WINCHESTER — Whoever buys the house at 414 N. Braddock St. will be the beneficiary of a stunning restoration that gave a father and son one last chance to work together.
On Thursday, contractor Tommy Ritter of Winchester stood in the renovated, modern kitchen and reflected on what he found when he first walked into the 129-year-old house.
“It was completely gutted,” he said. “Bare studs, no electric, no plumbing. You could stand in the cellar and look into the attic because there were giant holes in the floors.”
When he bought the property in May 2018 for $183,000, it had been vacant for a year with the exception of several squatters who littered the property and left behind their sleeping bags.
Despite the extensive damage, Ritter knew he had found a gem.
“From a contractor’s perspective, having a gutted house is like new construction,” he said. “You can do what you want with it, so I was excited.”
Ritter said many older homes, including the one he bought on North Braddock Street, were built with durable materials by people who wanted them to last.
He started renovations with the assistance of his father, 75-year-old Thomas Ritter, the founder of Ritter Construction Co. in Frederick County.
“Although he could not see very well, Tommy kept Dad on the job because that is where he loved to be,” said Tommy Ritter’s sister, Tracy Wenger.
The Ritters wanted to add modern amenities to the house while preserving its historic character.
“A lot of people don’t want to buy an old house because of all the maintenance that comes along with it,” Tommy Ritter said. “I try to take that out of the equation. It’s an old shell, but it’s a brand-new house. New insulation, new electric, new plumbing, new windows.”
He said he put “well over $100,000” into transforming and modernizing the house, sometimes finding new uses for the structure’s original materials. For example, the new range hood was crafted from old wood that had been used to cover a hole in the side of the house, a bathroom cabinet was built using repurposed lumber, and the home’s original front door is now the pantry door.
Ritter used a niche in the wall next to an exposed-brick chimney in the kitchen to build a custom-made cabinet, a project that proved to be particularly difficult.
“I got many phone calls late at night: ‘Do you know what I’m having to do?’” said his wife, Allison Ritter.
“That was a difficult cut,” Tommy Ritter said.
The wooden floors inside the home are original, but the Ritters gave them a fresh look by sanding the planks and adding a clear protective coat.
Modern amenities were added to the house’s three bathrooms, but Tommy Ritter wasn’t willing to completely part with the past. He installed a 500-pound cast-iron bathtub in the second-floor master bath, which he carried up the steps with the assistance of a strong nephew.
“You can get the new stuff, the fiberglass ones, but they’re not the same,” Tommy Ritter said.
The Ritters converted the house’s attic into a “bonus room” that can serve as a home office or a fourth bedroom. Tommy Ritter designed and built the spiral staircase that leads to the room.
Once the makeover was complete, Tommy Ritter put the house on the market in April for $449,900. The price has since been reduced to $425,000, and the property is being marketed by Wenger, a real estate consultant with Avery Hess Realtors in Front Royal.
The restoration of 414 N. Braddock St. turned out to be the last time Tommy Ritter got to work with his father. Thomas Ritter died on May 22.
“I grew up helping him, and he grew old helping me,” Tommy Ritter said. “It’s a shame he wasn’t able to see the award we won for it.”
The award he was referring to was the Preservation of Historic Winchester Inc.’s Award of Merit, presented on Sunday in recognition of the Ritters’ success in breathing new life into the once-neglected home at 414 N. Braddock St.
Tommy Ritter said his father would have been honored by the nonprofit organization’s recognition.
“He would have bragged about that forever,” he said.