John Cottrell was born and reared in Indiana and since his early years has been interested in old buildings. He would scavenge old shutters from barns and spend hours drawing an old house in disrepair as it might be restored.
A graduate of Attica High School, his work in Attica began in 1987 when he began the renovation of the Old Church through the John Cottrell Foundation. Since then he acquired the area adjoining the Old Church, where he restored the William Brown house, the Norman S. Brown house and a variety of other out buildings.
This beautiful example of Greek Revival architecture was built in 1849-1850 as the Attica Presbyterian Church. When the Presbyterians found it necessary to have a larger building for their growing congregation, they built a new brick building and parish house next door to the present “Old Church”.
The steeple was removed in the early 1900s, and the building was used as a dance hall called the “Collonade”. In the late 1920s the building was acquired by the congregation of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, and remained in full use until 1985. From 1985 to 1987 there was little use for the structure, and the ravages of weather and time took their hard toll on the building until it was purchased by the John Cottrell Foundation in 1987.
Renovation began with complete reinforcement from the foundation to the rafters. The steeple was replaced as it was originally; using old photographs to be sure it was architecturally correct. The old steeple louvers were found in the ceiling rafters and placed in their original position. The front doors were found in a coal shed that had been added years ago.
The exact date the William Brown House was built is unknown. It is known that it was a wedding gift from Norman S. Brown and his wife, Maria, to their son, William, and new daughter-in-law. It is believed that it was built in the mid-1850s.
The structure was built two blocks away where the browns actually resided at that time. The house was moved to its present location when a grocery was erected at the original site. There was no knowledge at the time that the house was being moved to the land owned by his father, and where he lived for some time as a young man. The house was added onto several times and became two apartments in the early 1900s.
Cottrell stripped the house back to its original structure and completely restored as it was when it was built.
The beautiful Greek Revival house is a perfect example of a three-quarter Cape Cod floor plan. As these houses were built in Ohio and Indiana in the 1800s, they took on a more formal appearance, as was the vogue at that time.
The Norman S. Brown House
This house was built in the early 1850s by Mr. Brown and his wife, upon moving to Attica from New York. Mr. Brown had many interests in Attica, including being a merchant, in the hotel business and owning extensive farm land which they farmed.
This house was located in a key area of the city because the water system originating from the Ravine Park springs came to this corner through hollow logs. Of Federal style, it originally was a rectangle with detached kitchen. An 1869 map shows that there was also a building such as a smokehouse, and a barn.
In the 1880s, it was remodeled and the woodwork (except for one room) changed to the Victorian style. A kitchen and side porch were also shown in an 1880 fire insurance map. Pocket doors were installed, and the poplar floors were covered with oak. In restoration the doors have been lowered to original height, and doors from the same era have been put back. Windows and woodwork are also made to the original style.
Furnishings of both houses are not authentic to these places but are of an earlier style that is of Mr. Cottrell’s interest.
Out-buildings include a moderate sized stable, an outhouse and a smoke house.
An 1850s herb garden is located just north of the William Brown house. The garden’s plan is familiar, with a sundial in the center of cross paths, making four corner beds for planting herbs used for cooking and medicinal purposes. Here you’ll also find those fragrant plants which, fresh and dried, sweeten the air in the house.
Many of the herbs used then for curing common ailments have value today, as newly discovered relief, or as an old “tried and true” remedy. We chew parsley to relieve unpleasant breath; we drink herb teas for sleeplessness and to relieve stress; and we plant marigolds to protect plants from bugs. Modern medical research is constantly striving to unlock other secrets from our plant world.
In the garden you will find varieties of sage, thyme, basil, scented geraniums, marigolds, lavender, bee balm, and other familiar plants. The vegetable garden area is planted with modern varieties of old favorites – tomatoes, beans, cabbage – again all those that would have been grown for use in canning and dry storage in 1850.