Every home for sale comes equipped with at least one potential deal breaker. From sagging floors to clanky furnaces to the occasional apparition, buying a home frequently involves inheriting a quirk, a hiccup, a pain-in-the-butt down the line.
As for the historic residence on Swedesboro Road in Gibbstown, New Jersey, that recently hit the market for a cool $2.9 million, there’s no way around it. The sale requires the home’s previous owners to be included in the deal.
The C.A. Nothnagle Log House was built circa 1640 by Finnish settlers and ranks among the oldest — if not the oldest — surviving log cabin in the United States. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, the nail-free oak abode consists of a single room measuring 16 by 22 feet.
It's in excellent shape, considering its advanced age, thanks in part to Harry and Doris Rink, who have owned and tirelessly cared for the historic property since 1968. Due to a life estate, any sale stipulates that the Rinks will continue to care for the home until their deaths.
"We want to finish out our days here," Doris tells NJ.com. "We want to live here until we die because this is our home and we love it."
Buying a landmark home in rural New Jersey that includes the preservation-minded previous owners may ultimately prove to be a no-go for many, especially since the Rinks don’t just plan on popping by from time to time for free public tours and regular upkeep. As Doris makes clear, she and her husband, who were married in the cabin, plan on continuing to live on the "museum-like property," which includes an attached three-bedroom cottage built in the early 1900s, a gazebo, a four-car garage, machine shop and shed spread over an acre of land studded with redwoods.
The attached two-story cottage functions as the property’s actual living quarters and includes modern conveniences such as a washer, dryer and indoor plumbing. When the addition was built, the original log cabin was used as a workroom for the dairy farm that once existed on the property. When the Rinks entered the picture, they restored the cabin and transformed it into a museum where period furnishings and numerous artifacts unearthed over the years — including a pair of 300-year-old shoes — are on display.
Passing the preservation torch
Once the sale is complete, the Rinks will continue to give tours and, for as long as they're able to, carry out the same historically accurate maintenance tasks they’ve been performing on the cabin for the last 40-some years. This includes filling in the cracks between the logs with a mix of clay and dirt, just as the cabin’s original 17th century inhabitants would have done.
"I liked spending my time fixing things up, getting the buckets of clay and mud and patching up the wood," 88-year-old Harry, who purchased the property from his aunt and uncle when it failed to find a new owner back in the late 1960s, tells NJ.com. "Some people go on vacations, I do this."
The Rinks are looking to sell their longtime home to an owner who is enthusiastic about learning and then carrying on such traditions, no matter how laborious. Like other fiercely protective owners of landmarked historic homes, they’re not just trying to offload the cabin to any old buyer who can afford the $2.9 million asking price. They want to pass the torch to the next generation of preservationists. And although the arrangement is certainly unusual and a deal breaker for most, the new owner won't be inheriting a home with a defect or annoying idiosyncrasy. They'll be obtaining a rough-hewn piece of New Jersey history, complete with a pair of guardian angels.
"For various reasons and for the fact that we're getting older, we've decided it's time to put it up for sale to be sure that the cabin has a future in the hands of someone capable of caring for it like we have," says Doris.
As for public tours of the cabin, the Rinks hope to see those continue well after they’re gone.
"It's important to keep and share the history," Harry says.
Tours of Northnagle Log House are still free by appointment while the property is on the market, although Doris and Harry have been known to give occasional impromptu and off-hour tours. This includes a packed tour bus that once made a 2 a.m detour to rural Gloucester County, New Jersey, en route to New England from Florida. The listing also mentions ambassadors, authors and archaeologists as being among the thousands of folks with a "thirst for knowledge" to visit the historic cabin at 406 Swedesboro Road over the years.
"We're people people," Doris says. "Everyone that stops by is someone we get to share our memories and stories with. And we hear theirs as well."