1902 Victorian

Bringing our old house out of the disco era and back into the Victorian.

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Thursday, July 29, 2004

The Bug

There we were, living in our 1967 ranch-style house we had bought the year before, minding our own business. We were happy there, and we finally had everything painted and wallpapered and arranged to our satisfaction.

Then the old house bug bit us.

I like to look through real estate catalogues when we go out to dinner. OK, I like to look through real estate catologues any chance I get. One night, there was the house of my dreams, an 1897 Victorian mansion for a cheap price. To my surprise, even former old house-hater Darwin liked it. It was 45 minutes away, but I convinced Darwin we should see it anyway; after all, 45 minutes wasn't such a long commute. I've always dreamed of living in a historic house, and Darwin was won over by the incredible price per square foot.

The house was beautiful, but there were problems. The owner had spent $40,000 restoring it ... but you couldn't really call it restoring when they put sheetrock over the original walls, leaving the electrical outlets recessed, and messily painted the woodwork on the stairs. Some stuff was well done, but some was downright shoddy. And we'd have to add another bathroom, remodel the master bath, build a carport and install central air ... this is Alabama, and it's HOT.

We came dangerously close to buying it. But the realtor was rude (implied we were only sight-seeing in a historic house when we wanted another look-through), so we decided we'd take a look at another historic house in an even smaller town only 30 minutes away, Eutaw.

The next house was a Greek Revival built in 1856.

It had some fascinating features, like 6-inch-wide floorboards, a huge front door and a knob doorbell. My favorite part was the massive attic where we found a pair of white owls living.

It needed some work (to be expected), but the real issue was that on our way to see it, we had noticed another house for sale in town. A slightly smaller house in the Victorian style, with a sign in the front yard that read, "Dunlap-Parkins, 1902." And hey, this house had central air, storm windows, a two-car carport and a workshop - all the things we were going to have to add to the other places. It was the perfect combination of historical (for me) and practical (for Darwin).

In other words, it was home.

Once we got inside it, we knew we were right. The house did need some work - like an updated kitchen - but it had all the historic details I wanted. The sense of history wasn't as strong - probably because of all the green shag rugs! - but I think it will come back with time and a little de-'70sifying.

After another viewing with our parents (who all liked it except Darwin's mother, who said it was "too big"), we made an offer contingent on the sale of our house.

We signed a contract that gave us 90 days to sell our house, and we listed it with a realtor the same day. The historic house bug did its work quickly ... the time from that first nibble over the real estate catolog to the offer was only one month!