BY APRIL AMADON
It’s stood on the Summit Street hill for almost 175 years, silently watching the world change around it.
Now, this piece of Lockport history is up for sale.
The old stone house, built in 1834, can be yours for about $200,000 — but there’s a small catch. It needs a lot of work.
Owner Ray Ruhlmann said he thinks the house could use at least $500,000 in improvements to make it livable.
“I’m looking for a buyer who has the vision, and, most importantly in any housing project, the resources, to do a proper restoration of the house,” Ruhlmann said. “It’s going to probably be somebody who loves the house, who feels a passion for what could be restored, to try and put it back to its ante-bellum grandeur.”
The house was built by canal contractor Francis Hitchings, with stone quarried from the canal basin nearby.
Ruhlmann said Hitchings was also co-founder of a glass factory in Lockport.
“I would assume he was a rather prosperous merchant in the Civil War era,” Ruhlmann said. At one time, the house was surrounded by a carriage house, a barn and other outbuildings, but those have all gone, leaving only the majestic stone structure of the house.
It stands two stories tall, with a full attic. There are back staircases to what once were the servants’ quarters.
On an 1851 map, the property was designated “Mount Providence.”
As the years passed, the home changed hands several times. In the early 1900s, it was rented out to several tenants.
Former neighbor Myron Wasik, 89, said he lived in a house across the street when he was in his teens.
“I remember this place way back then,” Wasik said. “It was a lot different than it is today. It was one of the most outstanding places in the community, but that was 70 years ago.”
He said he stayed in the house several times, when he worked in the neighborhood training wild horses.
“Everybody knew everybody at the time,” he said.
Ruhlmann’s grandfather purchased the home from the Rogers family in the 1940s not for the structure, but for the land.
“He was interested in farming,” Ruhlmann said. “He didn’t care about the house. The house was incidental to that.”
The home has been vacant for about 60 years. In that time, it has deteriorated. There are holes in the ceilings, wallpaper is peeling off the walls and several rooms are cluttered with furniture and boxes.
“That’s one of the reasons I put it up for sale,” Ruhlmann said. “It’s at a point where you don’t want to have any more deterioration.”
There have been some recent improvements, with repairs to the roof and the chimney.
The clutter may serve a valuable purpose, however; Ruhlmann said there’s a break-in at the home about once every 10 days.
He’s placed locks on the front door, but vandals have cut the bolts to get in. As a result, the front door is barricaded from the outside.
“You really can’t keep people out,” he said. “I think the clutter actually protects the house, because when people do enter, it’s a bit of a deterrent to them moving around or causing any further real damage.”
One draw for vandals might be the stories about the house. One asserts the house is haunted by the ghost of a slave, or a Civil War soldier.
Ruhlmann said the ghost stories are all unfounded.
“I think people are looking for an explanation as to, ‘Why is the house vacant? Is it haunted?’ ” he said. “No, it’s not haunted. It’s just an old house that hasn’t been lived in for many years — it’s as simple as that.”
Another legend tells of a tunnel leading from the basement to the canal banks a few hundred yards away. Hitchings was a known abolitionist, and through the years, rumors have spread that the house was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Ruhlmann said he’s found no evidence of a tunnel, and it’s highly unlikely one ever existed.
“If there was a tunnel, they would have had to bore that tunnel through solid dolomite,” he said.
For Ruhlmann, the goal is to have the house properly restored, and he hopes he can find the right person for the job.
“It would be a very small segment that we’re looking at that would be in a position to take something like this on,” he said. “It’s definitely not a weekender’s project.”
Contact reporter April Amadon
at 439-9222, ext. 6251.
BY APRIL AMADON