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Childhood home donated to Habitat

December 19, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Nearly three years after Vivian Thompson began trying to save her childhood home, she learned the best hope for the two-story house in Chambersburg's south end was for her to give it away.

On Dec. 11, Thompson, 77, of Falls Church, Va., donated her old home on Main Street to Habitat for Humanity of Franklin County.

Thompson's home will be the first house recycled by Habitat of Franklin County, Executive Director Mark Story said.

No one is certain how old the house is, but documents show that it survived the burning of Chambersburg in 1864, Thompson said.

Once a log home, the building is rich with history, she said.

In the 1800s, the house was part of Carstown, a small hamlet on the outskirts of Chambersburg.

"The backyard, that was a road," she said. "And the house next door was not there."

The small house changed drastically during Thompson's lifetime.

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Purchased by her parents in 1946, she said the log home did not have a kitchen, was not wired for electric and only had one toilet, in a bedroom.

Thompson said her brother was able to modernize the home by adding the existing kitchen and bathroom.

"It was a cozy, warm, nice, fun house," she said.

As temperatures dropped this past week, Story warned that the structure standing in Chambersburg's Elm Street District today is a far cry from the house Thompson grew up in.

Lacking storm doors and gutters, with holes growing in the ceiling from water damage, the cold winter air blew through the home.

Thompson said the house was destroyed in a few short months by a man posing as a contractor.

Hired to repair the roof, Thompson alleged the man did less repair and more destruction.

From the missing siding and roof, to the bedrooms gutted of insulation and drywall, the home was left unfinished and in worse shape than Thompson could remember.

"He destroyed the house," she said. "It was never like this."

Thompson said she attempted to have the home repaired but the damage was so extensive that bids from licensed contractors were well out of her price range.

"It was a nightmare," she said. "I was so angry, so upset. But I felt there must be a way for good to come out of this. The Bible says, 'overcome evil with good.'"

Unable to repair the home and unwilling to sell it in such disrepair, Thompson said she nearly walked away from the house forever.

Exhausted by the mere sight of the house, Thompson said she longed to be free from the "white elephant" that for years had weighed her down in utility bills, taxes and repairs.

So when she learned that Habitat for Humanity could fix the damage and recycle her home to a new homeowner, she said she felt like she finally found a savior for the house.

Recycling homes is a new venture for Habitat of Franklin County, Story said, however, it is done frequently by Habitat International.

The organization is able to recycle homes for much less than new construction, he said, mostly because the land and structure are donated.

Now that the home is out of her hands, the nightmare is beginning to fade, Thompson said.

"I can't wait to see what they do with it," she said. "It had a lot of charm when it was in good shape, I just hope that it can be that way again."

"We are excited to start on this project," Story said. "It is a great step for us."

Hoping to have a new homeowner in the house by next fall, Story said an architect is already drafting plans for the renovation.

With a sound outer structure, Story said the house will be restored and hopefully will preserve some of its history.

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