When Blaine Applegate was a kid, there was a grand property in his Bucks County hometown whose ivy-covered carriage house stirred his imagination. "I thought it was the creepiest, scariest house," he says.
Years later, the place that had intrigued him so was on the market - where it remained for quite a while. Until one day, when the sunlight was hitting the weathered carriage house in just the right spot and it didn't look so creepy anymore.
Applegate asked the real estate agent to see just the small house next to a tall 1830 Georgian brick beauty with white columns. He measured the smaller structure for a home office and told his agent, "Don't show me the big house because I am not sure I can afford to fall in love with it."
Then he promptly called his accountant, put the house he was living in on the market, and made a bid on it.
Seven years have gone by now, and Applegate is readying the main house he was afraid to look at for another kind of tour: a Christmas fund-raiser for his next-door neighbor, Makefield Elementary School. He has no children there - it's just part of the house's legacy of giving back.
The place he has renovated is all about charity. It was here, in 2004, that Applegate started hosting his Falcon Foundation's (www.falconfoundation.net) one-day sporting event to raise funds for cancer research. To date, the event, held every July, has netted more than $240,000 for Fox Chase Cancer Center.
"The cancer research has driven the train as to what gets considered and done around here through the managing of the foundation," Applegate explains.
Projects include a new outbuilding with basement, garage and office headquarters for the foundation that is under construction by Michael Note of Note Brothers Construction in Yardley.
Applegate has spent years clearing out his property to make room for a new basketball court, a putting green, a gazebo, and an oversized patio that can hold three bands.
The sportscaster-turned-entrepreneur - he is opening a restaurant/bar in Washington Crossing called Plan B Bistro this month - decided to start the foundation when a family friend died of cancer and the friend's son encouraged him to be more socially conscious.
"I had the idea of a two-man competition here. That idea is not original, but with the yard I have been blessed with, how could I not?" Applegate says.
He did the bar-napkin math for his "fat guy field day," and in July 2004, 48 guys showed up and paid $100 to play sports like a bunch of high schoolers. That year, the money went to the cancer center and the Jimmy V foundation.
Sadly, that same year his mother, Patricia's, colon cancer, which had been in remission, began to worsen, and she ultimately moved in with Applegate.
"She was constantly surrounded by family and friends here," he says. Applegate even had a giant fountain built outside her bedroom, which she got to see the day before she died in April 2006.
"The moneys we raised the first year of the foundation would never have helped her fast enough," he says. "The event was not initially for her, but it has become about her." (Last summer, Applegate hosted about 600 guests and raised $61,194 for Fox Chase, where his mother was treated.)
In March 2007, Applegate started on the house's master suite. Mike Vogel of Chestnut Hill had already redone the dated kitchen, opening up doorways to other rooms for better flow, pulling up seven layers of flooring, and reconfiguring the room to yield better functionality and more counter space. It is here where the extended family meets for Thanksgiving and parties like the one he hosted for nephew William's return from Iraq.
Note, a high school friend, built everything else: a mudroom off the kitchen; the master suite and bathroom; and the third-floor bedroom, bath and pool room.
Over the years, Applegate learned about the history of his house through the son of a previous owner, who lived two doors away and came by to introduce himself. Andy Cochran told him about his father, a Trenton potter who lived in the house from 1930 to 1938 before moving to Wisconsin for a time.
The house was built by Charles Lappin from bricks that were ballast on tobacco ships returning from England. The property was first named Wildman Farm, after original owner John Wildman, and had hundreds of acres.
A later owner was Virgil Kauffman, a pilot, aerial-mapping pioneer, and big-game hunter, whose paneled gun room remains virtually intact (sans guns).
Two summers ago, Applegate picked up his new friend, Cochran, in a golf cart so he could get a good spot in the yard the day of the annual event. The man who had spent his childhood in the house spun yarns while he enjoyed the festivities.
Cochran's health was declining, and it turned out to be the last event he attended.
"He looked at me that day," Applegate recalls, "and said, 'The house is finally finished. This is what this yard was meant for. My father would be so proud.' "
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