The House built by a blind man

With the exception of the plumbing and electricity, this house was built entirely by a blind man. He built the house while entirely broke. He did all measurements in his head and knew where he left every tool and every piece of equipment. Neighbors reported he would work thruough the night. Why not? it’s not like daylight mattered to a blind man. The house is now owned by Frank Abate, a realty appraiser, who hopes to restore the structure to it’s original state. The Wayne library has a book that details the story and includes copies of newspaper articles written about him and his house.

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64 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jenna Burdett on December 13, 2013 at 5:38 PM

    This house was actually built by my great grandfather. Last name is spelt BURDETT, no extra ‘E’ at the end, though my entire life people insisted on putting it there. We have one or two original copies of the book in our basement. And when I was younger I would ask my dad every now and then to drive by the house his grandfather built. It always fascinated me that he built is while blind. Amazing. It’s hard to believe someone in my family did something worth of getting a book written about it.

    Reply

    • Posted by Jenna Burdett on December 13, 2013 at 5:43 PM

      Possibly great great grandfather.

      Reply

    • Hi, Jenna. I am a Burdett too, Francis was my grandfather’s uncle. I have made the book available online (at – goburdett.com) to keep the story alive and make it available to the general public. I had to use a borrowed copy of the book to scan the pages. You mention that you have one or two copies in your basement. I have many books on R.I. History and genealogy. I would be delighted to buy a copy from you, it would be an important book to add to my collection. Please email me at:
      norm@goburdett.com

      Thanks, Norm

      Reply

    • While most of us prefer to use the spelling B U R D E T T and always have to tell people there’s no E at the end, through the years many Burdetts have spelled it with the E. There is a cemetery in Riverside, RI that has many Burdetts in it. Some of the headstones are Burdett, some Burdette, these all being from the same family group. I have found records and signatures using different spellings at different times.

      Reply

    • Posted by Martha Crowell on December 16, 2013 at 10:22 AM

      Hi Jenna,

      My grandmother was Lydia Burdett born in Birmingham, England and Francis was my grandmother’s brother. If it was your great grandfather then you and I are first cousins.
      I have met Norm Burdett and if I understand how the cousins go he is first cousin once removed. It was so great meeting him and his lovely wife as I never met any of the Burdett cousins. I remember Aunt Cora (my grandmother’s younger sister and Aunt Annie (I think she was married to the younger brother, Clarence). I live in Woburn, MA.
      Where do you live? I have copies of all my grandmother’s brothers and sister and would be happy to share with you.

      Reply

  2. […] mind about a blind man building a house and it took 'blind man builds house' to find it quickly. The House built by a blind man | The Lostinjersey Blog Text with picture: With the exception of the plumbing and electricity, this house was built […]

    Reply

  3. Posted by fonzie777 on January 27, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    Just finished the book and it’s great! – very inspirational. I feel like I sort of know Mr. Burdette. He wasn’t a complainer. He maintained his attitude and enjoyed his work. He said that after he became blind he battled depression and won. “Medals” toward the end of the book appears to be written in his own words. One company wanted his great accomplishment to display their best boiler and radiators. Another wanted their varnish used on the trim, etc., etc. What a guy and what a message!

    Reply

  4. Posted by fonzie777 on January 27, 2013 at 1:00 PM

    I just got the book “The House Built in the Dark” from the New York State Library. I’m on page 25. This is very interesting to me – I’ve been a carpenter for 47 years, started in 1965. I’m close to the age of Francis Burdette at the time the house was built. I emailed the Library of Congress and the library at Wayne NJ. The Library of Congress said I would have to go through the local library. The local library checked and said the book is only in 3 libraries in the US. One won’t loan the book, the second charges 10$, the third 20$. The 10$ option is no longer available. The New York State Library sent it to my local library for 20$. We have been trying to find the house on Google Earth and came up with 27 Newark Pompton Turnpike but we can’t see anything but trees. The librarian at the Wayne Library said she would make a electronic copy and send it when she got time.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Terry Corino on April 1, 2012 at 6:24 AM

    Very cool. Just saw a brief (less than a minute) snippet on Turner Classic Movies. They were showing one of the old movie “shorts” from the series “Believe It Or Not” (Ripley’s of course). It was episode 4 and was shot in 1931. It briefly shows a picture of Francis Burdett and then a pic of the house from the outside. Being a New Jerseyan, I found it even more interesting when the narrator said that the house was built in Wayne, NJ. So, I went to Yahoo search engine and simply typed in: Francis Burdett blind house wayne new jersey. A link to this page came up and here I am. What an amazing feat by this man. Terrific!

    Reply

  6. Posted by Kay Rager on March 28, 2012 at 5:28 AM

    Just found this site. Francis Burdett is my husband’s great grandfather – his granddaughter was Martha Burdett Rager. We have a picture of him, copies of news articles and the family has the book. Searched this out as we plan a trip to Wayne next week just to see this house.

    Reply

    • Posted by Jenna Burdett on December 13, 2013 at 5:42 PM

      He’s my great grandfather or great great grandfather. I can’t remember if he was my dad’s grandfather or great grandfather. Martha sound familiar though. My dad’s fathers name was Joseph and my dads is David. My uncle also being a Joseph.

      Reply

      • Posted by alexandra on February 17, 2014 at 3:08 AM

        Hi Kay and Jenna,

        Kay, apparently you’re the wife of my first cousin 1X removed. My name is Alexandra. My mother is Debra Kay Baird (maiden name Burdett) and she married David Kent Baird (currently divorced, but married in Park Ridge NJ). My mother’s parents are Francis Albert Burdett and Marion Arvilla Mcqueary. I created an ancestry.com page a little while back. I was just checking in on things and came across this page. I’m curious if I have my tree correct. I believe you’re married to Daniel who’s mother is Martha Burdett and father is Phillip Rager? Martha Burdett was Franics Albert Burdett’s sister and my mother’s aunt. It seems that joesph is also among the siblings, Jenna.

        Jenna, is your dad’s father’s name Joseph C. Burdett? If so, Joseph is my mom’s uncle. And I believe you may be a second cousin. or a first cousin 2X removed… Not exactly sure how that works lol! Anyway, I think the other Francis Burdett that is being talked about in this post is my great, great grandfather.

        Looking forward to hearing back from you both!

        Reply

        • Posted by Francis Burdett on February 17, 2014 at 3:28 AM

          The tree is filling in… Are you getting all this Norman?

          Reply

          • My head is spinning! I don’t have all of the links to piece this all together. Francis, please drop me an email at normbdt@gmail.com. I have lost your contact information due to a hard drive crash a while back. -Norm

            Reply

            • Posted by Alexandra on February 17, 2014 at 10:55 PM

              Hey Norman and Francis,
              Feel free to ask me any questions. Let’s try to connect all this where we can. I’m all in.

              Reply

              • Posted by Martha Crowell on February 18, 2014 at 1:06 PM

                Here is some information I have on my grandmother who was the sister of Francis.
                Lydia Alice (Burdett) MacInnes
                Date and Place of Birth – May 24, 1866 Birmingham, England
                Date and Place of Death – October 29, 1950 – Cambridge, MA

                Parents
                Father – George Burdett – born April 11, 1840 Birmingham, England
                Mother – Maria Ashford – born 1834
                Married May 2, 1861
                Grandparents
                Father’s side
                Father – James Burdett
                Mother – Matilda (Leavesley) Burdett
                Mother’s side
                Father – John Ashford
                Mother – Mary (I don’t know the last name. It was not listed)

                Reply

                • Posted by Martha Crowell on February 19, 2014 at 3:49 PM

                  I gave copies of all the birth certificates to Norman Burdett with the exception of the one for the youngest brother, Clarence which I just got. Are you on facebook?
                  I am under Martha Pearson Crowell.

                  Reply

        • Posted by Martha Crowell on February 18, 2014 at 12:48 PM

          Alexandra,
          My name is Martha Crowell. My grandmother was Lydia Alice Burdett who was the sister of Francis Burdett. So Francis was my great-uncle. I have sent all the copies of the birth certificates to Norman. They were all born in Birmingham, England with the exception of Cora and Clarence and they were born in Rhode Island. If you would like copies of the birth certificates, I would be happy to send them to you.
          Martha

          Reply

  7. Posted by rowenswc on August 26, 2011 at 12:23 PM

    Does anyone know where to find a copy of the reprint?

    Reply

    • Posted by Martha Crowell on August 26, 2011 at 12:30 PM

      There is a copy of the book in the Wayne, New Jersey library. I do not think you can take it out, but you could read it there. Maybe they would let you make a copy of the book. There would be a charge for that.

      Reply

      • Posted by Francis Burdett on August 26, 2011 at 12:34 PM

        I have a bunch of originals, been meaning to scan book into a digital format.

        Reply

        • Posted by Nancy on November 21, 2011 at 12:40 PM

          I have an original that was my grandmother’s copy..Her name was Mary Ellen Burdett. What is your relationship to Francis Burdett?

          Reply

          • Posted by Martha Crowell on November 21, 2011 at 1:51 PM

            Nancy, my grandmother, Lydia Alice Burdett was the sister of Francis Burdett.
            What relation was Mary Ellen Burdett to him?

            Martha Crowell

            Reply

            • Posted by Nancy on November 21, 2011 at 5:03 PM

              Mary Ellen Burdett was his daughter.
              I’m so elated to learn about my great grandfather. All I have is the book that Mr. Vahrenkamp published.
              Nice to “meet” you Martha
              Nancy

              Reply

              • Posted by Martha Crowell on November 21, 2011 at 5:37 PM

                I live in Woburn, MA. Where do you live? I met Norm Burdett and his lovely wife this summer. It is so nice to find relatives that you never new about. I have all the birth certificates from England and Cora’s from RI. I just have to get the youngest brother’s birth certificate from RI. If you are on Facebook I would love to hear from you.

                Reply

                • Posted by Nancy on November 22, 2011 at 3:47 PM

                  Hi Martha,
                  I’d love to know more about my grandmother (Mary Ellen Burdett) who is the sister of Mabel Burdett, who married Mr. Vahrenkamp. Do you know any history of their young years?
                  You can email me at nellenh@aol.com,. if you would like.
                  Thnx
                  Nancy

                  Reply

    • Posted by Norman Burdett on August 26, 2011 at 12:34 PM

      A new edition is available from Norm Burdett

      For more information email: normbdt@comcast.net

      Reply

      • Posted by Francis Burdett on August 26, 2011 at 12:35 PM

        Into publishing now Norm?

        Reply

        • Posted by Norman Burdett on August 26, 2011 at 12:45 PM

          I have gotten into it. The House Built in the Dark was my first one. I have also edited over a dozen early accounts on New England history and modernized the spelling and grammar to make them more pleasant to read and understand.

          Reply

        • Posted by Norman Burdett on August 26, 2011 at 12:49 PM

          I was unable to get a copy for myself so using a borrowed copy I made one for myself and decided to offer it to others.

          Reply

          • Posted by Martha Crowell on August 26, 2011 at 1:04 PM

            I couldn’t find my grandmother’s copy so I had the librarian make me a copy and then I photocopied and bound it for my family. I am sure yours looks much more professional.

            Reply

    • Hi Fonzie,
      I have the book available as an e-book. This is a PDF file that can be read on any computer and most e-readers. Check it out at GoBurdett.com, click on The House Built in the Dark.

      Reply

  8. This man is actually my great-great grandfather. My father has a copy of the readers digest with the article in it.
    And yes, his name was Francis A. Burdett. My father still has some of his tools he used to build the house. :-)

    Reply

    • Posted by Martha Crowell on April 19, 2011 at 10:45 AM

      I would love to hear from you. My grandmother, Lydia Burdett (MacInnes) was his sister. I have her birth certificate from England. I think I also have a copy of his birth certificate.
      Martha A. Crowell

      Reply

      • Posted by Francis Burdett on April 19, 2011 at 11:04 AM

        Hello Martha….just emailed you.

        Reply

        • Posted by Martha Crowell on April 20, 2011 at 8:53 AM

          I have emailed you back. I checked info I have and I do have the birth certificate of Francis Albert, Charles Abraham and Lydia Alice. Think Cora Tabitha was born in RI

          Reply

    • Posted by Francis Burdett on April 19, 2011 at 11:04 AM

      That makes me your 2nd Cousin Once removed…your father is my 2nd cousin.

      Reply

      • Posted by Martha Crowell on June 22, 2011 at 2:40 PM

        Francis, I have all the birth certificates and other information for you. Just need to know where to send it.

        Martha Crowell

        Reply

    • Posted by Martha Crowell on April 22, 2011 at 11:21 AM

      That would make your father my first cousin. Are you on FaceBook? You can find me there under Martha (Pearson) Crowell. Are you a Burdett or Vahrenkamp?

      Reply

  9. Posted by shanae on February 9, 2011 at 7:16 PM

    Is name is Francis A. Burdett. He lost his eye sight after he was fifty years of age,and then thieteen years later at the age of 63 when he should have been in retirement but he decided to build a house. Did everything by himself no help want so ever.

    Reply

  10. Posted by Paul on December 12, 2010 at 2:31 AM

    hey, does anyone have any pictures of Francis.

    Reply

    • Posted by Martha Crowell on March 30, 2011 at 12:04 PM

      There is a picture of Francis in the book “House Built in the Dark” which is in the Wayne, NJ library.

      Reply

  11. Posted by Francis Burdett on October 18, 2010 at 9:57 PM

    Francis Burdett was my Great Grand Father.

    Reply

    • Posted by Martha Crowell on October 21, 2010 at 10:32 AM

      My grandmother, Lydia Burdett was born in Birmingham, England and Francis was her brother. They also had a sister, Cora. I think her last name was Cobb.
      I have a copy of the book written by her son-in-law William Vahrenkamp.
      My married name is Martha (Pearson) Crowell. My mother was Dorothy (MacInnes) Pearson. Her mother was Lydia (Burdett) MacInnes born in Birmingham, England. She was born May 24, 1866. Her father was George Burdett and mother’s name was Maria (Ashford) Burdett.
      I would love to hear from you.
      mcrowell@supremecouncil.org

      Reply

      • Posted by Norman Burdett on February 21, 2011 at 3:44 PM

        George Burdett, Maria (Ashford) Burdett and young Francis arrived in New York City from Birmingham England July 5th, 1862. They settled in East Providence, Rhode Island. in 1864 Charles Abraham Burdett, my great grandfather was born, followed in 1866 by Lydia, 1868 by Cora and in 1876 Clarence was born. Most of the family has remained in Rhode Island. After a streetcar accident which blinded him, Francis (the Blind Carpenter) moved with his wife to live with their married daughter and her husband William Vahrenkamp in Fort Wayne, NJ.

        A reprint of the book “The House Built in the Dark” is available.

        Reply

        • Posted by Norman Burdett on February 21, 2011 at 4:33 PM

          Sorry, Correction: Wayne, NJ

          Reply

        • Posted by Martha Crowell on March 30, 2011 at 11:56 AM

          My grandmother was Lydia (Burdett) MacInnes. Francis Burdett was her brother. My grandmother was born in Birmingham, England. Her mother was Maria Ashford. I have all the birth certificates. I would love to hear from you.

          Martha (Pearson) Crowell
          My mother was Dorothy (MacInnes) Pearson
          Her mother was Lydia (Burdett) MacInnes.

          Reply

        • Posted by Martha Crowell on March 30, 2011 at 12:27 PM

          Lydia was my grandmother. She and my grandfather had 14 children. My mother was the last of their children and she psssed away March of 2001.

          Reply

    • Posted by Norman Burdett on February 21, 2011 at 3:22 PM

      To Francis Burdett: Have lost contact info, find me on Facebook. -Norm

      Reply

  12. Posted by Martha Crowell on October 17, 2010 at 1:46 PM

    The book is in the Wayne, NJ Library. There is only 1 copy. Book was written by his son-in-law. He became blind at age 50. At first people didn’t believe that he was blind, but were convinced when they would go by at night and he would still be working. The darkness didn’t matter because he was blind.

    Reply

  13. Posted by Jean on October 17, 2010 at 1:16 PM

    Francis Burdett, he was my great-great uncle.

    Reply

    • Posted by Martha Crowell on October 21, 2010 at 10:53 AM

      Cora’s last name was Wood not Cobb.

      Martha

      Reply

      • Posted by Martha Crowell on August 26, 2011 at 12:25 PM

        There is a copy in the Wayne, New Jersey library. I do not think you can take it out, but you could read it there. You could probably make a copy at the library. I had copies made and paid for the copies.

        Reply

  14. Posted by Laura on August 25, 2009 at 8:09 PM

    I remember this story being told on AFN once. Does anyone have the man’s name, by any chance?

    Reply

    • Posted by lostinjersey on October 18, 2009 at 6:29 PM

      I cant recall his name. I do have the book about him but I cant get to it too easily.

      Reply

    • Posted by Norman Burdett on February 21, 2011 at 3:55 PM

      His name was Francis Abraham Burdett. He was born in Birmingham England in January of 1862. At six months of age he arrived with his parents in New York City. The family settled in East Providence, RI. He was a successful Jeweler and watchmaker in Providence, when he was involved in an accident which took his sight at around 50 years of age. He moved to Fort Wayne, NJ to live with his daughter and her husband William Vahrenkamp, who wrote the book journaling his project of building his own house.

      Reply

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