And Francis Purcell's life changed course.
He realized that there might be objects in old houses worth preserving. And selling.
He borrowed his father's car and drove to investigate an old house that was about to be razed by contractors. They agreed to sell him a chip-carved mantel - provided he could get it out of there before volunteer firefighters arrived for practice.
He did. And his future life was set.
Francis J. Purcell II, whose antique business became a landmark in historic-minded New Hope and later moved to Old City Philadelphia, died May 12 of a lung disease. He was 73 and lived in Delanco, N.J.
As an antique dealer, Francis specialized in 18th- and 19th-century fireplace mantels, English, American and Russian furniture, Russian icons, clocks and even garden furniture.
He sold mantels and antiques to Winterthur in Delaware, to Colonial Williamsburg and to the White House, said his son, Francis J. Purcell III.
Francis opened his first antique shop in an old mill in Titusville, N.J., in 1966, two years after marrying Victoria Pakyz, whom he had met at a dance.
In time, he moved the business to Washington Crossing and then to New Hope.
His New Hope shop was in an old house on River Road where customers enjoyed his rose garden and views of the Delaware River.
The picturesque site had one disadvantage, however. It was on a dangerous floodplain, and in 1996, Francis moved the business to N. 3rd Street in Old City.
His son joined the business there and continues to operate the shop.
"I will always remember Dad driving his station wagon with Mother at his side and my sister and me in the back with a mantel strapped on top," his son said.
Francis enjoyed attending antique shows around the country, but he was too ill to attend the Philadelphia Antiques Show last month.
"Dad was pretty sick, but I took him his dealer's badge and put it around his neck," his son said. "He was sorry to miss the show and the New York Botanical Garden Show, which the gallery did that same weekend."
Francis Purcell II was born in Trenton and graduated from Pennsbury High School in 1959. He went on to St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H.
After he decided to pursue a career in antiques, he took a job in 1962 with Arthur Vernay Antiques in New York City, later known as Vernay & Jussel.
He started out dusting furniture, then began to sell it. At the same time, he joined the Army Reserve in New York and remained active.
Besides his wife and son, he is survived by a daughter, Mary Lynn, and two grandchildren.
There will be no funeral or memorial service at his request.