SULLIVAN — Take a ride down Taunton Drive in Sullivan and you will see a neighborhood coming back to life.
“I am always drawn to things that need help and people that need help and cars that need help and houses that need help,” said Norm Bamford, a father of five and pastor of the Ashville Community Church in East Sullivan. He and his husband, Brad, have restored seven properties along the road that begins at Route 1 near the Sullivan-Hancock Bridge, skirts Taunton Bay and winds through West and North Sullivan. The couple also are foster parents to two children.
On the 2-mile road, past the former West Sullivan post office, Jerry’s Hardware and other landmarks, the Bamfords have fixed up various old, uninhabited homes properties either to sell or for themselves and their extended family. Currently, the couple, with Norm’s ex-wife, Veronika Bamford-Connors, are restoring the former Knights of Pythias lodge, which stands out prominently along Taunton Drive. The three-story clapboard and shingled structure. is a work in progress.
Some of Sullivan’s historic structures date from its heyday, when silver was mined and granite widely quarried there, from the late 1880s to the early 20th century. More than just flipping properties, the Bamfords are working diligently to revive and make their neighborhood a desirable place to live. By refurbishing old houses, they are enabling new families to move there.
“All these young people are coming in, and all these people with kids are coming in, and the road has just come alive,” Norm said. “It’s amazing.” Despite what they call their area’s rough reputation, they see potential there. Thanks to their restorations, others do, too.
“I’ve seen [the neighborhood] go through a lot of changes. This is a really good stage for it,” said Mary Lou Barker, a Taunton Drive resident for nearly 33 years. She and her husband, Alex, welcome the changes Brad and Norm have made. She notes the neighborhood has “become much more of a community.”
Neighborhood residents are not the only ones noticing the improvements. The whole town is catching on.
“[The Bamfords] are wonderful, community-driven people,” said Sullivan Town Manager Stacy Tozier. “We like to preserve what we have if possible and they do great work.”
Given its size, the Knights of Pythias building is a major undertaking that commenced a few years ago.
Norm and Veronika co-own the rambling structure. In 2017, they started the Taunton Bay Tea & Soap Co., which continues to operate there. Housed on the first floor, the apothecary carries teas, soaps, clothes and more. An apartment is located on the second floor.
Fixing up the building’s extensive interior has occurred in stages, beginning with the addition of two furnaces.
“It’s still not enough,” Brad said of the drafty, uninsulated structure.
Business offices and the shipping department occupy the basement, which has exposed stone walls and old wood beams.
A staff break room and kitchen is set up where old bean suppers used to take place, Norm explained.
“[There’s] a lot of ghost stories about this place,” Norm said, noting his staff, including his son, Joshua, often hear unexplained noises. Norm, himself, has not had any encounters.
According to Jeanne Edwards, vice president of the Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society, Sullivan’s Knights of Pythias lodge, with 125 charter members, organized in 1896, formed. While deed records are difficult to find, Edwards notes the charter members either built or bought the hall, which also is believed to have later become the Masonic Hall.
“In early days, between 1900 and 1930, the hall was used for Sullivan High School events, such as speaking contests, for drama presentations and graduations. Friday night socials and public dinners were also held there,” she said. “The Knights had their own basketball team, which played against other local teams.”
Inside Taunton Bay Soap Co., Norm points out, the former basketball court’s narrow-planked, hardwood flooring has survived the times.
Refurbishing the building’s exterior began this past summer. While Norm and Brad typically do all the work themselves, they subcontracted the residing project to Steve Lewicki and Heidi McCormick of Ellsworth.
Norm, Brad and Veronika make all design decisions together. Their priority is to respect the building’s historical integrity.
“We talked about color choices for — oh, my gosh, had to be like — three weeks,” Norm said. “It is such an iconic building that we had to get the colors just right.”
They opted for a change, trading the original green and white for a gray that is both timeless and modern. He said Lewicki meticulously sands down and preps the exterior before applying paint.
“It’s a long, long process. It will look beautiful when it’s done,” Norm said.
All the original windows are still intact including a large, bay window on the second floor.
“It kind of looks like a ship so we’re leaving that wood and we’re going to polyurethane it, so it really looks like an old boat,” Norm explained.
Brad’s passion is gardening and landscaping. Each of the Bamfords’ house projects has his signature touch.
“At [Taunton Bay Tea & Soap Co.], we have a VW Beetle that Norman could not rescue,” Brad said. “We put it back together and put it on the ground and we turned it into a beautiful garden bed.”
The eye-catching display, a haven for bumblebees, hummingbirds and mosses, prompts many passers-by to take photos. Full of perennials, “every year it just comes to life and it’s so colorful and it’s pretty amazing,” Brad said.
Back in 2013, the couple’s mission to resurrect old buildings began when a serendipitous drive led them past to 36 Taunton Drive and its “for sale by owner” sign.
The house was falling apart, but something about it called to Norm. Despite its rough shape, and the plants growing through the bay window, the structure’s good bones shone through.
The couple made a deal with the owner that they would work on the house for six months, rent-free. Then they would get the house up to snuff to qualify for a loan through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Norm is a U.S. Air Force veteran, having served from 1997 to 2007.
“We didn’t have a carpentry bone in our body,” Brad recalled, but they learned from YouTube videos and discovered they both share a love for design.
All their projects’ momentum led Brad and Norm to start their business, Flipping Crazy, LLC. They have such a loyal following, that once they buy a new fixer-upper, they have interested buyers before even rehabilitating and listing the house.
Some potential buyers have even expressed that they “need a ‘Norm house!’”
As the couple continue to liven up Taunton Drive, Norm credits their success to seizing opportunities that arise, despite any inklings of fear.
“If you have an idea, if you have some sort of vision or dream, the thing that’s going to stop you all the time is fear,” he said.
When that fear is confronted, it does not mean that it does not exist, Norm said, but by pursuing your dreams, anyway, “amazing things can happen.”