Spirit House restoration

A group of volunteers aims to create a new future for a former historic place of American Spiritualist pilgrimage.

The Spirit House in Georgetown, Southern Madison County, was also known as the ‘Wedding Cake House’ because of its scalloped walls and the three-tier cornices that drip from the roof like icicles.

The Spirit House

It was built in 1868 by Timothy Brown, who said that spirits had guided him in its design and construction. The place became a haven for Spiritualists and mediums at the time when there was a rapid growth of interest in the paranormal. Old photographs show the crowds who flocked to the Spirit House to communicate with relatives who had passed on.

Brown’s design included a windowless room, and ‘closets’ which served as the exclusive domain of the spirits. Historians claim that the interior walls were built without corners. Angles were rounded because “spirits could get caught in corners”.

Records compiled by the Georgetown Historical Society confirm Brown’s claim that the building was completed “under spirit guidance.

The historic site notice for Spirit House

“The entire community knew that Brown was no carpenter, but about ten years after declaring his intent to build, the house was completed. The timbers came from local forests and he worked with uncanny accuracy. With dogged determination he struggled on, until he at last completed the frame.

“He engaged the assistance of a master carpenter for the raising of the frame. The carpenter surprised those who had been sceptical about Brown’s workmanship when he told them it was the best frame he had ever seen.”

The building was shuttered after a notebook was found in a room used for séances. The notebook contained information from cemeteries and records, and was thought to be a medium’s “cheat sheet”.

In 1899 Brown’s widow sold the house to the family of Alice Cossitt, who lived there until 1989. The next owner refused to sell the property, believing that the sale would bring about her death.

It finally went on the market in 2009, complete with its 3.5 acres of land, at a price of $89,900. Members of the Spirit House Society hope to buy it and convert it into a spiritual healing and retreat centre.

“This was a Mecca for Spiritualists,” said board member Madis Senner, of Syracuse. “The place has significant power. We want to share that with others.”

The Spirit House, a nice little property “with potential”

Senner, after a career on Wall Street, discovered the Spirit House in 2006 while writing reviews of sacred locations.

He helped to found the Spirit House Society after the building came up for sale.

The group now plans to apply for state and private grants for the purchase and restoration. The aim is to generate revenue from educational workshops, guest speakers, and holistic and psychic fairs.

The restoration is a big project. Although structurally sound, the house has had no maintenance for more than twenty years, and was gutted in 2009 because of rain damage.

After purchasing the property, Society members will first improve the grounds, installing benches, small gardens and trails where visitors can pray, meditate and heal spiritually.

“Restoring the grounds will not require a lot of money, and all of it can be done by volunteers,” wrote Senner in the group’s blog. “A smart garden, a nice walkway in the woods, places for prayer and contemplation can go a long way in restoring the Spirit House and provide an inviting draw for pilgrims. It will be a very visible sign that restoration has begun and that progress is being made, even if the house is still closed.”

The Spirit House's most distinctive feature is its icicle-style three-tier cornices

The second goal will be to protect the house from further deterioration and slowly work towards complete restoration. Senner hopes the effort will draw in area preservationists, historians and architectural experts, as well as those who revere the building for its spiritual connections. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

“We want to honour the tradition of the physical space and its spiritual roots,” said Senner. “This can be a resource for the community, the country and the world.”

To learn more about the house and find out how to donate to its restoration, visit http://www.spirithousesociety.org/

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