Dan and Amy Estep are living in a piece of La Crosse history.
They’ve updated the wiring and the plumbing.
They’ve painted, patched and put things back together.
They’ve hunted up old photos and bits of history as they settle into the historic Vincent House at 1024 Cass St.
What they haven’t done, Dan says, is change the structure or wonderful elements of the house that have survived for more than a century.
“They took such good care of this house,” he said of the Vincent family, who built and lived in the house for more than a century.
“I deal in art and I feel like I live in a masterpiece. We’re trying to restore whatever we can,” he said, and they’ve been working nonstop at that since they bought the house in January 2008.
To show off the house and to help raise funds for the La Crosse Symphony, the couple is opening their house for a home tour Saturday and Sunday, April 18 and 19. Fittingly, the people who helped restore the house will be acting as docents on the tour.
Much of the work has been done by professionals. Plumbers tackled the original bathroom on the main floor to restore it as closely as possible to what it once was. Aiding in that restoration was Dan’s Internet search to find a similar toilet to the one that once graced the bathroom.
Finding it was one challenge — the two pieces came from different sellers.
Installing it properly was another challenge — plumbers had to return again and again to make sure it was operating correctly.
They have another functional if not fancy bathroom on the second floor and eventually they will have what looks like a restoration master bathroom. It can only look like a restoration, Dan said, because there never was a master bath. But he has historic fixtures, a clawfoot tub and all the decorations he needs to make sure the bath suits the house as much as possible. And if he needs more period elements, Dan is willing to take the time until he finds just the right historic pieces.
“It’s the hunt,” he said with a grin.
This is not the first go-round with a historic home for the Esteps. They were living in a beautifully restored home in Black River Falls that they had worked on for years. But Amy was commuting from Black River Falls to her job at Gundersen Lutheran in La Crosse. They weren’t looking for another restoration project — at least Amy wasn’t. But when Dan saw the Vincent house, he fell in love.
We can do this again, he told her.
From the beginning, they were careful to first do no harm. They fixed the plumbing and the electrical because they needed fixing and updating. But they have a passion for period lighting fixtures, old hardware, and keeping intact the woodwork and decorations of the house.
Amy has worked her way around the house, cleaning woodwork and doors and refinishing when that is required. Dan is in charge of bringing the old hardware back to life. After stripping layers of paint off wood at the back of the house, they found intricate door hinges that have now been restored without a speck of paint in sight.
Though Amy meticulously restored the wood surround for the old metal bath tub, she has yet to take a bath in it. For her, it’s enough that it’s restored.
They also have lots of ephemera from the Vincent family’s life, dating to before James Vincent, the builder of the house, moved to La Crosse.
“We have a contract that James Vincent drew up to build a house in 1847, when he lived in New York,” Dan said. “He was a carpenter, then he was a contractor, then he became a lumber baron. He traveled to California during the Gold Rush, took a ship through Panama, came up the coast and lived and worked in Stockton, Calif.”
The house on Cass Street was built for his second wife, Agnes McKillip. Their granddaughter, Virginia Robson, came back to live in the house in 1986 after her mother died. She and husband, Albert, moved to La Crosse and continued to be caretakers for the house until Virginia sold it in 2006 shortly before her death in 2007. Two years later, the Esteps bought it.
“Everything is the same as it was,” Dan said. “Nothing’s changed. We’ve replaced the entire electrical system, plumbing and drains, the stuff nobody sees. We insulated in the attic and the walls. A professional plasterer repaired walls.”
They also installed a custom kitchen with soapstone counters, an Aga range and custom copper sink. They wanted a period look but not a period operation, so when Dan found an Aga with extremely large grates, that dictated the size and shape of the copper sink.
“I wanted the basin big enough to clean the grates,” Amy said.
The house is wired for the 21st Century with cable, phone and security, all discretely done so as not to interfere with the historical integrity of the house.
What has helped in the restoration is the photographic documentation available to the Esteps. Vincent family members who have come back to see what the Esteps are doing to the house have brought along pictures, documents and stories.
“We have lots and lots of photographs,” Dan said. “We’re printing them, we’re blowing them up, and we’re putting them in Eastlake frames. The decorations of the house will be the history of the family.”
Dan said he and Amy are just happy they found so many dedicated workers to join them in the restoration.
“You have to be a steward to it,” Dan said, and preserve what the Vincents worked so hard to build and maintain.
“I hope it would please them.”
IF YOU GO
What: Tour of the Vincent House at 1024 Cass St., and also the home at 923 Cameron Ave.
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 18 and 19
Cost: $10 at the door, with tickets sold at the door at both houses
Information: (608) 783-2121
From contractors to docents
Contractors who worked on the house and will be on hand to act as docents during the April 18-19 home tour include:
Mike Galstad, owner of Cargill Plumbing and Heating. “He met with us just days after we closed (on the purchase of the house) and helped lay out a plan to replace all the water supply lines and drains, installed a high efficiency boiler and an indirect water heater,” Dan Estep said. “Part of the kitchen remodel meant removing radiators and installing underfloor heat. I think we had seven or eight plumbers here in total. John Tully handled the antique toilet. Next we will be adding central air conditioning and an air filtration system. Mike has a plan to use the existing 1880s house duct system from the original wood furnace to distribute cool air.”
Karl Oldenburg from Home Energy Audit.
Paul Fiegersma, owner of P & T Electric, and lead electrician John Erickson. “John and Mike Ross spent six weeks pulling wires through these walls,” Dan Estep said. “John is a master electrician who loves old houses. He has done a number of these old restorations. His first concern was always what was best for the house.”
Chris Faint, of Stillwater, Minn., an old friend who did the plaster repair and drywall work.
Don Gautsch, owner of Design Cabinetry, incorporating the home’s original wainscoting into the back of open cabinets.
Aaron Kopp Construction, worked on both inside and outside.
Chris Mahan of Warm House, taking care of insulation.
WendI Franke, a Realtor from Gerrard-Hoeschler.
“Wendi spent many hours with us trying to help us find just the right place,” Dan said.
“What was important to Wendi was that we got the place.”
— Geri Parlin