Restoring Portsmouth home takes craft and vision

Special to the Union Leader
February 17. 2014 8:16PM

On Beam Day, family and friends of Dave Adams got together to hoist into place the two new 400-pound beams the crew had been preparing for weeks. Left, Jim Russo and Brendon Garrett are on the staging; Jeff Wheeler is standing inside the Portsmouth house on the first floor while Eric Heitmann adds more braces to the staging. (Mike Lockhardt Sr. Photo)

PORTSMOUTH — Dave Adams and his wife, Debby, were only in their 20s when they bought the old house at 210 Gates St. in the South End in 1974.

It wasn't much to look at, and friends recall that many thought it should have been torn down. But Adams saw beneath the layers of paint and bad remodeling jobs to the solid roots of the circa 1742-43 home built by Daniel Jones.

"When I bought it, it was at the very, very, low end of its condition," Adams said.

The sills were rotted, there was asbestos siding on one gable end and asphalt siding over most of the rest of the house. Two or three additions had been made to the front of the house, he said. The windows had been replaced in the early 1900s and were in deplorable condition.

At the time, there had been little investment made in restoring the old homes of the city's historic South End, Adams said. Over the next 25 or so years, he and Debby lovingly restored their home. They completed the work on weekends and when money was available, while working full-time jobs and raising two children.

"It was a long, slow process of fairly meticulous restoration of the upper portion of the house and sensitive rehabilitation of the basement to give me more living space," Adams said.

Then, in late 2012, Adams watched from the street as firefighters fought to save his home from a devastating fire. Adams' first concern was his cat, Tiki Bear, who had suffered from smoke inhalation, but she was revived by firefighters at the scene with oxygen. She has since made a full recovery, despite her mature age.

The day after the fire, Adams stood in his home with longtime friend and business partner, Stephen Roy, who looked at him as they walked through the house and said, "It will be better this time, Dave."

"He said, 'We'll start in and we'll do some things better' and from that point we never asked ourselves whether it made any sense to occupy it again," Adams said.

Roy died in December, but his work is evident throughout the re-restoration, Adams said.

Local videographer Mike Lockhardt Sr. and his wife, Dottie, first met Adams while filming a documentary. Lockhardt was asked to follow Adams as he restored a door from around 1825 discovered during a Newmarket mill's restoration.

Lockhardt said it was amazing to watch Adams go through the process and to hear him describe in detail the work he was doing and the tools and traditional methods he was using."It was like he was on a TV show, and I'm taping this and I'm thinking, 'Wow, what a great teacher this guy is,' " Lockhardt said.

Adams was such a natural that Lockhardt invited him to get in touch if he undertook another restoration. Time passed. Then one day, he received an email that Adams would be doing a restoration of a 1743 home in Portsmouth that had been involved in a fire. He asked if Lockhardt would be interested.

It was not until he was in the home that he learned it was Adams' home.

"I'm shooting footage of the house and everything and every so often I would pan over to Dave and he'd be looking at stuff and put his hand up to his mouth and turn away from the camera and it got real quiet. Dave's not like that, and in retrospect, it was really, really hard for him and I didn't understand. Then Steve pulled me aside and said, 'This is Dave's house,' and I was like, 'You've got to be kidding,'" Lockhardt said.

Lockhardt has been filming for more than a year. He had initially hoped to create a web series of three- to five-minute episodes posted weekly, but the amount of footage became enough for at least a 13 episode, half-hour television program.

Recently, they launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough money to edit a pilot of "The Craftsmen's Journal." As of Friday, they had exceeded their goal of $4,500.

Lockhardt said it takes a certain kind of person to own a house like the one at 210 Gates St.

"We are never going to have the opportunity to ... be there and witness a transformation like this again," Lockhardt said. "More often than not we see houses being torn down and new ones put up and they lose all the character ... they are vanishing, they are disappearing. There's a lot to be said for recording this stuff while it's still here, even if nobody watches it. Maybe somebody someday will appreciate it."

Adams has been dubbed the "house whisperer" for his ability to read a home's history in the patterns of wear on floors, markings on walls — even where chamber pots were located and used.

"When you see somebody doing that, you can't help but think that this is something that needs to be shared and that I can't be the only one that would appreciate something like this," Lockhardt said.

The re-restoration began in February 2013. Adams expects to have it largely wrapped up in about three months.

"I hope that it's a success story and a good lesson for people to see how focus and good work and planning lead to success," Adams said.

He said the show will also serve as an education to those wondering about the roots of their home, or how to respectfully restore an aging property. He said having representations on how people lived in the past informs the future.

"The underlying theme through all of this is the importance of preservation," Adams said.

More information about the project and "The Craftsmen's Journal" is available on their Facebook page,

Human InterestReal estateHouse and homePortsmouthPhoto Feature

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