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East Lyme - Every time Robin Soule opens up her cottage on the corner of Atlantic Street for the summer season, she feels she is receiving an "ancestral hug."
The smells, sounds and warmth of the three-story cottage in Crescent Beach remind her of the generations of her family who have enjoyed it over the last century. It has also served as a special place for friends visiting through the years, she said.
As she stood Friday on the cottage's porch overlooking Niantic Bay, dotted with sailboats in the late-morning sun, she said the months-long process to repair the house after Superstorm Sandy last October has been worth the effort.
The white-trimmed house near McCook Point Park stands recently reshingled in places and with new front steps. The first-floor storage place, no longer filled with sand, now offers room to stand.
Work remains to be done on the house, including reconstructing the garage that Sandy swept into a nearby pond, but the family has moved into the cottage for part of the summer. The relatives with whom they share the house will then enjoy it for the remaining weeks until her own family moves in again in September.
In between repairs, the family has found time to enjoy the summertime house. On July 4, Soule and her husband, John Eberle, worked on tasks at the cottage in the morning. The rest of the holiday provided time for reading books, swimming and raking seaweed, a refreshing change from hauling dirt, Soule said with a smile.
In the evening, they watched Fourth of July fireworks on the cottage porch with their two younger daughters, Kelly and Lauryn, and their dog, Marley.
"It was a beautiful night," said Soule.
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Many of this year's repairs will protect the structure of "Suliote" in the event of future storms, Soule and Eberle said. They can now unlatch a swinging door that is part of the first-floor wall to alleviate pressure on the house in the face of floods.
When completed in upcoming weeks, the garage replacing the one that blew away during Sandy will stand with a deeper concrete foundation and side vents.
Workers have re-shingled and re-framed part of the outside wall that buckled during Sandy. They also put in a new electricity system and poured foundation for the downstairs shower.
Newly planted grass sprouts on the front yard facing the sea, which a nor'easter this winter inundated with rocks. A machine excavated the sand from the storage space and returned the sand to the beach area outside their yard. Within a week the water flattened the pile and swept the sand back to sea, said Soule.
Now, the family is free to walk up the streetside entrance steps rather than use a ladder.
Eberle, a civil engineer, said the home is now better able to withstand future storms and there is no reason the structure shouldn't stand another 100 years - even if, he joked, the house is inundated with water and becomes a reef.
"Good things came out of it," he remarked about the storm.
While the family has prepared for storms before and even strengthened part of a seawall after Tropical Storm Irene, the strength of this year's storm revealed new lessons.
"I think Sandy has given even us an eye opener and warning of storms and what we should do in advance," he said
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Two weeks prior to Friday's reflections on the porch, Soule and Eberle set out to rebuild the brick path to the seaside entrance of the family cottage, a task they would mostly finish the next day. The day's sunny skies and warm sands stood in contrast to the autumn hurricane that damaged the house and the ensuing winter's chilling winds.
They salvaged many of the original bricks from the 1960s when Soule's father and her cousin's husband had first built the pathway to the family cottage. In the '80s, Soule and two friends rebuilt the pathway and a contractor then repaired the path last year. Now, Soule and her husband said they wanted to incorporate the old bricks with new ones to preserve the walkway's original appearance.
Soule carefully measured the middle of the path and put down a stick into the ground on either end of the pathway. She then tied a string to one end and had it run down the middle as the centerpiece.
Eberle and Soule then began laying down the bricks one by one from the wheelbarrow as Marley watched, poking his head through the white, newly replaced porch frames.
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Soule and Eberle said the fear exists that if storms continually occur and flood insurance rates subsequently rise, a day could come when the family could find it difficult to restore the cottage.
But Soule remains optimistic and hopes the cottage's future holds the same sunshine and fun for future generations that it has provided her family over the past century.
She said she knows how fortunate she is compared to some who lost everything during Superstorm Sandy. Through the days of repairs and fielding phone calls and emails, Soule reminded herself of the cottage's history.
A list of the years the family first visited Crescent Beach mark a section of the cottage's inside wall.
Soule has rehung the black-and-white photos, a "living history" of the house and her relatives: snapshots of Colin Soule, her late father and one of the founders of the Niantic Bay Yacht Club, sitting on his grandparents' lap; her aunt, Marjorie Widnall, diving into the bay; and the house still standing intact on the corner of Atlantic Street after the Hurricane of 1938.
"We're very blessed to have this place and the history behind it," she said.