PORT REPUBLIC — It might seem odd to some, but a local couple is remodeling a private home for the general public’s use.
Port Republic residents Martha and Walter Curt purchased the building in 2005 with the intent of remodeling it for the community.
“We plan to open it for civic groups and weddings,” Martha Curt said of the building, which locals know as the town hall. “The historical society and Ruritans want to host meetings there.”
The Curts hired Staunton contractor Jesse Hostetler, who has worked on-and-off on the job for the past two years. The goal is to have it ready this summer.
The Sons of Temperance and the Odd Fellows built the edifice in 1882. The Odd Fellows and Rebekah’s Lodge fraternal organizations used the building until the 1940s. It was used as apartments from the 1950s through the 1970s and was vacant after that.
Ellen Kaylor, a volunteer with Port Republic Preservationists Inc., said the building originally was used for a band, lectures and plays and as a school. A display at the Port Republic Museum contains an invitation for a Feb. 19, 1904, sock hop that advertised an oyster and ice cream supper that included celery, pickles and oyster crackers.
“It was the center of social activity here,” Kaylor said. “Lectures and plays were part of the social scene.”
The Curts purchased the house without looking inside. At the time, they walked around it and described it as “very neglected,” Martha Curt said. The roof had been leaking and there were holes in the floor.
The Curts formed a trust to facilitate the building’s renovation and contacted Hostetler, who built a deck for them in 2003. Walter Curt is a retired businessman and entrepreneur, who founded Shenandoah Electronic Intelligence in Harrisonburg, an information-technology firm, in 1986.
“We gutted it and installed new siding,” Hostetler said.
He has tried to keep as much of the original wood as possible — most of the yellow pine staircase was salvaged, for example, although the landing halfway up the two-story staircase was water damaged and had to be replaced. The original walnut railing remains, however, as do the building’s original wavy, “bubble glass” windows.
Hostetler built a new stage downstairs and two upstairs that were used for plays and other things. The upstairs will serve as office and storage space. The Curts are keeping an oddity: a peephole in an original door at the top of the stairs that the Odd Fellows likely used as part of their secretive ceremonies, Martha Curt said.
Hostetler has largely enjoyed the work. He recalled finding several Odd Fellows postcards from the early 1930s that contained verses the Odd Fellows used during their initiation rites.
About half the interior work is finished. The exterior is pretty much complete, including a new cupola, or bell tower, that Hostetler built. The original was gone. A septic system, well and natural gas tank have yet to be installed.
To make the 2,700-square-foot building attractive for potential renters, Hostetler built a 440-square-foot addition next to the main building. It has a kitchen and two restrooms for guests’ use.
The Beasley Family of Elkton was hired to lay the stone foundation for the addition. It matches the main building’s foundation, which has an Odd Fellows cornerstone dated 1904.
“We’re not trying to make money off it,” Martha Curt said. “We’re trying to do it as a community service.”
Contact Caleb Soptelean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-6293