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Rising From The Ashes

Faced with a devastating tragedy, the Cabral family emerges triumphantly.

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For more than 60 years, Louis and Leotina Cabral enjoyed living in their 19th century home in Somerset, not far from the Lees River where they raised three daughters. In early 2013, a penthouse-style apartment on the second floor was built to accommodate their middle child, Abby, who decided her childhood home was where she wanted to return to live as an adult. But on November 8, 2013, the lives of the Cabral family were turned upside down when a full-alarm fire that started in the basement quickly spread. The fire was so intense, engine companies from Swansea and Fall River were also called to the scene. Even the famed Providence Canteen, the onsite support to first responders during emergencies and critical situations, was on site during the hours-long firefight.

The inside of the home was a total loss. To put it in perspective, Abby says they needed more than 20 dumpsters to haul away their charred belongings. “The night of the fire there were so many skeptics, everyone from town came saying, ‘this house is going to have to be totaled,’ but that wasn’t an option. This house was going to stay.”

What some may describe as nothing short of a miracle, the exterior of the home, originally built in 1845, remained intact. Not only did it give the Cabral family hope, it meant they could continue what was an important legacy to the Read Street address. The home was built by Levi Slade, who left the home to his son. According to Abby, the home’s unofficial historian, the Slade family sold it to the Almy family, who then sold to the Chase family. “Hence, it was Chase Dairy Farm in 1913,” she explains. “It remained the dairy farm… until my father bought it in 1952.”

Louis Cabral bought the home on the insistence of his brother, who had spotted it on his way back home to the Flint section of Fall River, where the Cabral family lived. Although his brother strongly encouraged him to buy it as he’d be tying the knot to Leotina soon, there was an ulterior motive. “He had a store in Fall River, Brightman’s Poultry,” says Abby. “He needed a place to raise chickens… He told my father about this house for sale in Somerset saying, ‘you should get it, you’re getting married in a couple weeks,’ but he just wanted to raise chickens here.” As brothers do, Louis allowed the chickens to be raised on his property from 1952 to well into the 1960s.

As it turns out, Leotina hadn’t even seen the home until after Louis made her his bride. “I was young at the time, just 20 years old, so I didn’t think much of it,” she recalls, “I knew work would have to be done, slowly.” Through the years, the couple had the bathroom renovated while the kitchen experienced a complete overhaul. In 1987, Louis added a sunroom, which was primarily surrounded by windows. Though Leotina humbly says the room “wasn’t anything fancy,” it was a space the couple enjoyed spending time. And then the fire happened.

“We had to have the whole house inside gutted,” Leotina says calmly. But the family knew exactly who could put it all back together again: Michael Demotta of Swansea-based MD Construction. “When this house was on fire, I was watching flames come out of the roof, and the windows being blown out, and Mike was the first person I called,” says Abby. She had worked closely with Michael when the second floor became her dream apartment, and she would do it again, only throughout the whole house. “He had to rebuild this house from the basement to the attic – we’re talking serious engineering and construction,” explains Abby.

“It was a total gut job,” agrees Michael. If there was a silver lining, it was that he recreated Abby’s apartment identically to the way it was, so he knew exactly what to do. When it came to the downstairs, he was able to bring the home into the 21st century by designing and building an open floor plan, thereby creating a seamless flow between the kitchen, living room and dining room. “Everything was custom built,” says Michael. “The only thing they did save was a wooden mantle on the fireplace.” Michael made sure to celebrate the piece that married past, present and future by building a striking, custom façade around the fireplace to frame the mantle. Since Michael already had a working relationship with the Cabrals from the apartment he constructed two years prior, the rebuild was virtually stress-free. “They let me run with a lot of it, which made it easier for me because it can be hard to get the visual,” he explains. “We discussed everything ahead of time, but they let me run it.” During the building, the Cabrals lived in a mobile home on the property. It took nine months before they were handed the keys to the front door of their “new but old” home. It was well worth the wait.

For Abby, the process of resurrecting the home became a labor of love. “The tragedy gave me an opportunity to put my passion of design and managing this project to work,” she says. And though the home today is functionally brand new for her parents, and her apartment is everything she’s wanted and more, this is where she’s always known she wanted to be. “It’s just a very precious piece of property. I always felt privileged to live here,” says Abby. “A couple of years ago, I decided to move back to the house because I have my horses here and my other animals here… and my parents, to all be with each other. This is where I am meant to be.”