A Guy on a Bike has ridden past 17428 Old Rome State Road scores of times, wondering about the bucolic setting, with the shade trees and the fountain shooting out from a front-yard pond that looks particularly inviting on hot summer days.
So on the first day of summer, instead of passing by, the rider rolled up the driveway in the middle of the afternoon and asked its owners about the home's background and the impressive gardens. But he hadn't come uninvited. The owners, David J. and H. Karen Walton, said he was welcome to come visit and, while at it, to help promote a July 16 house tour and garden party at the property to benefit the Jefferson County Historical Society, which calls it the most extensive gardens in the greater Watertown area.
Dr. Hannibal S. Dickerson would be impressed about how things have worked out at his old homestead.
The doctor bought the property for $70 in 1834 and built the house at the area known as Rice's Station, once a thriving hamlet about 4 miles southwest of Watertown. The house once served as a post office for Rice's Station.
Dr. Dickerson lived in the house and had his office there until he died in 1845 at the age of 37 when his pioneering spirit perhaps got the best of him. He died from the effects of a self-performed operation.
Mrs. Walton, dressed for gardening in a "Life is Good" T-shirt, told her guest that she and her husband have owned the property for nearly 38 years. In 1985, they sold farmland and an ice cream stand on outer Arsenal Street to the Pyramid Cos. to make room for Salmon Run Mall.
"We've had a project going every year, just about," Mrs. Walton said. "When we bought it, it didn't look like this, and there were no gardens."
She said she and her husband enjoy showing their home and garden to the public on tours. Garden clubs have come from as far away as Canton. But she said such gigs come mainly at the suggestion of her husband.
"He sees me work so hard in the garden and then he says, 'Nobody ever sees it.' I get so busy I don't take the time to do the entertaining I should do," Mrs. Walton said.
The home has a shade garden, sun garden and driveway garden. The back of the house features a sunken patio with stone wall and walkways, a fireplace built into the stone wall and a waterfall that muffles the sound of nearby Interstate 81.
Mr. Walton, a retired economics professor at Jefferson Community College, also built the garden's pergola and a large ornamental fence. Mrs. Walton said her husband had help from friends on some projects.
Mr. Walton recalled what the property looked like when they bought it. Besides the lack of gardens, it had a three-stall garage "ready to collapse."
"We took the garage all apart except the four standing sides," he said. "My God, I can't think of what we didn't do here."
Besides the rebuilt garage, the couple also built a barn a few years ago. A shed in the garden that is used to store furniture was moved to the site from Association Island.
"It didn't look like that," Mrs. Walton said of the shed, which like the house has cedar siding and a cedar roof.
The couple has worked hard to bring the house back to its original character. They removed wall-to-wall carpeting in favor of the original floors and took down wood paneling and aluminum siding. The home has four fireplaces. Interesting rooms include a small office off the den where the post office used to be, a showroom for Mrs. Walton's interior design business and a cavelike upstairs bedroom for grandchildren whose ceiling is so low that adults have to stoop. The couple collects antique 18th-century furniture, which is dotted throughout the house.
Mrs. Walton said her interior design business slows down in the summer, allowing her to work in the gardens.
"From early spring on, there are days when I spend eight hours working in it and at least four or five hours most days," she said.
She noted the garden will be at its peak in mid-July when tour guests arrive.
A Guy on a Bike is an occasional column in which the rider introduces you to people and places along roads you might easily miss. If you have a suggested ride/column idea, contact email@example.com, or write to Chris Brock at the Watertown Daily Times, 260 Washington St., Watertown, NY 13601.