A Place In History

Everything old is new again

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Gillian Franks has lived in a lot of homes with history. She grew up in a red brick Victorian, her bedroom nestled in the roof in what was once the children’s nursery. During her marriage, she and her (now-ex) husband purchased two homes, one built in 1897 and the other in 1910.

“The only new house I’ve ever lived in was on Borden Street,” she says, referring to the apartment she rented for four years through the Champlain Housing Trust.

She found that apartment in 1999, at a time when she was going through her divorce. She wanted to find an affordable place in Richmond so that she was still close to her daughter (who was mostly living with her ex-husband), and was worried about her job’s stability as funding seemed to be in question every six months.

“Housing costs were going up five, three, two percent every year, and my income wasn’t,” she says. “Having a single income makes it really challenging.”

In 2003, she was again thinking about purchasing a home – somewhere she could paint the walls and get a dog. When she saw the home in Essex listed through the CHT program, part of an old military barracks neighborhood, she says she “just really related to it.”

Her flat is on the third floor, the old servants’ quarters. The ceilings are angled, the staircase narrow and light was scarce until the addition of two modern-day skylights. The servants’ quarters are the only bedrooms in the building with original built-in closets – an acknowledgement that an armoire, more common for the era than a closet, wouldn’t fit up the stairs. There is now a second access with wider stairs.

“This was a place I could live in without feeling like it didn’t match my (mostly old) furniture,” she jokes. A few years ago, she treated herself to a new piece – a Vermont Folk Rocker that she can sit in for hours.

Gillian is a financial counselor at the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, where she’s worked for 17 years, as well as a Feldenkrais practitioner and teacher. She returned to the US (where she was born) and worked as a nanny, and has worked in jobs as varied as motorcycle sales to computer retail selling the Apple 2 with a cassette tape player that was used to store the data. “I saw an incredible boom, working in computers in the early 80s.”

She has made several improvements to her condo, including renovating the kitchen and bathroom, adding a skylight and updating the flooring.

“One of the benefits of third-floor living is the bird watching,” she says, and she keeps her dad’s pair of Royal Navy binoculars by the window, just in case. While crows and pigeons are the most common visitors, she once saw a bald eagle swoop down and grab a pigeon off the wire outside her window. She later learned that the eagle was nesting off Susie Wilson Road.

In 2014, Gillian agreed to serve as one of the resident representatives on CHT’s Board, and was appointed to fill a vacant seat. She shares her financial insights and firsthand knowledge of CHT’s tenant and homeowner services on both the HomeOwnership and Lending Committee as well as with the full Board.

She plans to stay in her newest (old) home a long time.