The Painted Lady: Effort underway to restore 1870 Tamaqua Victorian
homas “TJ” Walker and two partners are in love with a common mission.
The object of their affections is a Painted Lady, a grand Victorian home whose exterior was once a showcase of multiple colors that highlighted ornate architectural features overlooking the town’s main street.
“I’ve wanted this place since the 1990s,” said Walker, who joined with fellow Tamaquans John Yeager and Eric Williams to buy the vacant structure at 214 W. Broad St. on July 8.
The Queen Anne-style house is a strong contributing resource to the Tamaqua National Historic District and was featured as a work-in-progress during yearly neighborhood house tours 30 years ago.
Called Queen Anne’s Lace by its previous owner, the place was gutted in the hope of reconfiguring the interior and turning it into a bed-and-breakfast.
But the couple, from Auburn, ran into health issues and were unable to find time to finish the project. Still their progress helped the cause and they’re credited with stabilizing the structure. They installed a new roof, built interior framing and partially completed plumbing and electrical work. They refreshed elaborate pressed tin ceilings and added a new oil burner, never used.
“It even has two oil tanks and they’re filled,” says Walker, 46.
Still, Walker, who holds a Ph.D. in metaphysics and is employed in information technology, said he and his buddies have a lot of work remaining, including the exterior of the property.
In fact, clearing the double lot of trees and brush, plus uncovering stone walkways, has been a major project.
“We had a friend who helped and donated use of a wood chipper.”
As for the house, which they call “Amy,” each day is a surprise. Walker describes their progress and unexpected setbacks in daily updates to Facebook, “Adventures of Amy.”
According to Dale Freudenberger, president of the Tamaqua Historical Society, the house has an impressive pedigree.
“We know that sometime during the early 1880s, the house was owned by Daniel Shepp. Shepp was Tamaqua’s most wealthy resident of the period, having amassed a fortune during the California Gold Rush. Soon after, he moved to Tamaqua, where he settled and spent his life becoming a very prominent businessman, mine owner and community leader.”
Freudenberger has researched subsequent modifications to the structure to assist the restoration team.
“According to Sanborn Insurance Maps of Tamaqua,” he says, “it appears that the home had a straight porch on the front of the house, a large turret on the northeast front corner, and two two-story window bays on the east side.
“Sometime after 1891 and before 1896, the east side of the home was remodeled by removing one of the window bays and adding a two-story room addition in its place, enlarging the interior space. The one two-story window bay still remains on the east side to the rear of the room addition on the same side.
“Sometime after 1896 and before 1902, the front porch was remodeled and enlarged to be an ornate wraparound front porch surrounding the large round tower on the front corner. Over the years there have been several alterations to the rear of the house, which reconfigured back porches and the rear room addition, probably where the kitchen was.
He says the 1896 Sanborn maps also show what appears to be a carriage house at the rear of the property fronting onto Cottage Avenue and a smaller structure nearby which may have been outhouses.
“Without further research to trace the deed at the county courthouse, we only know that in 1919, the Queen Anne home was owned by Dr. William G. Jones who maintained his practice in the house. We also know that sometime during the 1950s, the wraparound front porch was enclosed and a hat shop was located within the enclosed porch.”
So what’s the ultimate goal?
TJ and his team will keep their options open. For convenience, the men would like to move into the place as soon as it’s reconnected to municipal water service and electricity restored.
The men have high hopes.
And if stars align just right, their combined expertise will fashion Amy into Tamaqua’s newest debutante.