Volunteers and members of the Berlin Historic Preservation Commission met at the historic James T. Dill House on Oct. 30 to celebrate completion of renovations there and acknowledge reaching a donation goal of $180,000 set three years ago.
The house, built in 1855, was saved from demolition in March 2017 when Berlin resident and chair of the borough’s Historic Preservation Commission Christina Hoffmann stopped the bulldozer.
“We have a historic district and that property is in the historic district, and any work on the exterior needs to come before the preservation commission for a certificate of appropriateness,” Hoffmann explained.
“ … After a few months of discussion, the builder was given the option of restoring and selling the building on his own or donating it to the borough, which he decided to do,” she added. “In exchange, rather than building three buildings (as he planned), he built two and donated the property with the Dill House residing on it to the borough for $1 in 2018.”
Since then, Dill House has undergone various renovations under the counsel of Margaret Westfield, a Haddon Heights based historic architect who has worked with the township since 1988 on preservation of the Berlin Hotel.
Westfield noted that historic preservation is not always about bringing a building back to the way it once looked, but about preserving the record of it, including any changes and additions made throughout history.
In the last four years, volunteers have replaced parts of the house’s roof; dug up and added metal beams to the foundation; and added heating, ventilation and air conditioning, in addition to a new electric system. The original window panes have been restored, hardwood floors have been restored and the building has new paint inside and out.
Westfield recalled how volunteers had found an original window shutter in the basement and worked to design matching shutters consistent with the style and size of the window openings. In one room, sub-floor panels that were dug up and replaced were reused as a fireplace enclosure to hide the HVAC equipment and ducting.
“That wasn’t there historically, at least not like that, but it’s a modern element that’s reminiscent of what would have been there,” Westfield said. “It reused some historic fabric that had been salvaged from the building in such a way that it adds to the overall appreciation of the architecture.”
Rooms and artifacts downstairs include a doctor’s office that held a cabinet stocked with historic medical supplies, a reminder that former occupants practiced medicine out of the home; a bathroom; a kitchen with a heater; and a drawing of a boat titled “Evangelene” that was discovered under three layers of wallpaper. Another room is decorated with wooden rocking chairs and a painted fireplace.
Upstairs there are the master bedroom, two other bedrooms and another bathroom.
Outside, the Dill House also has a new garden created by Girl Scouts Joanna Davis and Kaitlynn Kirk, complete with two benches and a rain barrel to help with watering of the flower and grass assortment.
“We tried to get plants that would come back every year so that it’s sustainable,” Kirk said. “A lot of them don’t require much watering, so that it’s easier for [Hoffmann] and everyone who’s taking care of the house.”
As the garden was being put together, Davis and Kirk held workshops for younger Girl Scouts where they were taught the importance and ways of conserving water.
In the future, Hoffmann hopes the house can be used by local schools and colleges to host classes in art, history and preservation in a historic setting.
To visit, contact Hoffmann at (609) 230-6583.