At first, Victoria and Lance McCue had no intention of restoring a historic home. It’s the sort of work that already consumes their full-time careers. As partners in the West Chester-based firm, Restoration Solutions, they’ve worked on some of Philadelphia’s most iconic structures, including the Academy of Music, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.
So, when they were in the market for a home three years ago, land was their primary focus. But then, they had a change of heart and decided to look at a few older homes. Their revised search brought them to Clocktower Farm, a seven-acre estate in West Chester anchored by a 123-year-old Georgian manor home.
The McCues simply couldn’t help their curiosity. They were able to see past the home’s many imperfections and envision endless possibilities. “We weren’t daunted by the state of disrepair,” says Victoria. “We were actually fascinated.”
That fascination led to ink on paper. The couple and their two daughters moved into the six-bedroom house right away, diving into a nine-month renovation process. “Our biggest challenge was putting the place back together with no blueprints,” says Lance. “We needed to figure out how it should be done.”
And it wouldn’t be a surface job. On the home’s exterior, boards were stripped down to the original wood and repainted. “We could’ve just used any paint, but we wanted to leave it better for the next person who lives here,” says Victoria of the lifetime guarantee that came with the product they chose. “This place won’t need to be repainted for at least another 50 years.”
Gutters were replaced; old trees were removed and new ones added. The property already had a pool, a barn with stalls, and a workshop structure. Elsewhere, a tennis court was transformed into a riding paddock for the owners’ horses.
The McCues have a detailed chronology of the property’s ownership and structures that dates back to 1703. Records show that the stone barn was built in 1838. Well-known Philadelphia aristocrat Sydney Logan assumed ownership of Clocktower Farm in 1895, and he stayed for 30 years. A descendant of James Logan (of Logan Square fame), he spent his life chasing the dream of becoming an accomplished poet and novelist. But, save for a few books, Logan’s legacy truly lives on in this architectural gem. He’s responsible for many of its glamorous Old World features, from a neoclassical dining room with ornate moldings and built-in china cabinets, to a second-floor master suite with a luxurious sitting room.
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Logan also conceived the property’s signature feature: a majestic, five-story, stone campanile with a terra-cotta roof. It was designed to house a tower clock Logan made in his machine shop on the property, dedicating the project to the pursuit of peace following World War I. Almost a century later, in 1980, the estate’s new owners acquired a 1795 clock from a tower in London, along with an antique bronze bell. Everything still works today.
“When we bought the property, my husband consistently wound the clock,” says Victoria. “He’s not as consistent, but we still do it from time to time.”
And they’ve done their part to keep the clock running, installing new ropes and weights. “It’s in pristine condition,” she says. “It really is magnificent.”
The McCues sought inspiration for the home’s interior from the historic homes in Fairmount Park, which are quite similar in design. Wherever possible, they’ve retained irreplaceable architectural elements, from historic millwork in the dining room to the original hearthstones and hand-carved mantels on most of the nine fireplaces. At the front of the house, antique silk wallpaper in the parlor room had sustained minor damage from a leaky pipe at some point. The McCues overlooked the blemish and left it intact. Across the foyer, what was once a sitting room is now the family room, with its antique gold-leaf wallpaper and flat-screen television mounted above the fireplace. And in the formal, chestnut-paneled center hall, a fireplace sits behind the dramatic two-landing staircase.
The McCues’ teenage daughters have grown accustomed to living amid such grandeur. “They love that their bedrooms are large enough to have a couch in them,” says Victoria with a laugh. “And after living in a house with 11-foot ceilings, when they go into a house with eight-foot ceilings, it feels claustrophobic to them.”
For good reason, the McCues take pride in the work they’ve done. “We’d hate to see someone come in and try to modernize a house like this,” says Victoria. “It’s one thing to bring it up to modern standards; it’s a completely different thing to try and modernize it.”
And the McCues may have only just begun. “I do have my eye on a few properties,” admits Victoria. “They don’t build homes today like they used to.”