Saturday, March 21, 2015

The History of Our House

     The story of our house stretches into the foggy past with tentacles of fact and fiction lacing through the years. After talking with Joanne Allen and Jane Pinney at the Historical Society Library, I decided to record some facts and try to pin down a few bits of fiction.

           We always thought that our house was built by William Middaugh in the 1800s but a reading of the deed makes that sound unreasonable. William bought the property on April 26, 1879 but the first mention of the house is in a record of his son, William C Middaugh, selling the house in 1895. The style seem more of the type popular in the 1860s and evidence in the records seem to lean toward it's being constructed in the late 1860s but we just don’t know.
            The house, as of 1895, was on about 5 acres of land but the lot reached its current size (1.25 acres) when it was sold in 1907.

            What confused us was that our house came with a copy of a page from William Middaugh’s story for his children. Clearly he lived here.The story included an image of our house with a man, most reasonably William Middaugh, standing on the porch. 
           He can’t have been the builder. Timing just doesn’t work out so both the date of construction and the person behind the building of our house remains a mystery
            The photo shows some tiny pine trees. The one near the house now towers over our house with a trunk of 160 inches circumference at the base. The title of the picture is “The Last Home."
            In the picture, the house stands proudly with the front door under a 3 story tower. The tower's top floor has double, round-topped windows on each side. Two of those windows are in our basement but the third level of the tower is long gone. Chopped off, cast aside, and discarded for whatever reason we have often thought it would have been fun to have it reproduced but the cost and turmoil has made that not so.

     The paper we had was part of a story written by William Middaugh to give to his children. We only had one page of the story though Joanne Allen recently found the entire story on file in the Historical Society Library in Wellsville. We have no idea what book it is published in. This is the part given to us when we bought the house:

“I have to think I can leave my children with all the property necessary to help them through this world. They have a second time been deprived of a mother’s care and counsel, my second wife being buried just twenty-five years from my first wife’s burial. I hope as my children read this over and see the trials and afflictions I have passes (sic) through in my life to secure the property I now leave for them, they will appreciate it and keep and protect it from debt and mortgage and hold it as I have done as long as they live.
            I have tried to do my duty by my children as I saw it as near as I could –although you may not realize it – and I hope they can and will make good use of it. I again entreat of you to hold and not sell these old family farms that I have cherished so much. Now children while I do not wish you to labor as I have, I do entreat of you all to be honest, industrious and straight-forward. Be true to yourselves and then you will be true to others. I say again be saving and not squander what has come to you so easily, for my experience teaches me, that it is no easy matter to accumulate property and keep it without experience and economy. When I say be economical, I do not mean be little and penurious. I would have you be benevolent when it is a duty as many cases it is, and aid worthy objects. I have always meant to practice that in both prosperity and adversity, which is the duty of all good citizens.”

            William died in this home, referred to as "The Last House", on August 22, 1881 and was buried at Knights Creek Cemetery in Scio, NY. One of his children said, “Father was a man of kind and forgiving heart, was always ready to lend a helping hand to those in need.”
            On the land that roots this house, there are also the remains of a farm’s apple orchard. Most of the trees are in the neighboring yard. (That now belongs to Rob and Tammy Christman.)
           One year a balloon’s ropes became tangled in one of those apple trees. It happened to be while Dr. Jim Edmonston had a “cherry picker” truck at his house so he drove it over and used the cherry picker to undo the ropes and set the balloon free.
            Another possible farm feature is the towering pear tree near the road. It is an ancient variety of pear that would have been harvested by Native Americans. These pears, dense golf-ball sized fruits that we stumble over in the fall, must be cooked to be edible and even then the taste does not match the expectation of a pear.
            Ethyl Richardson was our neighbor when we moved into this house in 1989 and it is her house that now shelters the Christman family. Ethyl told us that our house once was used by a doctor. This may not be true because the house that was on that property prior to the existing house was said to be owned by 2 doctors and how many doctors would there have been on this street? (However, a few years ago, Dr. James Edmonston lived across the street from Dr. Andrew Colletta while Dr. Aziz lived down the road on just this side of the Scio town line so, well, maybe then too.)
            When we moved into our house, it was a structure of doors. The front porch had 4 doors facing the road. Two French doors could be opened from the living room, likely to air the house in the summer and certainly to admit drafts in the winter. They were replaced with windows looking toward the road.
            Another was the front door to the house that opened into the front hall and the fourth was the door on the side of the wrap-around porch that entered into the office. One entered that office (I can picture a huge oak desk and a swivel chair but that is totally my imagination at work.) and then advanced to the examination room which led to a choice of doors – household kitchen or lavatory (now laundry room).
            There were 4 doorways from the dining room. Why cannot be imagined. One was an open archway to the living room. Another was a swinging door to the kitchen. Sensible, reasonable points of passage, these remain.
            There were 2 doors from the dining room to the doctor’s office. That office also had a door to the front hall, the living room and what was the examination room. Someone must have loved doors or disdained walls. Whatever the original intent of the floor plan, there are now fewer doors.
            Leonard B. and Edna M. Jones bought the house on June 6, 1955 and lived at 3180 Riverside until they sold it to Robert H. and Louise H.  Walpole on July 27, 1965. They left the pine tree behind our wood shed. It was planted to celebrate Leonard’s hole-in-one at the golf course down the road. Ethyl said that Leonard was the one who enclosed our back porch to enlarge the kitchen where he installed a wood burning fireplace. 
            The Jones family sold the house to Walpole family. Robert Walpole cheerfully commented that he never had to do a bit of maintenance on the building for the entire 25 years he lived there. When Rick and I bought it, it was time for change so we gutted, redesigned and reconfigured the space.
            Gutting a house opens up pages of history. We didn't find anything valuable in the walls but we did find details.
            The following things we know from personal experience - The rear bathroom was an odd shape. There was a space unaccounted for, a space about the size of a shower. Rick thought that maybe someone's Aunt Matilda was buried in the wall but when he opened it, he found a shower. It seems that there was an issue with the drain so the water was cut off and the shower was encased in drywall turning a full bath into a half bath and eliminating further plumbing work.  
            We also found that the house had undergone a major renovation in 1912. The drywall used in the house was labeled with those dates. We think that’s when central heating was installed. Clearly there were chimneys in most rooms at some point and we removed one more. 
            In 1989 the furnace was a huge metal box designed to burn coal and later natural gas. The pilot light was a 2-foot pipe with holes the length of it so that it burned significant amounts of fuel just to keep a flame at the ready. We replaced the furnace and the radiators with a hot water baseboard system, cutting fuel consumption considerably and then replaced it all again 2013. Our new system constantly measures temperatures inside and out and keeps the house cozy for 1/3 less fuel.
            More interesting was the laundry room. Ethyl told us that Leonard Jones put that little room on the side of the kitchen. She didn’t tell us that he did it by recycling some other house. When were taking those walls down, something under the plaster didn’t look right.
            We were teaching all day and working on the house nights and weekends. This, of
course, left us so exhausted that we didn’t think well but finally it dawned on us that under a layer of plaster was plaster and lath and that plaster had dripped upward not down.
            Those walls were interior walls taken from another house, brought to this house and flipped upside down and then used to construct the exterior walls of a full bathroom which now is remade into a nicely insulated laundry room. Waste not, want not.
            The front of our house holds the living room, dining room and 2 offices on the first floor as well as 3 bedrooms (originally 4) and 2 baths upstairs. The rooms on the first floor are 11 feet tall but, thankfully, shorter on second floor. This part is held together with hand forged, cut nails.
            The back of our house holds the kitchen and laundry on the first floor and a large bedroom on the second floor. It is held together with machine made nails and the ceilings are only 8 feet from the floors.
            We reworked the upstairs floor plan to use the floor space of the small central bedroom. What was the bedroom door became a linen closet door and the rest of the room was divided to give the bedrooms on either side of it large closets and to make the master bedroom much larger.
          The closets hold some of Wellsville's history. When the Rockwell Department Store closed, they sold shelves and drawers. We bought several of them. Some are freestanding storage in the basement but the rest are built into the closets.
            We also reconstructed the front hall way. The space under the stairs was wasted. It is now a front hall closet. The closet is wonderful but I reserve 3 cheers for the stair aprons. We admired some in a building in Christchurch, New Zealand and when we returned home, Rick outfitted the front stairs.
           For most of the time that we lived here the front hall opened into the living room but after the children left that was just a drafty area so Rick built French doors between the hall and the living room.
           He made a leaded glass window to fill in the round arch above the doorway. This carries through the house. There is a rounded window over the front door, the one Rick made between the hall and living room, a stained glass window he made between the living and dining rooms and a fourth rounded window in the kitchen.
          The window in the kitchen is a half round window and we bought it from the Wellsville Central School System for $1.50. It allows an open passage of light through the kitchen.
          Schools change and toss out the old. Thankfully I was at hand to save this and that. There are two cupboards that were part of the Andover Central School. These are now our pantry. One side of each has a long door that had a coat rack and was used for the teacher’s coat and boots. There are holes drilled at the top and bottom so the coat could dry if it had rained. 
          The other side has a medium and short door and was designed for book storage. The books cupboards already has shelves so that was great but the coat cupboard side needed shelves and that was where the Rockwell Department Store helped solve the need. We have 2 of these cupboards, back to back, as our pantry.
            There is one story that begs addition. When Emilie and Jay were in elementary school, I was a Girl Scout leader and Rick and I were both adult Boy Scouts. There were times when we would have the entire scout troops for an overnight at our house.
            On one such occasion, the kids were running and screaming in the back yard when a NY State Trooper rang the bell. Rather politely, he asked what was going on.
            “Going on how?” I asked.
            Someone in the neighborhood, we never knew who, had called to report that they heard someone screaming that they were being killed.
            We went out to the yard and called everyone together. They were playing a rousing game of He’s Going to Kill Me. There didn’t seem to be any agreement on the rules other than running and screaming about being killed.

            The trooper left. The game continued. Home sweet home.

Below are some of the changes we made in the house -

This was also an open doorway on the side of the living room into the dining room and in 2014 Rick dressed it up with a new window. Most of the glass is reclaimed. 
       Look through the window to see the tin ceiling we installed in the dining room – with many curses per square foot.  It was a much more demanding project than one might imagine.    

     When we moved in, this was a large open, drafty doorway.Rick made the rounded window on the top, created the doorway and installed the French doors found at an antique shop. The side glass panels are etched in a vine pattern. The installations incorporates hundreds of pieces of wood, glass and molding.
     The banister of legends is visible through the French doors. Many young folks in the time of the Walpole's residence in the house recall having timed races sliding down the banister with the Walpole children. With the 12 foot ceilings downstairs, the length and height of the banister attracted the young and foolish and daunted those with more sense. Our children do not admit which group they belong to. 
     Rick recalls a "near-death time-dilation" experience while removing the ceiling plaster. He slipped and fell backwards while stretching out to pull a nail at the top of the stairs, leaving the crowbar hanging on the nail-head and wildly swinging over his chest and head while he slowly slid on his back down the stairs under it. He watched the crowbar in full expectation of experiencing the point end on, or worse, into him.
     Also through the widows is a view of the stair aprons.

Stair aprons added by Rick.

     Rick built new oak kitchen cabinets and added a mahogany top and molding to the fireplace.  Elaine came up with the idea of having the sink in an island to meet her remodeling requirement that it provided an outside view.  This resulted in a compact galley style kitchen, but made much better use of the floor space, allowing for an in-kitchen dining area.
     This led to another near disaster story. The very large (heavy) picture window unit with attached side windows where the counter used to be  needed to be lowered to table height.
     It was decided to knock out the wall under the window and reconstruct it a foot or so shorter. No problem so far. Next step was to cut all the nails holding the window unit in place and let it slide it down onto its new, lower wall.  
     There were lots of nails, including one that we just could not find that was holding it in place.  After much searching it was found and cut. Immediately the window started to slide – and was it heavy! Rick and his friend were merely to slow its inexorable downward progress but not to stop it. 
     As it slid, Rick noticed that a power saw was still sitting on the new lower wall. He yelled for a very young Jay to “MOVE THE SAW!” which resulted in a confused 6-year old wildly looking for a saw somewhere in the kitchen. 

      Since it didn't seem that Jay would figure out that the machine on the window was a saw and since their muscles were giving out, Rick did a last ditch karate kick, knocking the saw off the wall just in time. The window is happy – and intact – it its new position providing lovely views for those seated at the table

    Also in our kitchen is a half round window from the Wellsville High School, purchased for the grand amount of $1.50.
    Not suitable as an exterior window, it is great in our house because it allows the light to flow and is one of 4 round top windows.
   The vintage Toledo scale was salvaged from Alfred University, repaired and converted into a lamp by Rick.
     Elaine’s pottery is in evidence everywhere in the house.

     This is the new master bedroom. The window shown was once in what was a small bedroom but one dividing wall came out and we enlarged the master bedroom and closets, reworking the bedrooms to have walk-in closets and a linen closet in the hallway where the entry to the small v center bedroom was located.
       The original windows in the house were much taller, going to the floor and all were replaced with shorter, double-pane insulated windows in a more modern size. rick jokes that it made the house look newer (that would make it be early 1900s.)
     More 19th century lithos - these are John Gould Birds of Great Britain -and some of the Federal and first of State Duck Stamp framed prints cover the walks in this room. 

Drawers from Rockwell Department Store

This was the fireplace when we moved in.
After taking out the plaster over lath, this mantle
no longer fit so we cut it out and replaced it.

We stripped the white paint from the bricks leaving just a few traces of it. I made tiles with Jay, and Rick built the mantle of quarter-sawn oak and installed the tiles on it as well as on the hearth.

At Christmas, Emilie’s collection of nutcrackers tops the mantle.  Some of Rick’s 19th century naturalist lithographs are on the walls – these are Audubon Quadrupeds.

On the floor at the right is a cricket forged by the late Charlie Orlando. It was meant to go on top of the big rock (named “Jon” in honor of Jon Ebling who installed it for us as a housewarming gift.) in the front of the house.  Fear of theft and not wanting the cricket to suffer the weather, the cricket has always stayed by the fire – well – gas logs, but it’s warm nonetheless.

     This likely won’t make any sense without a floor plan but let’s give it a try.

     The stove is set into an alcove. That alcove was where entry to the kitchen was granted. The stove sits on what was the top of the stair landing for the back door. One entered the house in the garage and walked to the back of the garage and came into the kitchen after climbing 3 stairs. 

     Wanting a more direct route, Rick cut a hole in the wall next to the basement door to grant entry to the house from the driveway and built a wall to divide the new entry area from the garage thus making a new back hall and mudroom/pantry/entry.

     As a side note, when we bought this stove we needed to make this space nearly 2 inches wider. We ripped out the walls from the other side, from inside the garage. We built a little ramp to slide the old stove out and the new stove in. Much easier that moving it through the kitchen.

     The chimney for the kitchen fireplace didn’t draw well so I made a terracotta chimney pot to extend it and Rick installed it as part of a chimney relining project.  Now it works fine providing added warmth to the house in winter. As a bonus, the addition of a screen eliminated the occasional unwelcome bird or bat coming into the house and wood ash helps the tomato plants.

     A recent rehab of the well-crafted Lopi wood stove insert replaced its interior firebrick and converted it to use outside air for combustion via the ash clean-out port of the original fireplace for even greater efficiency.

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