These two timber frame and cob houses in the West Winfield area were designed and built by the Brown brothers and their wives. Each house is unique to its owners, yet each reflects the common values the couples share. Their primary considerations for their homes, they said, were the environment, utility, and beauty. Photo by Larraine McNulty.
WEST WINFIELD, N.Y. — Two brothers and their families will open their unique homes to visitors on Saturday, July 29, for a "Build 'Em Like they Used To" tour featuring centuries-old "cob" and timber-style construction techniques and other design strategies used to make their homes environmentally and economically friendly.
The event runs from 1 to 4 p.m., with all visitors starting their tours at the Cedarville Carpenter Company in Millers Mills for a closer look at the type of timber construction techniques used in both homes. Also, in addition to the two cob houses, the young and young at heart can explore a handsome new children's tree house in Leonardsville.
Sponsored by the Upper Unadilla Valley Association, the event costs $5 per person, with children 16 and under admitted free. Tour booklets serve as tickets and can be purchased at the tour's first stop — the Cedarville Carpenter Co. at 643 Millers Mills Road— or in advance from an association director. For more information, call 315-855-4368.
Participants may start their tours later than 1 p.m. but should take into account the 4 p.m. closing time for all tour locations.
Cedarville Carpenter Company constructs building frames with timbers, rather than conventional stick framing, for structures such as pavilions and homes. Owner Michael Jones uses mortise and tenon construction, a technique employed by woodworkers for thousands of years to attach two pieces of wood together by inserting a smaller end of one piece (the tenon) into a hole (the mortise) in another piece. The joint is secured by wooden pegs or wedges, pins, or glue.
Tour participants will be able to see and experience first-hand what it's like to build a timber frame. Besides observing heavy timbers as they're transformed into tie beams, purlin plates, rafters and braces, they can learn how mortise and tenon joinery works and try their skill at making wooden pegs, drilling holes or lifting a mallet used in construction.
The two tour homes are owned by Edmund Brown and wife Normandy Alden, and Garth Brown and wife Alanna Rose. The couples each designed and built their own houses simultaneously on their shared "Cairncrest Farm," collaborating on most of the exterior elements to make them visually and aesthetically connected in the landscape.
They hand-built walls out of "cob," a mixture of clay, sand and straw chosen for its low environmental impact and local availability of materials. A coating of lime plaster protects the walls. South-facing windows and thick gravel heatsinks beneath their concrete slab floors provide passive solar energy, while energy-efficient soapstone wood stoves are the only major heating source for each home.
The homes' interiors reflect each couple's individual preferences and skills. The Alden/Brown home, for instance, features several built-in wooden elements, including Edmund's hand-made desk, book cases, and sliding wood panel door, while Normandy made and installed nearly 2,000 small tiles for a shower. In the Rose/Brown home, Garth made and installed concrete kitchen countertops while Alanna mixed custom milk paint colors for their interior walls and doors. Both couples repurposed wide hemlock boards from their farm's hired-hand house.
The Upper Unadilla Valley Association has been conducting tours for many years to showcase the region's farms, businesses, gardens, art, nature, renewable energy uses, and historic and unique homes. It was established in 1969 to preserve and protect the natural and historic resources of the Upper Unadilla Valley, an area that includes West Winfield, Bridgewater, Unadilla Forks, Leonardsville, and West Edmeston. Besides its summer tour, other annual events include a fund-raising plant sale the third Saturday of every May; a fall banquet featuring a special topic; and a scholarship for a graduating Mount Markham Central School District senior. The association also works to prevent or mitigate impending environmental threats and helps with historical preservation, as the need arises.
Nestled along New York Route 8 between
Utica to the north and Binghamton to the south lies the Upper Unadilla Valley, a scenic, rural basin with a rich
history and quiet way of life. For generations, these simple treasures have woven a deep attachment for the land
into long-time residents and lured newcomers, who often have stayed.
Twice during the past 30 years, the landscape was threatened by plans for large-scale construction projects that would have changed the face of the valley forever. Both times, concerned residents belonging to the Upper Unadilla Valley Association challenged and successfully averted the proposed projects, saving the valley from unwanted change.
During the years in between and since, the association has hosted annual garden and craft shows, membership banquets, occasional membership drives, special events, and tours featuring both historic and modern homes, historic barns, residential gardens, local artists' studios, area geology and local industry.
The Upper Unadilla Valley Association, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 1999, remains committed to calling attention to the valley's treasures. This website is another step toward that end. It provides a close-up look at the Upper Unadilla Valley, viewing it from the past to the present in an effort to show why residents settled here in the first place, why they continue to stay, and why they fight so hard to preserve it.
How It All Began
In 1969, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a plan to build four large dams in the Unadilla Valley portion of the Susquehanna River basin for flood control and drinking water between Binghamton, N.Y., and Baltimore, Md., and recreational opportunities in the regions surrounding the reservoirs.
Concerned valley residents renounced the plan, worried over the possibility of losing their homes, farms, businesses and local history. They united to fight the plan by forming a group of concerned citizens from five local communities: West Winfield, Bridgewater, Unadilla Forks, Leonardsville and West Edmeston. The Upper Unadilla Valley Association was born. To learn more about this struggle and the later successful thwarting of plans to put a 115 kilovolt powerline through the valley during the 1990s, click on the "political action" link.
Today the Unadilla River is used for recreational opportunities year-round. The proposed dam would have created mud flats during summer "let-downs."
At the core of the Association are fifteen
directors, three from each of the five communities. Current directors are listed on the Communities page. The membership
is a very loose group of anyone interested. There are no dues. A book is circulated at the Annual Banquet for names
and addresses. E-mail us if interested. At the banquet awards are given yearly for local feats of Historic Preservation
and Conservation. Various types of tours have been held since 1970 with informative booklets. Calendars and books
have been published highlighting area history and architecture. Check the Events page for all of the organizations
current happenings and publications.