Why We Live in Clinton

Eliot and I found our house in Clinton after looking for a home near my new place of work as Director of the FDR Presidential Library. We spent 6 months looking and looking -- at 39 other houses. We had lived for many years near Princeton, New Jersey in an old house with a stream running through the backyard. We found we loved living near water. And we also loved old houses. What we didn't love was traffic. And suburbia. Both of which we had had too much of in New Jersey. We wanted rural with water, and Clinton seemed promising on both counts.

The home of Cynthia Koch and Eliot Werner

When we first looked at our house, we were not excited. Yet, it had our main criteria -- water in the form of a pond across the road and, built circa 1800, it was surely old. Yet when our offer was not accepted, we moved on without regret. We then undertook our smartest negotiating tactic ever -- seeming indifference. A few weeks passed and the owners called and accepted our offer!

In the weeks that passed, as contracts were getting settled, the owners let us “visit” the house using a key they had cleverly hidden. Living in an apartment over a horse barn in Amenia, I would stop by every morning on my way to work, wondering how in the world we could ever live in this house. It was so old! There were tree trunks for support posts in the basement! Light switches that didn't work. Creaky saggy floors. A dilapidated kitchen and bathrooms. Maybe it was too old to live in everyday. Maybe it really was a perfect place to “rough it” on weekends, as the previous owners obviously had. It even seemed to be returning to nature. Every time I came in the door, I heard mice and squirrels and other critters scurrying away. One morning there were birds flying around in the living room. But somehow, for some ineffable reason this house just seemed right. And so it became ours.

A few days after we closed (and before we moved in), we returned to our apartment to find a voice mail message that the fire department had been dispatched to our “new” home. We dashed over to find the house still standing -- and no evidence that our second worst fear had occurred: that firefighters had broken down the 18th century doors and windows to gain access. Instead we found a note scrawled on a brown paper bag. It was from Ray Oberly, then head of the West Clinton Fire Department. He said they had turned off the water because a broken radiator valve leaking into the basement had triggered the alarm. We called to find out how the firemen had gotten in. “Oh,” he said, “everybody knows where to find the key.”

And that was our introduction to small town life in a community and a home that we have grown to love more than we, refugees from New Jersey, could ever have imagined.

by Cynthia Koch

Missed our last neighbor's commentary?

Phillippa Ewing and Arthur Weiland here
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