Graphic designer Jeffrey Adkisson was born in Iowa to a family of farmers and teachers who embodied self-sufficiency and thrift, qualities that serve him well in real estate investing. Five years ago, he sold his swanky revamped 1960s kit house in Montauk to singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright. He used the proceeds to convert a former embroidery factory in West New York, New Jersey, into residences—he lives in one during the week—and to invest in several 19th-century structures in Stockport, a town of about 2,800 in northwest Columbia County.
He's traded the Atlantic Ocean for the Kinderhook Creek, and glamorous cocktail parties for unpretentious potluck suppers, but what he never misses is the Hamptons traffic congestion.
Adkisson renovated and sold his first house in Stockport, an 1832 farmhouse with a wraparound porch, to a business consultant from Manhattan, and moved into the smaller house next door. They're great neighbors and share a fenced organic garden. "I learned a lot doing her house," says Adkisson. "It's larger and more architecturally interesting than the one I'm living in now, but I sold it because I needed the money so I could continue my neighborhood gentrification project. I recently bought two additional properties across the street, right on the water, which are in a dilapidated condition. "Instead of just letting these old mill workers' houses fall to the ground, I'm quietly making this part of Stockport into something of a tourist destination," says Adkisson.
Montauk on the Hudson
And why not? Like Montauk, the Stockport area is rich in history and natural beauty. The first European to set foot in Columbia County was Henry Hudson, in 1609, who stopped for a day at the mouth of what is today called Stockport Creek, where he ate a meal with the natives. The area that encompasses modern Stockport was settled mostly by the Dutch, and eventually became the hub of industrial activity in Columbia County, because waterpower was abundant and there were numerous woolen mills, which were used well into the 20th century.
Unlike nearby Hudson, Stockport clings to a decidedly rural character, mostly because a lack of land that can be easily developed has preserved open space. As with most Hudson River towns, industry has basically left the community. Most businesses are home-based or sole proprietorships such as automobile repair shops. Recent development has been primarily residential in nature, with interesting people like Adkisson breathing new life into existing structures, and hiring as many locals as possible.
"My builder is Matt Tuczynski. He lives one mile south of me, and he's practical and honest. I trust him with the smallest details, knowing we speak the same language. And if he is unsure, he will ask my advice, because he knows I'm picky about certain things," says Adkisson.
Much Ado about Two Renovations
Adkisson's first Stockport renovation, the farmhouse, came with 21 acres of timber and creek frontage: It sat vacant for three years before he bought it.
"I tore into it with a fervor and stripped off years of bad renovations and asbestos siding," says Adkisson. "The stone and brick basement was weakened and leaking. I repaired the foundation and added French drains, trenches filled with gravel that redirect water away from an area. I also made a real basement out of what had originally been a place to keep farm animals, and throughout the house, I exposed beams and added new supports where needed out of timber from old barns."
When Adkisson sold the farmhouse, he revised the lot lines between the two properties, selling off the first house with five acres, and saving 16.5 acres for the smaller house in which he now weekends.
His current abode was built around 1830, for a mill worker; it sits close to the road. It's a simple structure with spectacular views and a constant sound of water rushing over a rapids. "The post-and-beam frame was in good shape, but once again, the foundation needed work. I gutted the house because my method is usually to strip it down to its barest good condition and then take stock, decide what to save, fix, and how to make it all better," says Adkisson.