By Leslie H. Dixon
NORWAY — A local mason is on a mission to restore Main Street brick by brick.
Tim Presby of Presby Masonry & Roofing in West Pairs said he was asked to make a few repairs on two sets of brick steps leading up the 1894 George Austin House at 292 Main St. and instead decided to do a full restoration.
“I want to ensure that Main Street gets restored to its original era,” said Presby of the Norway Downtown National Historic District that was all but destroyed in 1894 when fire swept down Main Street decimating some 90 buildings.
The George Austin House on a knoll to the right of the 1938 Norway Memorial Library, owned by Madeline Pratt who still resides there along with several tenants, was constructed in 1894 shortly after the original building was leveled during the Great Fire of 1894. Almost all of the buildings destroyed were rebuilt, many within a short period of the conflagration.
It was once the home of noted resident and philanthropist Victorine Blanchard, who was rumored to be the mistress of Diamond Jim Brady, a railroad magnate and salesman who was said to be so rich “he gave away diamonds like peanuts,” according to a 1935 newspaper article.
Blanchard purchased the Norway area’s first Army ambulance in 1942 for the Red Cross Motor Corps, as well as a bandstand on the grounds of the Norway High School in 1927 for members of the open air band concert that were held each summer. She made many other contributions to the community.
The home eventually was renovated into apartments and over time the five brick steps leading up to the home began to wear down with the foot traffic. Presby said he was asked to make a few repairs to two sets of brick steps, but instead took the initiative to expand the project into a full renovation with no additional cost to the homeowner.
He has restored the bricks to their original beauty using local bricks from a nearby 19th century mill that once stood in downtown Norway.
Presby has been in the business for 45 years and worked on such notable projects as the historic Strawbery Banke Historic District in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
“We’re a family of masons,” he said referring to his father who was a mason for 50 years. “But it’s a dying breed. There’s no one doing this anymore.”
The mason said he uses local bricks that he saves from one project to use on another project.
Presby has spent a lot of time on Main Street taking down chimneys and other jobs . He saves the bricks that are reusable, hand cleaning and restoring each one. Then they are piled on a pallet according to the era. He can look at most buildings on Main Street and know where the bricks came from and how old they are.
Presby said there is a difference in the look and feel of old bricks.
“A lot of people don’t realize that bricks were all fire struck years ago. Now they’re water struck,” he said. “The [fire struck] last a lot longer.”
Bricks from one dismantled chimney from an historic Main Street house can become another home’s walkway. For example when a Main Street building occupied by a local law firm wanted new brick Presby took those bricks to rebuild the chimney at the parsonage on the Second Congregational Church in Norway.
It’s all in the family, the Norway family that is.
“I just want it to be nice,” he said as he laid another brick into a step.