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Josh Youssef renovating 1789 Jewett Homestead

LACONIA — Josh Youssef is surrounded by history. He sees it. He smells it. He knows its charm, and he knows its challenges.

Youssef, a computer programming expert who owns a computer repair and upgrade company, says he has long been interested "in touching history." For the past three years, he has done more than touch it. Since buying the Jewett Homestead on Gilford Avenue, the oldest house in Laconia, Youssef has been rolling up his sleeves and tackling history with his hands.

The Jewett Homestead was built in 1780 by Jacob Jewett, one of the founders of present-day Laconia. (At the time the house was built its location was then part of Gilmanton.) An ell was added around 1840, Youssef believes. In time the timber-frame, center-chimney cape and its additions grew to 15 rooms and 4,400 square feet. Alongside the house was a substantial barn, which was dismantled and trucked to Gilford in the 1990s, where it was rebuilt.

Youssef became the owner of the house somewhat by happenstance. He was all set to buy another house in late 2011 when he learned that the Jewett Homestead was up for sale. He bought the home for $67,000 in December of that year.

"The house was in state of serious disrepair," Youssef explained, and he did not start living there until February 2013. "I wanted to bring it back to something of its original grandeur," he said, explaining what prompted him to take on the challenge.

Since becoming the owner of a piece of history it's been one project after another. He had a new roofing installed, repainted the exterior, replaced the heating system, had new insulation put in, and replaced most of the plumbing.

While he has hired contractors to handle the larger projects, he is doing as much of the work as possible himself. Currently he is doing the finishing work on a new front door for the house. The large shed attached the ell serves as Youssef workshop.

As the work has progressed Youssef says "the more in touch with history," he has become.

The house's place in Laconia's history is never far from his mind. As he walks through the living room with its beamed ceiling and large brick fireplace, he often thinks of the conversations that must have taken place in the room at about the time the U.S. finally gained its independence from Great Britain.

Four generations of the Jewett family lived in the house. The last was Abbie Jewett, who was an art teacher at Laconia High School, and in addition worked in arts and crafts, and during the 1930s and 1940s operated a tea room in one part of the house.

Tackling a project such as this is not for the faint of heart, Youssef cautions. He is quick to say that his goal is to renovate the house, not restore it, explaining that restoration would mean returning to the way it would have looked and furnished in the 18th and 19th centuries. But while the house will certainly have plenty of modern features, like contemporary kitchen appliances and wide-screen TVs, Youssef wants to do it in way that is respectful of the home's past.

Youssef expects that eventually he will offer the house for sale.

Meanwhile, Youssef, his partner Julie Griffin, and their 17-month-old son, Joshua, are living in what can best be described as a work in progress.

Youssef said that anyone who is thinking of tackling a similar project either needs to be prepared to spend a great deal of money or else have the know-how to do a lot of the work themselves. "You either need to show up with a lot of money, or your tools," he said.

Even with doing much of the work himself, Youssef said he has so far spent $200,000 on the project.

But Youssef is philosophical. "This house is always going to need work," he observed.


Last Updated on Saturday, 08 November 2014 02:13

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Solicitation ordinance would ground GFD 'boot drives'

GILMANTON — Selectmen have put off action on a proposed ordinance which would have put an end to a fundraising activity conducted by a local firefighters' organization.

The action came as about 50 residents turned out for a public hearing on the proposal which would prohibit soliciting funds within the right-of-way of any roadway in town. Most of those attending were opposed to the ordinance which would put a stop to so-called "boot drives" conducted by the Gilmanton Fireman's Association, which the group holds to raise funds for certain improvements to Fire Department facilities as well as to provide life safety equipment for town facilities and certain civic organizations.

During the fundraising events, firefighters stand on the side of roadways asking motorists to drop bills and change into an empty rubber boot.

Selectmen said they decided to propose the ordinance after they received an e-mail from resident Israel Willard inquiring who would be liable if someone were to be injured while the boot drives were under way at the four-way intersection of Routes 140 and 107 during weekends when NASCAR races take place in July and September at the nearby New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

"I'm not against the boot drive," said Selectman Stephen McCormack. "I'm just looking at the safety issues. It's appropriate for us to look at this issue."

Selectmen said the town's insurer advised that the town needed to consider several matters, including the volume and potential speed of traffic during the boot drives, and the traffic control system that is in use at the time.

Responding to a question from the audience Selecboard Chairman Brett Currier said that the board had not discussed the matter with the Police Department, or with the Firemen's Association, which is has been sponsoring the boot drives for 20 years.

Firemen's Association member Vinnie Baiocchetti told selectmen that they needed to consider what the association is able to do for the town with the money raised during the boot drives. He said that some of the money has been used to buy defibrillators which have been placed in the Academy Building, the Year-Round Library and Gilmanton School. He said other funds have been donated to the Boy Scouts.

"I understand you don't like the boot drive, but we do give back to the community," Baiocchetti said.

Currier acknowledged that he did not like the boot drives. "It makes it look like we don't fund the (Fire) Department adequately, and we do," he said.

Association President Dennis Comeau said that the boot drive was a way to collect money from visitors, rather than all the money having to come from local residents.

Comeau was among many in the audience who criticized the selectmen with trying to enact an ordinance without first taking the time to research the situation and getting advice from others, like the Firemen's Association.

"A lot of this could have been avoided with a few simple questions and answers," he said.

Not all the public comments were in favor of the boot drive. Douglas Islied of Gilmanton Iron Works urged that the town broaden the ordinance to ban all types of panhandling along the highways and roads.

Selectman Donald Guarino proposed tabling the ordinance soon after the meeting opened, but withdrew his motion to allow those that showed up for the hearing to make comment. After about one hour of hearing from the audience selectmen voted to table the ordinance until they had a chance to talk to the Firemen's Association and the town's attorney.

Some at the hearing suggested that rather than having an ordinance banning boot drives altogether, they should rather look at establishing a permit system that would provide a procedure to give the town assurance that the necessary safety precautions were being taken.

Mark Sisti, who serves as town moderator, told selectmen that they should be focused on more important issues.

"This is not a big deal. This is petty stuff," he said.

He also mentioned that boot drives are a common fund-raising activity among fire departments and firefighter groups all over the country. "It doesn't cheapen the town," he remarked.

After the hearing Comeau said he was confident that the Firemen's Association and selectmen "can work this out." He was grateful to the association supporters who showed up at the hearing and raised valid points which he was confident the selectmen will be pondering and they consider what steps to take.


Last Updated on Saturday, 08 November 2014 01:58

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Gilford shuts down nightclub for safety code violations; manager questions timing

GILFORD — The Lakes Region Cafe and Tavern closed at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, election day, when the Deputy Chief Brad Ober of the Gilford Fire Department revoked its assembly permit.

The action by the Fire Department was taken two weeks after Will Drew — the owner of the property, but not the owner of the business — filed suit in United States District Court against the state of New Hampshire and the town of Gilford, along with half a dozen agents of each, charging that their actions before and after October 18, 2011 when the New Hampshire Drug Task Force raided the nightclub, which was then operating under independent management as Mardi Gras North, violated his constitutional rights and damaged his reputation.

Although Drew, doing business as Kelsey's at the Grant, owns the property at 15 Kimball Road, his partner Tom Lyons owns and operates the business, a restaurant and bar featuring exotic dancing, on the premisses.

Zachary Joseph, the general manager of the business, said that officials of the Fire Department inspected the building last summer and cited a number of violations, some minor and some major. He said that the minor infractions were corrected in a timely manner.

According to Joseph, the Fire Department recognized that addressing the major issues would require significant investments of time and money and required the owner to submit a "course of action" by October 28, which specified when the building would be brought into compliance. In the meantime, he said, the business would be allowed to continue operating. Joseph noted that many of the conditions cited in the inspection had persisted for years without prompting action by the town.

Joseph said that the "course of action" was submitted on October 27, a day before the deadline, and a week later the assembly permit was revoked. He is urging patrons of the nightclub to attend the meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday , November 12 to show their support for the establishment. (See letter to the editor on page 5.)

In his lawsuit Drew alleges that town officials, town administrator Scott Dunn in particular, wrongfully sought to deny him the live entertainment license required to offer exotic dancing at the property.

Last Updated on Saturday, 08 November 2014 01:54

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Sanbornton saying goodbye to gracious former Selectboard Chair Patsy Wells

SANBORNTON — Patricia "Patsy" Wells idea of service knew no bounds, say those who knew her. Whether as member of the town's Board of Selectmen, an active member of her church, the assistant to four Tilton School headmasters, or her outreach to women prisoners, Wells is remembered as competent, forward-looking, and above all, gracious.

Wells died last Saturday, Oct. 29, at the age of 69. Her funeral is planned for this Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Sanbornton Congregational Church.

"I had a soft spot in my heart for her," said Guy Giunta who served with Wells for two years (2005-06) on the Board of Selectmen. "My memories of her are as one who was devoted to the town." He remembers Wells as an effective and visionary leader. He said one example of Wells' vision was the leadership she showed in building public support for the so-called Y Project, which resulted in major improvements to Upper and Lower Bay roads which needed serious work.

She exhibited a thorough knowledge of the selectman's job. "She kept us on our toes," Giunta recalled with a chuckle. "But she wasn't one to make herself look important." One sign of that, he said was that when Wells was head selectmen, she didn't in the center seat at the selectmen's table, as is customary for the chair to do.

Giunta also said he remembers Wells as a person deeply committed to her faith and her church.

"She was a hard worker and was always able to lighten up a difficult situation," said Dennis Akerman, director of music at the Sanbornton Congregational Church where Wells was a long-time active member. She served on the church committee that had charge the congregation's charitable outreach.

Akerman's wife, Barbara, said Wells was truly concerned about those less fortunate or who had to cope with setbacks in life. For example, she said Wells would to the state Women's Prison to give sewing lessons. "She found what was needed and how to do it."

Michael Baker, headmaster at Tilton School from 1987 to 1995, said it is hard to imagine how he could have done his job as effectively without Wells as his assistant.

"She was one of the kindest people I ever met in my life," he said. And one of the most discrete.

"My first day at Tilton she met with me and said, 'The main word of secretary is secret.' She could be trusted with anything." And, "She was scrupulously organized."

Baker said that Wells' sense of organization and her know-how gave him the ability to focus on his job. A big part of a private school headmaster's job is fund-raising, which Baker said meant he had to travel a lot to meet with school alumni and other potential donors.

"Often at these fund-raising gatherings someone would ask, 'Who's in charge of the place when you're gone?' and I would reply, 'The same person who's in charge when I'm there." Baker said his audience knew he was referring to himself, but in the back of his mind he couldn't help but think of Patsy Wells. "She easily could have run her own operation."

Former Selectman Steve Ober, who served with Wells during her last year on the board, credits Wells for showing him how to be a good selectman.

"I had no clue about the job," Ober recalled. "But she guided me right into the job and did it respectfully. She was a great person and great friend."

Last Updated on Friday, 07 November 2014 01:51

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