1902 Victorian

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

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Friday, September 30, 2005

365 Days Later

On September 30, 2004, we raced from law office to law office, accepting a check for the sale of our 1960s ranch-style and immediately handing it over for the 1902 Victorian. I was nervous.

Owning an old house had been my dream for as long as I could remember, and it was coming true. Yet every time I sign a contract obligating me to years of payments, I feel a little woozy.

On top of that, we were moving to a new town. Giving up my 8-minute and Darwin's 20-minute commute for 40 minutes each. Giving up proximity to our relatives for a more arm's-length distance.

Most people thought we were crazy. Most people still do. Why would anyone choose to commute farther? There are good houses in Tuscaloosa - why couldn't we just buy one of them? Why Eutaw? It's so tiny. It doesn't have a movie theater! The schools - ugh! And why would we want an old house? Didn't we know that it would always need work?

We answered their questions - and still do - with a smile and a positive spin. The raw truth is this: the commute isn't ideal (especially with the gas prices now), and I do wish Eutaw had a movie theater and a couple more restaurants.

But? Owning and living in an old house is as wonderful as I dreamed. And Eutaw offers even more than I originally expected. Like community. The place is chock full of awesome people who care about each other and the town. It's the kind of small town I always daydreamed about, the kind that in some ways seems stuck in a time warp and in others is incredibly modern.

Like with our marriage, it's hard to believe so much time has passed, and at the same time, it feels as if we've been here forever. We belong together, and we belong in Eutaw, in our house. It's home.


Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bonus Photo

Okay, here's the photo of the house that was built to replace the Victorian that burned in 1914.

The brackets under the eaves made me think it was Craftsman, but those round columns and balustrade across the front and the sheer size of it throw me off. Upon further research, I wonder if it's Italianate?

It has elements that remind me of our neighbor's house, which was built in the 1840s but significantly renovated around 1910. Expert opinions?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Snapshots of History

On Monday a lot of photos I bought from eBay arrived. The title of the auction was "VINTAGE OLD 1900's HOUSE PHOTO PICTURE PHOTOGRAPH LOT." Who could resist?

The photos are even more delightful in person, and many of them have writing on the back, indicating who the people are and where and when the photo was taken. Some even say when the house was built.

Here, according to the back of the picture, is Frances Freeborn Pauley (who would later become a public school teacher and Civil Rights activist), William Elbridge Freeborn, Josephine Andrews Freeborn and William Wallace Freeborn. It's dated 1907.

Isn't that a darling house? And is that an outhouse I see?

Next is my favorite house of the lot, built in 1893, photo taken 1910:

I was all fired up to go to Decatur, Ga., or Montgomery, Ala., and track this place down. To knock on the door and gain entrance, waving this photo like a badge.

But then I saw another photo of a different house - a large Craftsman - but with the same address listed on the back. And the words: Built 1915 to replace house that burned in 1914.

I studied the two photos and realized they both have the same church to the left. This Victorian mansion burned down 91 years ago. My heart just sank as I saw it. All that beauty up in smoke, literally.

It makes me nervous about my own house's mortality. And it makes me long for photos like these of my house. Surely some exist somewhere. Two or three of the original owners' grandchildren are still living, and I have a plan to meet with them. Of course, they don't know it yet.

These photos also make me wonder if some of the other houses are still standing. And if they have owners out there hoping for a glimpse of the way their house once was. Random Internet Person, if one of these houses is yours, I will sell you the photo for what I paid for it, just to get it back home.

326 Catoma St., Montgomery, Ala.
211 Washington Ave., Montgomery, Ala.
614 S Court, Montgomery, Ala.

I looked at the Google satellite images of these addresses and saw nothing that looked like houses. More like office buildings. More like parking lots. Montgomery has a lovely historic district, but I've only been there once so I can't say. I hope the addresses are wrong or I'm reading the satellite images wrong. I hope these houses haven't all gone the way of the dinosaur.


Monday, September 26, 2005

Secretly for Sale

Friday night Neighbor D gave me a tour of a vacant Victorian house down the road (and provided me dinner afterward ... thanks, D&K). The house has been empty for about five years and has suffered the consequences. Leaky roof led to ruined ceilings led to damaged floors. But most of the house - minus the vines creeping through the gaps in the windows - is actually in decent shape and hasn't been altered much from its original form.

This house, like many in Eutaw, is secretly for sale. There's a strange tendency in Eutaw to not list your house with a real estate agent, not put a sign in the yard, and not advertise in any way. People are just supposed to know your house is for sale. Seems like nine out of 10 home sales in Eutaw are done by word of mouth, even ones to out-of-town buyers (recently, a house sold to a couple from Texas ... without the benefit of a realtor or the Internet).

Weird, huh? Very Mayberry.

The reason - from what I hear - is that most of the vacant/secretly-for-sale houses in Eutaw are inheritance houses. The current owners fondly remember Sunday dinners at Granny's or Auntie's house, and they simply can't bear the thought of selling the house.

Strange that the fondness doesn't extend to keeping the house from falling down. I'm as sentimental about objects and houses as the next person - probably more - but even I don't understand that. Why is it better to let the house disintegrate before our very eyes than to let new owners come in and take care of it, love it?

Most of these houses are filled with junk from the previous owners, covered with dirt and probably crawling with bugs and rodents. One of them recently sold, and the new owners found ROTTED FOOD still in the refrigerator and CRUSTY LAUNDRY still in the washing machine. Everything was left as it was after the owner died FIVE YEARS AGO.

Somebody tell me how that makes sense.

Our Victorian was also an inheritance house. But the owners, whose parents lived here for 30 years, knew they would better honor their parents' wishes - and their love for the house - by finding new people to take care of the house.

Their only cautious request? Please don't paint over the woodwork their mother stripped. Don't worry, we assured them. That one unpainted room is our favorite in the house, and we'll be continuing the work in other rooms.

I hope that made them feel better. I hope they know they made the right decision.


Friday, September 23, 2005

Lick, Lick, Zzzzzzz

Ever fallen asleep while reading, trying to study or watching TV? Apparently, my cat falls asleep while licking.

I think I deserve to post a gratuitous cat photo every so often. It looks especially cute JUMBO-sized as the background for my desktop. Yes, I'm one of those people.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Addict Has a Setback

Apparently, just talking about auctions made me go on an eBay spree. Oops.

I've been coveting a set of four framed botanical prints from Anthropologie, but they're $392 plus $30 for shipping. I can think of about 422 other ways I could spend that $422.

I am a strange combination of spendthrift-shopaholic and cheapskate. When it seems I could find a cheaper way to get something, you bet your sweet bonnet I'm gonna do it.

So I decided to search eBay for botanical prints. Maybe, I thought, I could even find authentic Victorian-era prints. Turns out there are about 1 million and one botanical prints available on eBay, most of them quite reasonably priced. They're mostly lithographs out of vintage books, which is good enough for me.

I ended up choosing six from eBay seller Andrea's Garden. They're by Pierre Redoute, who - according to Andrea - was known as the "Raphael of Flowers" in the early 19th century and was court painter and preceptor in four French regimes. Okay, so that's not Victorian, but I don't care. Botanical prints were popular then, and an anatomical drawing of a plant looks pretty much the same no matter when it was done.

I received the prints yesterday. They were very well packaged to keep them from getting bent, and I had to take a few deep breaths to keep my trembling fingers from tearing the packaging to shreds to get to my prints.

It was worth the wait because these are some GORGEOUS prints.

This probably won't be the final frame, but I wanted to see what they looked like framed:

That's Fritillaria, a plant I've never heard of. I also bought Oleander, Galardia, Primevere, Anemone and Peony (that last one is in homage to the Peony I planted this spring but managed to kill).

I may hang three of them in our bedroom and three in the dining room. Or I may buy more and drown my whole house in botanical prints.

Why is it that when I break down and buy something from eBay, it renews my obsession and I start buying everything in sight? This week, I've bought three 1890s vegetable can labels and two fruit crate labels to frame for kitchen artwork. I'm also buying up turn-of-the-century photographs. Eeeeeek, HELP ME!

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

New Feature

I've added a site search to my page. It's mostly for my own benefit when I'm trying to track down past posts, but maybe you guys will enjoy it too now and again. Say, when you want to find out my opinions on insect murder or see my sister's miniature rendition of our house.

The search is a little crude for now, but maybe I'll figure out how to make it look prettier soon.

Combined with Houseblogs.net's fancy new search, we should be good to go.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Auction Addicts Anonymous

This weekend we stumbled upon an antique auction on our way to the grocery store. That’s Eutaw for you. No movie theater, no restaurants, but by George, we’ve got the antique auctions!

I was good and didn’t buy anything. It’s easier to resist with Darwin sitting beside me looking disapproving.

The house whose contents were being sold was the most tempting item of the day. It was built in 1906 and has amazing unpainted woodwork downstairs. The fretwork! The wainscoting! The mantels! *sigh*

If anyone wants to move to Eutaw, Alabama, and live in a really cool house on a street with really cool people (not us, though, sadly), check it out: Malloy-Jones-Shaw House.

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Work Day Club™ to the Rescue

A few evacuee families have found their way to our little hamlet. This weekend, the Work Day Club of Eutaw™, plus two other handy couples, cleaned up and fixed up an old house for one family who fled New Orleans. Darwin and I only helped for a few hours on Sunday, but some of the others labored the whole weekend.

This house is an 1840s cutie ... or used to be. The ceilings have been lowered and every other atrocity imaginable enacted upon it. Inside, you'd never know the house was antebellum. It looks maybe ante-World War II. It's in a sad state.

Fortunately, now it's relatively clean and, from what I hear, much better smelling. People from around Eutaw donated sheets, mattresses, clothes, cleaning supplies, etc. for the family to tide them over until their little bit of money arrives.

As awful as the destruction is at my parents' house in Biloxi, at least they don't have to start over with virtually nothing, like this family does. I can't imagine losing everything and transplanting to a new place, having to rely on strangers for even the smallest necessities.

It's hard to imagine, too, that there are thousands more like this family, facing these same difficulties, all over the state and the country.

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Goodbye, S&B, We Loved You

Great costume suggestions, guys! I tried an Internet search but there's so MUCH it's hard to separate out costume-worthy '70s icons, especially in pairs. I really love the idea of Darwin as Elton John. The party-throwers were a gay couple, and they'd get a kick out of my straight, semi-redneck husband dressed up as ol' Elton.

But we've had a setback. It's official. The original party planners are, let's just say, no longer feeling the party vibe. S&B are now S ... and ... B. I'm sad for them, not because of the party, of course, but because they were together a long time. And it's not a happy parting.

I haven't suggested it yet to the crew, but the party may be relocated to our house. Since we don't have much furniture, there are plenty of open spaces for social mingling.

And S needs some cheering up. What could cheer a guy up more than dressing up like Wonder Woman and dancing the night away under a disco ball?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Playing Dress-up

I need your help, O Blog Readers. We've been invited to a Halloween party (at an old house ... see there, I'm staying on topic) with a '70s theme. Since I was not born yet during that decade (help me now, hate me later), I need ideas for a costume to wear.

My mom owns a costume and party store, so you'd think I would be all set. Certainly, we can get the accessories - disco ball earrings, fake chest hair - from there. But one of the hosts is planning to go as Wonder Woman, and I like the idea of dressing up as some kind of pop culture figure rather than Pimp and Ho. Ideally, Darwin and I could figure out coordinating costumes.

(Halloween_lover - this is your time to shine!)

The Parameters:
  • I haven't worn a size 6 since 1992, when I wore pleated plaid skirts with color-coordinated shirts tucked in. So I need something non-skimpy. Darnit, that means the track shorts and knee socks with stripes are out.
  • Darwin likes Dukes of Hazzard (we have NOT and I WILL NOT see the movie), but if we dressed up as a couple of rednecks, people would think we'd stumbled into the wrong party.
  • I like disco.
  • Tall shoes are a must.
  • Anything that would require extensive hair and makeup machinations on my part is a bonus.
  • Funny is good but not essential.

  • Wednesday, September 14, 2005

    Various Stages of Undress

    I had a request for photos after yesterday's post, and I assume she meant photos of the stripping progress - not my oozing burn. ;)

    So here ya go:

    Two of the four doorways are at this stage of nakedness. The other two are in various stages of undress.


    Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    Not Gangrene, Too!

    It has been Depression-Fest 2005 around here for the past two weeks, so I'm going back to regularly scheduled programming. That means a return to the usual mixture of whining and self-congratulation.

    In between the worrying and the CNN-watching and last night's Punky Brewster-on-DVD marathon, I've been taking breaks to continue work on stripping the woodwork in the entry hall. In that process, I managed to give myself my first serious heatgun burn. I'd been listening to a novel about a Civil War battle and house-turned-hospital (The Widow of the South ... a fascinating book by a guy on the board of a house museum in Franklin, Tenn.), so when the burn turned into a bubbling red mess three days later, I was convinced I was getting gangrene and would have to bite down on a piece of wood while the army surgeons did their grisly work, then tossed my severed limb out the window onto the growing pile by the smokehouse.

    Fortunately, a river of peroxide solved the problem, and my leg is healing nicely. No need for the surgeons, though I won't be surprised if I have a scar. Oh the suffering we endure for these houses.

    And the work continues. The woodwork in the entry hall consists of two normal-sized doors, one 9-foot-tall window, the front door with transom (which makes it 9 feet tall), 1-foot-tall baseboards, a fireplace mantel, and a set of double doors the normal height and around 9 feet wide.

    So far I've stripped most of the baseboards, most of the fireplace, most of the two normal-sized doors' trim, up to a height of 6 feet on the window trim, about 1/4 of the frame around the double doors, and ... oh, I'm tired of listing this stuff now.

    As sporadic as my progress is, these two weeks of frenzied stripping interspersed with long patches of sitting-on-butt-and-watching-TV has made a big difference in the room. Instead of seeing an endless, hopeless project stretching before me, I've entered into that special zone where it feels actually possible to finish one day.


    Monday, September 12, 2005

    First Hand

    You've seen plenty of pictures of destruction, so I won't post any. They are horribly inadequate anyway.

    We went down yesterday, and the whole way between my town and Biloxi, trees and buildings were destroyed at random along the road. But it was only here and there, even once we got near the coast. Debris along the sides of the road where the storm surge reached, broken trees and windows.

    Then we got to my parents' part of town, the part near Biloxi's back bay, and the landscape changed. The only way a photo could tell this story was if you stood in one spot and rotated 360 degrees, snapping a photo of each segment of the landscape, then lining up the photos in a row then up and down until you had a little world made of paper. One snapshot shows terrible destruction, but it doesn't show what happens when you lower the camera and see that destruction repeated in every direction, even straight up.

    Mom kept saying, "Remember, that was the park. Remember, that was the pink house." But I couldn't remember. There was nothing familiar to latch onto. Nothing but wood, debris, broken furniture, displaced cars and boats and clothes and lives.

    My photographer sister spent the day feverishly taking pictures, trying to record the devastation, but even she admitted they would never capture what it was like to be there, to see not a single house standing on street after street after street. Now I understand why my father kept repeating on the phone last week, "It's like a war zone. You just don't know until you see it. It's like a war zone."

    Many people had plywood signs in their yards spraypainted with the hopeful - "The Martins will rebuild ... again" - and the hateful - "Looters beware, I will put a hole in you."

    My parents' neighbor had set up a travel trailer on his land, where only wood stilts are left of the house he labored on for three years. He said it is pitch black there at night, and one night he heard gunshots.

    Mom and Dad, like so many others in Mississippi and Louisiana, are prepared for a long struggle with their insurance company. Is it a flood or was it wind damage? Can the two even be separated?

    But there was one bright spot in the day. The item in the house my mother was most upset about losing was a white farm table and chairs. She spent a week sanding and painting, sanding and painting the thing more than 10 years ago. It has traveled with us to seven houses, including the first one Darwin and I shared together.

    From the moment we heard the house was gone, we knew the table must be gone, too. It was nowhere to be found on their property or their neighbors. Then yesterday their neighbor told them he'd found his rocking chair way over behind some destroyed apartments.

    Dad and Darwin trekked over there and found the table, missing one leg, scraped and with one board broken. Underneath was one chair, unharmed and with blue cushion intact, sheltered by the table.

    The table may not be worth carrying all the way home and repairing - that is yet to be determined - but it shone like a beacon in that field of debris. Everything is not lost.

    Tuesday, September 06, 2005


    My parents' house near Biloxi was destroyed. There's nothing left but a concrete slab, wiped clean, and some random debris nearby - bricks, silverware, a stack of plates somehow removed from the missing cabinets and set unharmed on the ground. Someone else's family photographs scattered on the mud. Three upturned riding lawnmowers (one of them my parents'), a bathtub from the neighbors' house, the neighbors' roof in the backyard and his Airstream trailer in the front. Clothes and debris hung in the remaining trees at a height Darwin guesses at 22 feet, the height of the surge that came through.

    Dad and Darwin went down there Sunday and brought back photographs of the destruction. Dad couldn't take the wondering, and they didn't have as much trouble getting in or finding gas as they'd anticipated. Cops rode by twice while they were looking but only gave them a solemn salute.

    They found Dad's folding camp chair, saw, shovel and toolbox. The metal futon frame twisted and thrown against the fence. The whole family - Dad, Mom, Darwin, my sister and I - plan to go down on Sunday to search for more, as the surge apparently swept everything to the northwest, and most of my parents' stuff - if there is anymore left - should be in the neighbors' yards.

    The loss is almost total, yet we manage to feel grateful looking at the houses of their neighbors, who lived there full-time and are now homeless. We are not even certain whether the neighbors evacuated.

    Here in West Alabama, the acts of kindness outweigh the selfishness by far. Hundreds of families have relocated here (25,000 to 30,000 evacuees across Alabama), and there are so many volunteers you have to fill out an application and sign up for a time slot. People provide hot meals, clothes, toys, a roof over their heads.

    But what can you really do to fix a life that's totally changed? What can you do to take away a total loss?

    Friday, September 02, 2005

    Destruction, Gas Shortages

    The Sun Herald, the newspaper for Biloxi and Gulfport, has a town-by-town listing of the damage in Southern Mississippi. The historic Jefferson Davis home, Beauvoir, has been destroyed.

    The listing for Biloxi:
    Water lines ruptured; municipal water may be on soon, but is probably contaminated. . . Pass Road open . . . Legacy Towers condos survive. . . Ryans, Red Lobster, Olive Garden washed away along U.S. 90. . . Lighthouse still standing. Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge gone. Bottom floor of the library and the home of Jefferson Davis home, Beauvoir destroyed. . . . Sharkshead Souvenir City gone. . . Edgewater Village strip shopping center gutted . . . Also gone: the steeple of historic Hansboro Presbyterian Church; Waters Edge II apartments; Diamondhead Yacht Club, the old neon McDonald's sign on Pass Road . . . Massive damage in east end of city. . . almost total devastation primarily south of the railroad tracks near Lee Street, Point Cadet and Casino Row. . . Beau Rivage still stands. . . Hard Rock Casino, scheduled to open in early September, suffered 50 percent damages. The signature guitar, said to be the world's largest, still stands. . . At least five casinos out of commission. . . St. Thomas the Apostlic Catholic Church, which sits on U.S. 90, is gone.

    I've been reading the D'Iberville message board at the Sun Herald to try to find some information about the area where my parents house is located. It doesn't sound good. I've heard reports of houses 1 mile NE and 1 mile NW of their house being flooded and destroyed.

    Their house is located just across the bay from where Katrina destroyed the Hwy. 90 bridge to Ocean Springs.

    My parents were debating whether to go down this weekend to check on Dad's timber in Mobile and their house. They were afraid they'd get down there and then not be able to find gas to get back.

    Then just a while ago, my dad heard about a man who shot a gas station owner in Huntsville (two hours north of us) and others who hijacked a Hunt Oil truck. Now they feel it's too dangerous to travel south.

    Where I live, we have been restricted to buying 10 gallons of gas at a time because people panicked and starting filling up trailer-loads of gas cans. When I filled up Tuesday night, the guy at the next pump filled up two giant blue barrels - $255 worth.

    You'd think watching the footage of the devastation, the lives lost, the atrocities, the crimes and shootings in New Orleans, would make people stop being so damn greedy and selfish.

    But instead even safe people up here are turning into animals.

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