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A green home history puzzle, solved

Answers to some questions about the history of Sheep Dog Hollow came from the home builder's grandson.

By / June 30, 2010

Walter Urban, whose grandfather built the house, came by unexpectedly and shared his memories of the place.

Joanne Ciccarello/Staff

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Part of the magic of restoring an old house comes from discovering the history secreted within its walls.

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When we first saw Sheep Dog Hollow, rusting farm equipment sat in the yard, an ancient soda machine was in the dining room, and dusty boxes of heavy white china were piled in a bedroom upstairs. It was a puzzle.

The real estate agent told us it had been part of Urban Farm, named for a family of Czech immigrants who built the house and worked its 130 acres. In the mid-20th century, the farm was sold and became a summer camp, which closed in 1975 after the lake's dam broke. Soon after, Dale King Sr. bought the property and put it into a trust for his family. "My father always called it 'God's country,' " Dale Jr. recalls. We bought the house, barn, and a few acres from him. He's helping us restore it.

One day last summer, as we worked on the granite foundation, an elderly gentleman drove up: Walter Urban, from Texas. His grandfather Joseph Frank Urban had built the house.

Grandson Walter said Joseph "arrived at Ellis Island with less than $25 in his pocket." Though trained as a shoemaker, he worked in a button factory in Chester, Conn. There he met his wife, saved his money, and eventually bought the land that became his family farm.

"My grandfather had seven or eight cows and made butter," Walter said. He had a big garden and also raised chickens. Walter's memories of the home date to the 1930s, in the Great Depression. His grandparents ran it as a boarding house/summer vacation spot for fellow Czech immigrants from New York City.

Every time he visits family in the area he comes by to see the old house, he told us. He seemed genuinely pleased it was being saved.

"I just hope they enjoy it as much as we did," he told a photographer, choking up a bit.

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