Neighbors shape up 8-sided house

Residents help preserve woman’s unusual home

COPAKE — It started with a neighbor helping out a neighbor who could no longer mow her lawn or keep up with her yard work and has blossomed into an effort to fix up a historic house and make the neighborhood a more attractive place to live.

Helen Mang, 76, has lived a 193 Main Street/County Route 7A in the Copake hamlet since the late 1970s. Her house is one of the most unusual in town simply because of its shape: octagonal.

Ruth Thomas, who recently purchased the house next door to Mrs. Mang said Dan Posser, who lives nearby, took it upon himself to voluntarily mow Mrs. Mang’s lawn and clean up the debris and shrubs around her home.

Mrs. Mang, who worked full-time as a peer advocate at the Independent Living Center in Greenport until 2004, and then worked part-time in sales at Peebles until 2007 to supplement her Social Security, told The Columbia Paper this week injuries to her hand and spine have made her unable to mow the lawn and keep the bushes clipped. Especially this year, she said, the weather has been such that the lawn and bushes never stopped growing. She called the situation “completely overwhelming.”

Mrs. Thomas, who is currently working on renovations at the Main Street house she and her husband purchased for their daughter, became inspired by Mr. Posser’s generosity and work, noting, “This gentleman made a big difference to our community. If all of us could follow in his footsteps and help to preserve this old, historic octagon home, our community would be a much better place.”

So, Mrs. Thomas and a handful of others have organized a group called, Copake Community Cares, and their first project is to repair and repaint Mrs. Mang’s historic home.

The Mang house appears in A Visible Heritage, Columbia County, New York: A History in Art and Architecture, authored by Ruth Piwonka and Roderic H. Blackburn (Black Dome Press in 1977).

According to the book, it is one of three octagonal houses in the county and among fewer than 100 in the state. The other two houses here are in Ancramdale and Columbiaville.

“After his return from the Civil War, Dr. John Reynolds built this octagonal house at Copake Flats,” say the book’s authors. Copake Flats was the Land of Rural Charm’s name before it was Copake.

The design of the house departed from the traditional octagonal plan, “once fashionable and faddish” and “inspired by Orson Squire Fowler’s book, A Home for All, published in 1848 and 1853,” according to A Visible Heritage.

Mr. Fowler believed a circular object is more aesthetically appealing than a rectangular one and he pointed out “that the octagonal form had one-fifth less wall space than the same amount of floor space in a rectangular house, and therefore provided greater heating efficiency… ample windows on eight sides offered the advantages of continual sunshine and good cross ventilation,” the book says.

Built around 1866 to 1868, the doctor “added a wing for his office. The porch was originally open and the roof was of wooden shingles.

“The cobblestone chimney and foundation facing is unusual for an octagon house; they may reflect the personal interest of some past owner who also installed an unusual rock garden in the yard: each rock is in the shape of an animal,” according to the book.

But time has taken a toll on the house, the paint is blistered and peeling.  The eaves need to be replaced and there are places where the wood is rotten.

Aware that Mrs. Mang is not physically or financially able to do anything about it, Mrs. Thomas, who has drafted a letter about the aims of the Community Cares group, wrote, “We all know the importance of a sound solid structure, before beginning a big painting project. We are seeking the help of local carpenters/community members with examining and repairing/painting this structure. Since this is a volunteer project, we would appreciate any community service that you are willing to give. Efforts are under way for gathering the material needed for the job by donations from various people within the community, as well as utilizing resources outside the community.”

Mrs. Thomas said the group would like to replace the areas of rotting wood as soon as possible before winter to help Mrs. Mang with her heating costs, and will hold off on other repairs and the painting until spring. People may not have a penny to donate, she said, but they may want to help paint. The Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth has already committed the services of six farm center residents to help with scraping and painting, she said.

The idea of fixing up Copake is nothing new. A subcommittee of the Copake Economic Advisory Board has been working on that issue for some time and the recent effort spearheaded by Hugh “Rus” Davis, to restore the Copake Memorial Clock, is evidence of what can be accomplished.

“It’s not just Helen [Mang] that we want to help, it’s other people in need, we’re hoping to maybe do a couple of projects a year,” she said.

Mrs. Thomas can be reached at 518 329-0364 or by email at .

To contact Diane Valden email .

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