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For different reasons, they came to the Whispering Pines auction

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Some came seeking profit, some came seeking a connection with the past.

An auction of the contents of the former Jefferson County Home for the Aged grossed just over $12,000 for the county, double what officials expected to collect but barely enough to make a dent in the $250,000 it is estimated the demolition of the prewar building will cost.

Still, County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III said he was pleased with the results of the auction because nearly everything was sold.

“Our goal was not to raise a lot of money but to get materials back out into the community,” Mr. Hagemann said.

The parking lot of the building at 1240 Coffeen St. was packed at 10 a.m. Wednesday, when the auction, conducted by Eddy’s Auction Service was scheduled to start.

The facility, also called Whispering Pines, opened in 1917 as a tuberculosis sanitorium and made the transition to providing assisted-living facilities for low-income elderly residents in 1963 before closing in April.

Before the auction began, Nancy M. Kubalanza, Fox Lake, Ill., walked through hallways lined with rocking chairs and laundry carts with daughter Marjorie L. Kubalanza-Fortier.

Mrs. Kubalanza, who is originally from Watertown and returns to the area every summer, said that in the 1950s, her stepfather and her grandfather were patients at the sanitorium after they contracted tuberculosis.

Her stepfather was a patient there for two years before recovering and returning home. Her grandfather died in the sanitorium.

After her stepfather was released, Mrs. Kubalanza said, she returned to the facility every six months for X-rays to be sure that she had not contracted tuberculosis as well.

“We came for the auction and we came to take a last look,” Mrs. Kubalanza said. “I think it’s really sad. I know you’ve got to make way for progress, but you hate to see old brick buildings torn down.”

“I think the new building will be better for patient care,” her daughter said, referring to the recently completed Samaritan Summit Village on outer Washington Street. “But just think about all the people who passed through this building.”

The names of former residents still were written next to the doors of the rooms they once occupied.

On Wednesday, those rooms were filled with old television sets, recliners, office furniture, dressers, medical supplies and lamps.

The room where the home’s last Christmas party was held in December was full of odds and ends, including window air-conditioning units, a megaphone and a Hobart commercial potato peeler.

The bidding began in that room after auctioneer Thomas E. Eddy, florid and perspiring in the humid weather, brought buyers in from the rain that fell sporadically throughout the morning.

Timothy C. Blackman, a used-restaurant-equipment supplier from Syracuse, bought the potato peeler for $95. He said that he could sell it for $1,100 and that new peelers could cost as much as $4,000 on the retail market.

Mr. Blackman makes his living by traveling to auctions in the area and buying used equipment that he then sells to restaurateurs throughout the country, primarily in the Southern states. He said he goes to at least two auctions a week and more than 100 a year.

One of his primary markets is Charleston, S.C.

“Certain things sell better here. Certain things sell better down there,” he said.

Mr. Blackman also bought a walk-in freezer for $850 and a walk-in cooler for $150.

He said he already had sold the walk-in freezer for $4,000.

“People contact me, tell me what they’re looking for and I buy it,” he said.

The freezer will break down into panels that can be carted away, Mr. Blackman said.

Helping to move the items out of the building were several county employees, including maintenance worker Walter H. Davis, who started with the county at Whispering Pines in 1985.

“There are some good memories here,” Mr. Davis said. “I always had fun up here. I enjoyed working with everybody. The residents, some of them had some pretty good stories.”

Mr. Davis said he could not remember another instance when the county had auctioned off such a variety of materials.

A pair of Vulcan gas ranges, two of the auction’s most coveted appliances, went for $475 apiece to a heavily tattooed Watertown man who declined to give his name during an interview.

“Everybody’s here for the stoves,” he said before submitting the winning bid. “You can find anything anymore. Times are so hard.”

He said that he would keep the stoves in his garage until he found someone interested in buying them.

Now that the 5-hour auction is over, a salvage company will come in to remove anything else of value from the property, said Peter G. Grieco, county building superintendent.

Specifications are being finalized for the demolition, and the project will go out to bid in September, Mr. Hagemann said.

And then, with the last remnants of more than a century of life at the home donated, sold or salvaged, its shell will come down later this year.



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