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WHY would some people willingly spend decades — and hundreds of thousands of dollars — renovating houses they will never own? For a small but growing number of so-called resident curators living in old and cherished state-owned houses up and down the East Coast, the answers include the pleasure of bringing an abandoned landmark back to life, freedom from mortgage payments and the chance to live in the kind of home that would otherwise be out of reach.

“We’re people of modest means,” said Darrold Endres, a nursing home administrator who has been living in and restoring an 1860s farmhouse near Boston with his family for 12 years. “We could not afford to live in an incredible spot like this, in a town with wonderful public schools for the girls, if not for the curatorship program.”

Programs like the one in Massachusetts have come about because many state governments own more houses of historical interest than they can afford to maintain, mainly on farms acquired decades ago and converted to parkland. Now a few states have begun turning these properties, along with some of the surrounding land, over to live-in curators, who take on restoration responsibilities in lieu of paying rent or taxes.

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