1902 Victorian

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

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Saturday, October 30, 2004

104 Years Young

This morning a man came to the door and announced that he once worked for the previous owner, Miss Syrene, and - the more amazing fact - that he was born in 1900, making him two years older than our house. He had walked to our house, and after our conversation sped away with his cane. I hope I'm as spry if I get to be 104 years old.

I wanted to ask him about our house, but it was hard to understand what he was saying, and I didn't want to confuse him. So we just let it go at being glad to have met him. Same as our house - we may never find out all the answers, but I'm just glad to be here.

Today Darwin has been installing the microwave/vent hood over the rangetop. What a nightmare that has turned out to be. But it's coming along, slowly but surely.



On one of Darwin's many trips up to the attic today, he noticed something fascinating - original cedar shingles on a portion of the roof that had been covered when an addition was made. From the clues, we figured out that the master bathroom and guest room (and possibly guest bathroom) were added on fairly shortly after the house's original construction. This must be the "addition to accomodate a growing family." We think it was added on quite a while ago because it incorporated a fireplace that required a new chimney to be built. Why would you go to all that trouble in a bedroom unless you needed fireplaces for heat?

Another clue - knob and tube wiring. I had never seen it before and wasn't quite sure what to picture. But now I've seen it - right there in our attic! Fascinating stuff. Better than that, though, were the fingerprints all over the roof boards.

According to the attic, the kitchen was original to the house, as I suspected. The office and laundry were added at a later date. Apparently the reason half the roof on that section is asphalt shingled instead of tin is that a tree fell on the house at some point. Darwin saw broken boards and new ones where a hole had been patched.

Also, Darwin found a spot on the front of the roof where a dormer once was. Why oh why didn't they just leave it there? Of course, I like the steep angle of the roof there and can't really picture it with a dormer, but if it was original, it makes me sad to see it go.

Today has been a day of clue-finding. In the little closet under the stairs - the only room in the house with plaster intact - we noted the baseboards.



The baseboards are one flat board with a piece of more decorative molding above it. Apparently, when they were drywalling, they took the decorative piece off and when they put it back, it stuck out a little farther than before. In the little closet, the decorative molding lines up even with the boards. It's nice to have this little window into what the house looked like before.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

I Want Some Answers!

My mom bought Darwin a Maglite this weekend, which could come in handy since we can't seem to locate any of our flashlights. When Darwin was at singing practice last night, I decided to investigate inside the walls.

The only spot where I can access the interior of our walls (without ripping down drywall) is at the pocket doors. Our pocket doors don't stop at the exterior edge of the opening like they're supposed to ... you could keep sliding them all the way to the other side if you wanted. So I pulled out one door a few inches further than it was supposed to go and aimed the Maglite beam inside the wall. To my surprise, the lathe is still there with gobs of white, dust-covered plaster oozing between the slats. Interesting!



Now I'm left to puzzle how the drywall was put up ... was the plaster torn down and the lathe left? But wouldn't that make the drywall stick out too far? I'm confused.

And I can't figure out which parts of the woodwork are original and which aren't. It's pretty obvious none of the crown molding is original ... it was slapped up throughout the house all at the same time. But what about the rest? The wide baseboards in the bedroom seem to match (and match the rest of the house), but surely that big closet sticking out into the room wasn't original?

I wish I could just talk to somebody who KNEW what happened here!

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Blue Clues

We've made a discovery!

Under badly crackled and peeling off-white paint on one area of the window trim in the kitchen, I had noticed a light blue color. But it was hard to see and only in such a small spot.



Then Darwin demolished a '70s built-in desk that was getting in our way (and was pointless, since the office is in the room right next door). Behind it were some clues. First, that the drywall in the kitchen has only been painted once ... no primer. Pretty much like the rest of the house. The word is the Parkins replaced most of the plaster with drywall when they moved in 35 years ago, and nothing looks like it has been painted since.



Then, on the baseboard and the edge of the door trim - a patch of sky blue! Wow ... the tiny glimpses I could get of it on the window trim didn't show how bright this color really was. Apparently, the entire kitchen had previously been trimmed in the neon version of robin's egg blue.



This discovery prompted me to investigate the rest of the kitchen trim. Another area of peeling paint in the doorway from kitchen to hall (probably once an exterior door) reveals dark gray paint underneath.



This tells us the trim in the kitchen is original, or at least pre-dated the Parkins' remodel. Because the Parkins did so much drywalling and added on the back bedroom and roof over the hall, we didn't know exactly how much they had changed. Also, the woodwork in the kitchen and back two bedrooms is much plainer than in the rest of the house.

Another mystery not yet solved is when the office and laundry room were added. The office has knotty pine walls that look sort of like an unfinished version of ponderosa pine paneling. The laundry room has tongue and groove boards on the walls and ceiling and a closed-up door to the outside.

In a crack between two of the office boards on the wall adjacent with the kitchen, I saw clapboard siding underneath. Though it was obvious before, it's even more obvious now that this was not part of the original house.

But one confusing clue is that the windows in the office and laundry room are old and match others in the house. I wonder if the remodelers took windows from the back of the rooms they were closing up, and replaced them in the new rooms? Is that even possible?

There's still a lot more to find out, but every little clue brings us closer!

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Friday, October 22, 2004

$#%& Truck!

Arrgh, what a rough night we had last night. The dishwasher, microwave AND television all came in, so Darwin brought his dad's truck to town to pick them up. He got the dishwasher and microwave loaded at Lowe's, and then the truck wouldn't crank. I was getting off work right about then, so I bought us some dinner and we ate it on his tailgate in the Lowe's parking lot. Then Darwin tried again, and the truck cranked, so we both drove over to Rex to pick up the TV.

This time Darwin left the truck idling, but as soon as he was ready to pull away with the TV, the truck died again. We decided to give it a few minutes since that seemed to work last time, so Darwin got in the car with me and listened to an audiobook for a while. Then he tried fiddling with the truck again, and it STILL wouldn't crank. It wasn't firing or something like that. Of course, his dad and brother were both out of town, so we had no one to help us.

Finally, we decided to unload all the appliances and stow them inside Rex while we drove up to his dad's 25 minutes away to borrow another truck (FIL has five trucks, Lord only knows why). We had to be back in an hour and 10 minutes because Rex was closing at 8:30. But when we got to his dad's, they had moved the bowl where the keys usually were, and after a thorough search of the house, we couldn't find them. So Darwin called his sister, who lives about five minutes up the road, and we borrowed her husband's truck.

Darwin made it back to Rex just in time, reloaded all the stuff and made it home by 9:20 p.m., when he had to unload everything again in the house. He refused my assistance on all loading occasions and ended up pulling a muscle in his arm.

Darwin was PISSED throughout this event, which is rare for him.

The worst part (in my opinion) is that now on Saturday when FIL gets back to town, instead of working on OUR HOUSE, Darwin has to go out and try to fix that truck.

Guess I can forget about having a working dishwasher until next week.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Lewis & Clark for a Day

Our house, though 102 years old, is the baby on our street. It sits between a house built in the 1840s and one built in the 1830s. The 1840s house is empty at the moment with a sign in the yard designating it "The Gray House," though we've been told it's known in town as the "Steele House." The word is it's for sale, but it's current owners are West Alabama Health and there are issues with selling it ... or something like that.

Anyway, there it is out our northwest-facing windows ... empty, beautiful, its clapboard siding a color that looks gray in some lights and lavendar in others. It called me over there to investigate one evening. Behind it, right next to our fence, is an old barn. On my wanderings, I noticed another barn-like structure probably 50 yards beyond it.

I enticed (OK, wheedled and begged until he gave in) Darwin to come exploring with me. The second barn turned out to not be a barn at all but an abandoned house. A tree had grown up directly in front of the front steps, so it was pretty obvious the place had been empty for quite a while.

Feeling adventurous, we wedged ourselves past the branches and climbed up on the porch. The two front doors were hanging open, so we invited ourselves inside for a look around. The house was a small wood frame structure with asbestos (I think) shingles on the exterior. It consisted of only four rooms - a living room with fireplace, an added on bedroom with its own front door, a kitchen and a bathroom with clawfoot tub. Teenage vandals had painted their names and handprints all over the place in pink. Holes were rotted straight through the ceiling and floor from the leaky roof.

It was a fascinating place. I can't tell how old it was or who might've lived there, though from noting on census records the servants that were often listed next door to the families, I wonder if it wasn't a servant's house. Also, on the 1930 census, MJ's son James was listed as living in a rented house next door to her. So he could've lived there, too.

Inside the barn was a pile of junk that I would've loved to explore, but seeing as this property doesn't belong to us ...

The exterior of the main house needs some work, mostly rotting woodwork on the front and back porches.

As I stood staring up at the elaborate columns on the front porch, Darwin peeked past the curtains on the windows. "Look! It's beautiful!" he said in an awestruck tone, and I smiled at what an old house lover he's become.

He was right - the interior was surprisingly beautiful considering the exterior's disrepair. Well-maintained hardwood floors and massive pocket doors in enormous rooms perfect for entertaining.

As we strolled under the huge magnolia back toward our yard, I felt a little nervous about who might buy this house. I'm already attached to it in its empty state, though I'd be happy to see someone give it the TLC it deserves.

Fortunately, Eutaw is a town that values its historic resources. It's a place generous with support for people seeking an authentic restoration.

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Saturday, October 16, 2004

Entering the 21st Century

This was an eventful week! Lots and lots of unpacking (all done by yours truly). We're down to about 20-25 boxes, most of them containing the Fiestaware I haven't figured out where to put yet.



We bought a dishwasher and microwave (both of which were conspicuously missing from the kitchen), though they haven't arrived yet. Darwin has washed dishes by hand so far ... I refuse! I refuse!

Our satellite TV system was installed on Wednesday. Ten days is a long time to live without TV, though it was kinda fun "roughing it." How was I supposed to plan our house without HGTV to inspire me?

This morning, Darwin finally had a chance to install a phone line in the office, so I could set up my computer and DSL and upload all the many, many moving photos I took, including this one:



Mom and I went last Sunday to buy a new comforter, and Alistair promptly propped his regal self up amongst the pillows and took a long nap.



Guess we know who rules this house!

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Sunday, October 10, 2004

Plaster Envy and Other Discoveries

This weekend was a semi-annual event in Eutaw known as the pilgrimage. It's a self-guided tour to several historic buildings in the area.

Saturday was cool and rainy, but we decided to make the one-minute drive to downtown Eutaw and look around at all the shops. We browsed the two antique shops and the general store, which surprised me by having chi-chi decorative items alongside washing machines and other appliances. There we bought the book A Walking and Driving Guide to Historic Eutaw, which contains a photo and tidbit of information about our house. We were pleased all out of proportion to see our house there in print.

On our wanderings around the little square, we discovered that the Greene County Historic Preservation Society was having a BBQ-plate lunch to raise money. There we found out the pilgrimage was this weekend, and we bought tickets. I couldn't pass up the chance to see inside of some of the historic homes and get inspiration.

We toured four homes (1826, 1840s, 1850s and 1860), all restored or in the process of restoration. It was a very enlightening experience, though all the incredible antiques made our furniture look like it was made from cardboard and glue sticks.

And it made me miss the plaster that had been replaced with sheetrock in our house by the Parkins long ago. *Sigh*

But the best - and most unexpected - part of the tour was finding out information about our house. One woman told us our house was the best place to play when she was a child because it was right across from the park. It made me wonder who she played with ... the Parkins retired in our house, so maybe it was their visiting granchildren?

Then we met a woman whose late husband's grandmother was none other than the Mary Julia Dunlap who built our house. She said his last name was Jackson, and that helped me find out that his mother was MJ's daughter Laura (who married Alley Jackson, the high school principal). She said MJ's maiden name was McGiffert and that her brother (who lived in the 1830s white house next door) gave MJ the land to build the house on.

The woman said her husband and the other grandchildren were the ones who sold the house to the Parkins in 1969. MJ could've died around then (though she would've been around 96 years old), but I'm not sure if her daughter had taken possession for a while or what. Either way, there have only been three owners of our house - the Dunlaps, the Parkins and now the Walters.

The Walking and Driving Guide to Historic Eutaw Alabama says the house was built "around the turn of the century" and added on to "to accommodate a growing family." But the time frame of MJ's first and second marriages, births of children, etc. doesn't explain what they meant by a "growing family."

I wish I could've talked with the Parkins, who must've known more about the history of the house.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Our First Night ... and Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth ...

Ahhhh, the moving is over. Time to relax, right? Not quite.

We moved in on the 1st, filling up a 24-foot moving truck and taking several pickup truck and carloads. It was horrible. When did we get so much STUFF?

The first two nights we slept (uncomfortably) in the guest room on that miserably hard bed (as good hosts, we definitely have to do something about this bed!) because the floor in the master bedroom needed to be cleaned and waxed. A green shag carpet had been in there for 30 years, and it left the floor looking rather unpleasant. After sweeping twice with a broom and once with a Swiffer, then mopping, then waxing and polishing, the floor started to look pretty darn good. The polisher Darwin borrowed from his dad wasn't working quite right for us, so he had to do it by hand (and foot).

We set up the bed Sunday afternoon, and I got to sleep in our bedroom for the first time (Darwin had to work). I slept like a rock.

While camping out in the guest bedroom, we discovered that the floor has quite a slant angling up to the hall. All the surrounding rooms are fine. Darwin is going to look under the house this week to see what the problem is.

We have decided that the kitchen cabinets aren't as awful as we thought. I'm going to paint them and add some moulding and new hardware to make them look less '70s boring. The master bathroom, on the other hand, needs updating QUICKLY. After a few days of taking showers in the teeny tiny guest bathroom, I'm in desperate need of a decent-sized shower with room to set around all my various shower gels.

On Sunday we went to Piggly Wiggly for the first time (affectionately known as "the Pig") ... hmmm, they don't carry kitty litter or hairball control cat food. Guess we'll have to buy that in Tuscaloosa. We had dinner at Church's Chicken, which is the only restaurant in town that's open on Sunday.

The cats seem to be adjusting well. We brought them with us Saturday night, and they climbed up in the back window of my car to enjoy the view.



The first three nights, we kept them confined to the back two bedrooms (joined by the guest bathroom) because the house is in such chaos. They seemed to think it was a special treat because they were getting to sleep on a real people bed (apparently, unbearably hard to humans equals incredibly plush to a cat).



Tonight we let them out into the whole house, and they ran all over the place sniffing everything. Alistair slept nearly the whole night on the bed with us, while Henry barreled up and down the hall sounding like a herd of buffalo instead of one 14.5-pound cat.



My mother gave me her grandfather clock, and it looks great in the front hall. We're still getting used to all the night sounds - the chiming clock, the train whistle from across town, the water heater clicking ... the contents of all the cardboard boxes settling against each other.