The impressive Greek Revival exterior of this 19th century manse, with its Ionic-columned portico still standing tall, at first distracts the eye from the truth of the project a potential buyer would need to tackle. A 2010 fire devastated portions of the interior and the Morse House in Madison County has stood vacant ever since.
It is now up for sale with prospective owners required to submit proposals for the restoration of the house at 5758 Mill Street in Eaton. There are details galore on the interior and it has gone through at least two prior restorations, but it will still require the investment of a dedicated old house lover.
Known variously as the Morse House, the Morse Mott House and the Morse Stone House, the oldest portion of the structure dates to about 1802 when Joseph and Eunice Bigelow Morse moved to a site closer to the mills that Joseph had established near Eaton Brook. In 1846 son Ellis Morse substantially altered and expanded the house in the popular Greek Revival style of the time. Ellis would have needed the room. The census record of 1850 shows he and his second wife Adaline Bagg Morse living in the house along with 10 children ranging in age from 27 to seven.
The dating of the expansion to 1846 is possible due to a letter written by Adaline that April to a relative describing the alterations as including plans to “have folding doors between the two rooms on the south side, [and] a piazza on the east end with four large columns.” Roughly thirty men were apparently engaged to descend on the house later that spring to start work.
Much of what is known about the history of the house, including the contents of that letter, was documented by the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) in the 1960s when the property was still in family hands. Owners Walter and Josephine Morse were themselves restoring the family manse after it had stood vacant from about 1908 until 1946. The couple told the Daily Bulletin in 1957 that many of the family antiques that had been stored in the house were stolen and the house vandalized while it sat empty. Photographs taken as part of the HABS survey show their restoration efforts, with rooms decked out in wallpaper and dressed with period furniture and early 19th century architectural details including several fine mantels. One of the mantels was ornamented with portraits of Ellis and Adaline.
The house left family ownership for the first time in its history after the deaths of Walter and Josephine in the 1980s. A substantial amount of further restoration work was done by new owners in the 1990s before the 2010 fire left the house once again vacant but with its thick stone walls still standing.
The current photos show extensive fire and water damage but many intact details including wide-planked floorboards, moldings, wood mantels, built-in cupboards and interior shutters. There are six bedrooms and 3.5 baths according to the listing. The epicenter of the fire was apparently an en suite bathroom which had been updated prior to the blaze.
There are two kitchens, one in the basement and the other in the kitchen wing. That one still has the mantel shown in the 1966 HABS photo although the more recent work added some decorative painting to the mantel and the room. A staircase leads from the kitchen to bedrooms, possibly servants quarters above. The HABS report speculates that the kitchen wing was also added in the 1840s.
The house sits on seven acres and includes two barns and storage sheds. A video that accompanies the listing describes the outbuildings as “not in great condition” but likely salvageable.
There are a number of educational institutions located within 30 miles of the property, including Colgate University, SUNY Morrisville and Hamilton College. The town of Hamilton also has a municipal airport.
Bidding on the property starts at $99,000 (plus a 3 percent buyers premium) and proposals should include plans for restoration. The sale is being handled by Michael R. Franklin of Franklin Ruttan Unique Property Specialists and initial showings are being conducted via Zoom. On-site showings will only be given to potential buyers who can provide proof of funds or a prequalification letter.
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