It’s a beautiful morning at one of Roseville’s oldest properties, and several members of the local historical society are talking about how they might help bring the structure back to life.
For the past year, the Fiddyment House, a former pioneer homestead dating to the mid-19th century, has sat vacant in West Roseville. All around it, land is being developed into residential neighborhoods, as the owner of that historic house — the City of Roseville — considers the future of the property.
The City plans to eventually turn the Fiddyment House into an events center and has $200,000 set aside for immediate stabilization work. The Roseville Historical Society, which is partnering on this project, envisions a living history museum within that center. But it’s going to take some work to get to either point, as the members discover during their tour of the property in April.
Grass about a foot long and still wet from a recent rain surrounds the house. Wild rabbits scurry around, heading to a space under the house. Inside, the house looks undisturbed by wildlife or vegetation, though a funky smell lingers, and the walls and floors could use some freshening.
Later on this day, the society votes 8-0 to accept a 90-day Temporary Right of Entry agreement on the Fiddyment House property with the City. Such an agreement doesn’t make the historical society responsible for the property long-term and would allow the members to help improve the grounds in the short-term.
“Very clearly, we came away with, ‘Proceed, but proceed with caution,’” says Christina Richter, president of Roseville Historical Society.
It’s all part of the long-running effort to restore one of the few remaining historic properties in Roseville.
What Fiddyment House Once Was
Once, the Fiddyment House stood alone on an expanse of land unencumbered by the modern world. Today it is nestled between two relatively-new neighborhoods, Westpark and Fiddyment Farm. The City’s Fire Station 9 opened in recent years a few hundred feet from the property. Ground is likely to be broken this year on the nearby West Park High School, which could open by 2020.
Once, it was just farmland in these parts, with the Fiddyment family pursuing a variety of agricultural endeavors beginning in the 19th century. Grain, turkey, sheep, cattle and pistachios were all raised on the land, according to an assessment produced last year by architectural firm Page & Turnbull.
“The ranch house, cooler, smokehouse and reservoir are rare examples in the Roseville area of nineteenth century ranch-related structures that functioned as necessary components of a self-sufficient ranch operation,” the assessment noted. The property was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.
But it’s been a long time since farming occurred at the Fiddyment House, and the property has fallen into mild disrepair. The City commissioned the feasibility study in late 2016 in the process of accepting ownership of the house at no cost from a local developer. The study estimated $183,925 in stabilization costs alone, which doesn’t include the cost to turn the property into an events center or historical reenactment space that could be part of a museum.
Roseville Park Planning & Development Superintendent Tara Gee says, “The City values what the house brings — the history, the opportunity, the education.”
But there’s a challenge, Gee adds: “To do a major amount of work is dollars we don’t have.”
City leaders have spoken in recent months of a possible $14 million annual general fund shortfall for Roseville, making projects like the Fiddyment House especially challenging.
Roseville City Councilman Scott Alvord lives nearby and joined the council in December 2016, two months before the City formally took ownership of the house. While Alvord says the house has value historically, he’s lukewarm about sinking too much money in. “Right now, it’s just challenging because of the things we’re having to cut back on,” Alvord says.
How the Historical Society Might Help
Where the City might lack dollars or man hours to tackle the Fiddyment House, the Roseville Historical Society could step in to help.
Historical society members include Maverick Woodward, who lives nearby and became interested in the property driving by it regularly. A handyman by trade, Woodward is one of several members who might be counted on to volunteer.
“The whole thing’s just going to be fun,” Woodward says. “I can’t wait to actually get started on it.”
Richter would welcome more volunteers, too. The society plans to provide financial assistance, with Richter saying she’s already applied for a $5,000 Home Depot grant to potentially purchase tools, fertilizer and landscaping equipment, while the society looks to tackle ground improvements in their 90-day window.
The City will also hire an architect to do stabilization work on the property beginning this summer — work that could include re-roofing the main house, addressing dry rot and stabilizing the chimney, with Gee saying this work could be done by the fall.
The stabilization work is important to keep the house from further deteriorating, with potential roof leaks a particular cause for concern for the damage they can cause. But more comprehensive improvements might take longer.
“We’re talking about millions of dollars that would have to be gathered through grants and fundraising,” Gee says. “That’s something the historical society has committed to do and that takes some time.”
Still, Gee’s optimistic for the future. So is Richter, who’s titled a promotional campaign for the property as “Love Where You Live.”
“That is our focus: Just love on it,” Richter says. “Because it is a gem in the community. And we’re going to polish it up and we know people will be proud of it.”