperhands who replicated the design, re-naming the old pattern Foxton. The pattern was now in store for sale.
"Sarah chose the house colours and made the decision to reproduce the wallpaper. She has a long-standing interest in history and design and is also an experienced renovator. Sarah has been totally with the project from the start," he said.
Harper said the cladding of the house was sound. They spent hours restoring the doors and windows, which were reglazed
Jim said he always had a passion for preservation.
"As a kid growing up in Wellington in the 1960s I saw many inner city cottages being bulldozed for shops or apartments," he said.
"The old wood and architectural features went to the landfill. Economics were stacked against these little houses."
"So, always hoped one day we could save one, somewhere. And the Nye cottage is an architectural stand-out of the type and with a long local history."
Harper said Horowhenua District Council was very helpful through the resource consent process for which they were grateful, and it had put $5500 towards weatherboards.
But the restoration effort had largely gone unrecognised on a national scale as applications for funding from national heritage organisations had not yet been granted.
The cottage was built in 1869 by George Nye, one of Foxton's founding fathers, and was home to generations of the Nye family. The cottage retained its original name - Sunnyside.
Nye was a shipbuilder who served as Foxton mayor for two terms. He was said to be a whaler and fluent in Te Reo, and built many building in Foxton at the time. He and wife Eliza raised a family in the cottage until the early 1900s.
The property was known as Sunnyside Farm. It boasted the largest vineyard in the central North Island in the 1880s. Nye also had a green thumb and had several glasshouses housing a large variety of hot-house plants.
Sunnyside was home to many Foxton families through the years, but for a decade was unoccupied and was left with broken windows by an unruly tenant. It had been broken into a number of times before they bought it.
The Harpers held an open day for people to view the cottage, attracting hundreds through the doors, including long-time Foxton residents Hēni Collins and Marlene Taylor who both applauded the project.
Harper said there were also descendants of some of the original families who lived in the house that came to view the cottage on the open day.
Sarah Harper said she appreciated the need to retain the original feel of the cottage.
''I think the cottage is very cute, and I am amazed how well the cottage was designed so long ago. While the building looks quite small, the interior feels spacious, also I love the beautiful tōtara, rimu and kauri woodwork and matai flooring,'' she said.
There were newspapers from the 1860s and 1870s covering the walls in the upstairs bedroom that had been retained. In other rooms the original split tōtara shakes, or shingles, could be clearly seen.
An interesting feature was the ceiling vents in both the dining room and sitting room to allow fumes from kerosene lamps to escape.
The stairs were very steep at a 48 degree incline, more akin to those used in sailing ships.
The front cladding was 300m tongue-and-groove kauri planking with a "v" section between the boards. The sides and back were made with 200mm tōtara tongue and groove planking.
The Harpers were planning to turn the home into a museum and gallery, but were in no hurry.