E.F. Sobers and the Deemer Connection
Remember Milton L. Deemer, who flipped the house and property for the Steinbach’s in 1882? Milton was the grandson of Jacob J. and Anna Catherine Deemer, prominent farmers and land-owners in Willliams Township, who had sold back some of the property the family had acquired from Peter Transue in 1823, to Isaac and Sarah Transue in 1848.
Milton was also “engaged in agricultural pursuits” and active in the Evangelical and Reformed congregation in Hellertown, according to his obituary in 1941. Milton’s older sister, Anna Belle or “Annie” was widowed just 5 years after marrying Stewart Melvin Reichard in 1895 and giving birth to daughter Naomi in 1897. She met Eugene Franklin Sobers, ten years her senior and twice widowed, and they married in 1903. It is this E.F. Sobers, connected to Stone Cottage Woods through his wife Annie, who purchased an additional 17 acres (tract 4) from Milton L. Deemer on March 2, 1916, and the 5 acres 5 perches, 93 perches, and 1307 square feet from George Sloyer on Feburary 12, 1917. The property now consisted of 23 acres, plus the 98 perches and 1307 square feet.
The Sobers lived in Bethlehem, so it’s not clear what their intention was with respect to the property, which they owned up until 1926.
The Worman-Rush Families
On August 5, 1926, E.F. and Anna B. Sobers sold the property, by now a total of four tracts, to Charles T Worman. Three years later, on March 30, 1929, Charles Worman purchased a tiny tract of 7.41 perches, tract 5, from William B. and S. Valeria Gross for $50. This land appears to have been connected to the 1307 square foot property across the street from Stone Cottage Woods, possibly adjacent to where the blacksmith shop had once stood.
William Beidler Gross was born in 1874 and married S. Valeria Helms on September 24, 1898 in Springtown. They had 2 children, Warren L. (b 1899) and Clara O. (b 1900). Their residence in the 1910 and 1920 census is Williams Township, where William is listed with the occupation of farmer, and in the 1930 census it appears they moved to Riegelsville. He died in 1953 and his wife passed in 1957.
Charles T. Worman was born circa 1860, but few genealogical references exist. A possible connection with the area is the farm across Stouts Valley Road, which at some point between 1891 and 1927, was owned by E. Frank Sobers and then Samuel S Warman [sic].
Was there a connection between Samuel and Charles? Did Charles live in Stone Cottage Woods for a brief time? And what became of him? The census of 1930 provides a clue: he is listed as a widower living with his daughter Louella Rush (b. c.1894), her husband, Charles S. Rush, and his grandsons Robert B. and Norman C. Rush in Palmer Township, just outside of Easton. Both Louella and her husband are listed as being from New Jersey; a large Rush family hailed from Montana Mountain, aka Scott’s Mountain, in Warren County, NJ, about a 30 minute drive on today’s roads from Stone Cottage Woods. In the 1920 census, a 26 year old Louella is married and living with her son Norman and her husband Charles in Williams Township.
On October 30, 1934 Charles Worman sold the 5 tracts and adjoining blacksmith shop to his daughter Louella. She didn’t hold onto it for long. On August 10, 1936 she proceeded to sell all five tracts to Florence Smith, “widow, of Jersey City, NJ” who turned around and sold it for $2200 to another New Jerseyan, Louis G Copes in what appears to be a consecutive transaction.
The Copes Family
Louis Copes purchased the house and property in Stouts Valley in 1936. His wife Helen had passed away in 1930 and he thought that living in the country was healthier for his children than living in the city. The Copes family originally used the Stouts Valley house as a summer home, but it soon became their permanent residence. Louis died in 1938. Joe was attending college, but he quit college, got a job, and supported his younger sisters. He also met Anna, whose family owned the Thaler farm across the road in the valley.
A Brief History of the Thaler Farm
Anna Thaler was born was born on July 12, 1920 in Sheppton, PA (near Hazelton) to Johann and Stephanie (Alber) Thaler. Her father Johann (b 1885) immigrated to the United States in 1911 from the Tyrolean village of Proveis, Austria, with his wife Maria, pregnant with their first child. They settled near Hazelton, where there was a church and active Tyrolean community who worked in the coal mines. In 1915, Maria died giving birth to their fourth child, a daughter, leaving him with four small children. In 1918, he married Stephanie Alber (b 1883), originally from Vienna and trained as a chef. Shortly after his marriage, the Thalers moved to a farm in Kintnersville, but the quality of the soil was poor, so they sold it and returned to Shepton in 1919. Their daughter Anna was born in 1920. In 1925, he decided to try farming again, and purchased a farm about two miles west of Riegelsville, Pa and on the east side of Stouts Valley (with an address of 175 Durham Road, Easton). He chose that farm over another because his wife Stephanie liked the house so very much, though much of the land was boggy. In 1927, Stephanie died in childbirth and was buried at Saint John the Baptist Church, Haycock Run, Pa, with the baby. In 1927, he moved the family to the adjacent farm across the street from Stone Cottage Woods where the soil was richer.
The farm most likely belonged to Isaac Stout Sr (b.c 1749), who sold it to Isaac Jr (1787-1857). The Stouts, for whom the valley was named, owned several of the farms and homes in the area, and likely ran this property as a tenant farm, employing Daniel Beidelman (b c 1818). Daniel passed the farm onto his sons Robert and William, neither of whom had any interest in farming. William was a Civil War soldier, a lawyer, district attorney, politician, author and mayor of Easton from 1890 to 1894. He immediately sold his half to Robert, who in turn sold it to a cousin, Jonathan Beidelman (b 1852). Jonathan sold it to Richard Deemer in 1891, and it then passed to E. Frank Sobers and Samuel S. Warman [sic], before it was purchased by Johann Thaler.
Here, Johann raised his children and enjoyed the company of his grandchildren, whose father John worked the land and enlarged the farm, while raising eight sons with his wife Helen. Johann’s daughter Mary chose a career as a medical technician in St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City, and his daughter Clara worked for Bethlehem Steel during World War II. His daughter Anna married Joseph Copes in 1942. He was the boy across the road, a WW II veteran and a chemist, and they settled into life at Stone Cottage Woods, across the street from her father’s farm, and next door to her husband’s sister Mary Elizabeth.
The Copes of Stone Cottage Woods
The Copes raised 6 children at Stone Cottage Woods. Their recollections include colorful stories of family life. Joe Copes was by all accounts an interesting and inventive man, with several patents filed with the US Patent office and a passion for modernizing the home. Bearing in mind the home’s advanced age, he bought grates and installed a coal furnace in the front cellar that provided steam to the steam radiators throughout the house. He wired the house for electricity, plumbed the house for running water and installed a hot water tank.
The “back cellar” was originally just a crawl space under the main part of the house. He broke through between the two parts of the house, and dug the crawl space out by hand; together with some of the Thaler boys, he cemented the walls and floors up to the point where the walls met the original foundation stones at the ledge. His son recalled that his father loved to work with cement; at one point he rewired part of the house by taking off interior plaster, running conduit & cementing over it – definitely safe from mouse damage. To the left of the steps leading from the road to the front of the house is an old well. One year, during a drought, it failed. Joe set up a swimming pool in the basement and had water trucked in, until he dug a line from the spring on the hillside to provide a steady water source until the new well behind the house was put in.
The main house consisted of a first floor kitchen on the side closest to the street, a living room and the second story bedrooms. A porch spanned the front of the house, and three exterior doors opened onto the porch, one each to the north and south portions of the house, and one to a small room at the north end which extended from the family’s kitchen. Eventually, this became the primary entrance to the house. The staircase, fireplace, and cabinets on the south wall of the living room were all enclosed. To the left of the fireplace was a wooden door (now a coat closet) that hid the staircase, except for the first step, which remained visible. The centered fireplace had doors which could be opened or closed off. On the right side of the south wall were two doors that opened to upper and lower cabinets. A round patch in the plaster centrally located above the mantle was all that was left of the potbelly stove used for heating before Joe Copes added central heat. There was also a round hole in the living room ceiling for heat circulation to the second floor bedroom. On the second floor, a metal plate with vent holes covered that opening.
When the Copes family purchased the house, two sets of stairs extended from the main floor to the upstairs bedrooms, one at the north end and one at the south end. One of the Copes children vividly recalls her father using a hammer and chisel to make a hole that broke through the top of the stone wall between the kitchen and living room. Joe Copes took out the north end stairs to enlarge the kitchen/dining area and the upstairs bedroom floor space. His master plan was to build one central staircase, and then take out the stairs at the south end of the house by the fireplace. He started in the front basement, as originally, there were no interior stairs between the basement and the first floor.
He created an interior set of cement stairs from the basement to the kitchen, at the base of the wall separating the two halves of the house, and covered the opening with two long planks of wood hinged together, which made a folding door. He used a hammer and chisel to break through the thick stone wall at the middle of the house to create a base for the central staircase. He also cemented in the base steps, using the remaining wall as a foundation, and winding the final steps around in front of a kitchen window seat.
Joe also got timber from the property and had it cut to form the stair steps to sit on top of each cemented base step and to form a spiral staircase. He drilled two holes in each wooden step so that each could be affixed to a cement steps with two large bolts. The staircase was spiral, and the wood steps varied in shape to fit, but the straight wooden blocks were approximately 3 feet x 1 foot x 1 foot. Those large blocks of wood had to season, and they were not installed during Joe’s lifetime.
The kitchen evolved over the years. Early recollections of the Copes family are of opening the exterior door to the kitchen and seeing a large wall cabinet with a counter, base cabinets, and upper cabinets flush against the middle wall of the house. The exterior door and the large hutch were both removed, and the front space was used for the kitchen table. Joe built an area for the sink, stove, and refrigerator toward the far kitchen wall and bordered the area with knotty pine. He also added floor-to-ceiling knotty pine cabinets.
To create more space for the second floor bedrooms, Joe Copes opened up the crawl space behind the drywall, so that the bedroom extended to the outside walls. He cemented the top of the east stone wall to form a ledge, and installed a few small windows between the wall and the eaves. The upstairs bathroom was originally a room, with doors, between two bedrooms. Joe put in the tub and walled off the bathroom so that it was only on the west side of the middle room, much like it is now. The remainder of that area then became a hallway and a small bedroom.
Although the blacksmith shop had been dismantled over the years, the Copes parked their car in a barn used as a garage at the site where the shop once stood. Although it is unknown if parts of the blacksmith shop were incorporated into the construction of the barn, there is one clue that ties the structure to the house. On the left side of the barn was a doorway that opened to a set of stairs that led to the second floor. The existence of an exterior door to each portion of the building was similar to the construction of the stone house. It was Joe Copes in the 1950s who connected the street level of the house with the main level of the house by means of an interior staircase from the basement to the main floor.
The second floor of the barn/garage had windows and a smokestack or vent. Its location central on the roof edge indicates it might have been for a potbelly stove used for warmth on the second floor only.
Joe Copes began building a cement block garage to replace barn, which was a big project for just one person to undertake in his spare time. But then the embankment on which the rear of the building stood eroded, and the building collapsed into the field in a mud slide.
After Joseph Copes died in 1976, Anna continued to live at Stone Cottage Woods until around 1987, when she sold the property to Peter Thompson of Williams Township.
The Thompson Restoration
Peter Thompson is a historian, horticulturalist, and noted expert at dating and restoring period architecture and building materials. He’s both pragmatic and fanatically perfectionist about restoring and preserving historic buildings, or recycling their materials if the structure cannot be saved. He immediately saw the potential in Stone Cottage Woods, and aimed to restore property while remaining sensitive to its long history and character. There were several challenges, as the property had deteriorated over the years.
The log joists in the front part of the house were bowed and sagging more than seventeen inches at one end, and the roof was deteriorating. He removed the joists and roof, and was able to salvage enough of the existing joists to use them for the first floor ceiling. The second floor was basically the size of an attic, divided into tiny rooms, with the only light coming from little windows. Pete created the knee wall and set the new roof pitch with dormers, to let in more light and provide more usable space. He added a dramatic two story gable window on the street side, re-pointed the stone and installed a cedar shake roof.
His unique blend of pragmatism and perfectionism is evidenced in his construction and materials. For example, in installing the cedar shake roof, he used only galvanized nails and a heavy felt lining lapped over and under every course of shingles. The materials and technique ensures a rain-proofed seal. Most modern roofers simply lap shake over shake, with the result that a single split shake can expose the roof to leakage. “I wanted the roof to outlast my lifetime, and I certainly didn’t want to ever have to redo it myself,” he joked. Similarly, in re-pointing the stonework, he created a historically authentic mix of lime, clay and sand with a light Portland cement to create a strong, yet elastic mortar. It’s what makes old stone homes so much more durable than those of the modern era, pointed using regular Portland cement as a mortar which is subject to cracking. The old stone masons knew that lime was key to a strong yet elastic bond, but the challenges of working with lime has caused it to fall out of favor today.
The original old pine floor was removed, and a Southern heart pine floor taken from an 18th century granary was brought in to replace the original flooring. Pete installed a modern septic system and dug a new well, created the bluestone patio and stone retaining walls. When early plans to live on the property changed, Pete subdivided the 20 acres (he had thought he’d bought 25 acres, but when he had the land surveyed, it turned out to be 20) into 4 lots, giving the subdivision the name “Stone Cottage Woods.” The old farmhouse was given 2.1 acres and the bit of land across the street where the blacksmith shop once stood, while the three other lots climbed up the hill through the woods at the southern end of the property.
The Blomstrom Renovations
Lori Blomstrom was raised in Lower Saucon Township and had explored the backroads of Williams Township as a child. At the time she purchased Stone Cottage Woods from Peter Thompson, November 15, 1993, she was working for PPL Electric Company but also running a small home repair service, ShePaintsEtc as a side business, having learned carpentry and construction from her father Rudy. Rudy was working for a real estate agency in Hellertown at the time, and Pete often consulted with the agency on historic properties.
Undaunted by the work required to complete the renovations started by Pete, she and her father set to work modernizing the electric and plumbing, installing a kitchen and bath, and doing all the finish work on the interior, a process which took 8 months till the house was habitable. More than that, it had once again become a home.