‘This Old House’ Is Back On Top
Debbie and Kevin McCartney had a dream.
Kevin grew up in one of the Gold Country’s oldest, most historic homes. Built in 1852 when Mokelumne Hill was a contender for state capital, the house could have been the gubernatorial mansion. By 2003, the Gothic Revival residence, long empty, had fallen to ruin. Kevin mourned the house where he and his brothers had grown up.
Debbie, of the pioneer Garamendi family, has a keen sense of history. “The house is part of the Gold Rush heritage,” she feels. “Its legacy belongs to the town, the county, the state. We have an obligation to keep it alive.” The six McCartney “boys” inherited the house together, but as they discussed restoration, it became clear that Kevin and Debbie were the ones to do it. That was the easy part. Excited at the prospect of the family home coming back to life, the others happily relinquished their claims.
The search was on for a contractor. The couple lives in Placerville. Kevin works with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Debbie with New Morning, a non-profit providing support to battered families. The house would be a vacation place, later a retirement home. In the meantime they needed a builder. The house was unlivable. Only the hillside property had value. Many contractors were eager to replace the ruin with a showplace. Tear it down before the wind blows it down, they advised. The McCartneys were adamant: Restoration or nothing.
Dreams collided with destiny when they met Jan Schmidiger, a builder ready for challenge. She didn’t sign on as an engineer but that’s what she became. Termites had made a salad bar of the foundation. The house couldn’t be raised without sacrificing 150-year old chimneys, so the ground beneath it was excavated 18 inches.
“The amount of rock removed was amazing,” Schmidiger says. “Hauling the heavy equipment and material up a steep hill, around sharp corners made it even harder. That was only one problem—not the worst. The county permit process proved tougher than excavating the house.”
A woman moving up in the man’s world of construction, Schmidiger fought city hall. Enrolling in a Sacramento building code class, she discovered a new regulation exempting historic houses from rigid modern requirements.
Permits in place, the whole family pitched in to pull up the old floor. With the dedication of archaeologists, they carefully removed old boards, numbering each so it could be replaced. “We looked for Gold Rush relics,” Kevin confides, “and found my brother Vince’s grammar school report card.” The restoration is nearly complete. The McCartneys will celebrate Christmas in their new/old home. Debbie promises: “The house will look just as it did 150 years ago.”