Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The House Where I Was Raised

This was taken the year before I was born. I believe it's my aunt seated to the right and my sister on the stoop.

The old Federal Revival farmhouse was apparently begun after the first autumn frost of 1865 (no borers under the bark on the pine framing) and finished sometime in 1866, or so the story goes. A crumpled piece of newspaper placed in the wall between the lower left front window and the corner of the house (to allow plastering over a broken lathe) contained an interview with a certain Mr. Grant. He stated that his son was considering running for president in the next general election. I guess that dates it before 1868, at least. Since the story went that the farm was once covered with huge pine trees, the lumber for the house was probably sawn from logs cut there on the farm. There was a water-powered sawmill along Waddington Creek in the valley below, so the lumber was probably sawn there.

The two windows on the lower left of the front of the house were in the former sitting room. We used it as a living/family room. The two windows on the lower right were in my parent’s bedroom. It had been the bedroom of Dad’s folks from about 1915 to 1929. Dad was born there one horribly miserable January day in 1925. My great-grandfather worked all that day keeping the fire going in the three downstairs fireplaces. The mantle on the old fireplace in that room was a little fancier than the others in the house, for it had been built to be the home’s parlor.

The front door opened into the tiniest of foyers, with a door both to the right and left, a flight of stairs on the left leading upstairs (eleven steps, 180 degree right turn, then four more steps) and a hallway on the right passing through to the back porch. The latter was a good arrangement for hot weather, for the front door faced west and caught the prevailing breeze, thus allowing the air to flow out the back door onto the back porch. A window on the stair landing allowed air to travel up there and vent the upstairs to some degree, as well.

The two windows on the upper right were in my sister’s room. It had originally been two little rooms, but Dad had torn out the wall between them and that made her a nice big bedroom. That also gave her a window on the back side of the house meaning that she had cross-ventilation. I used to envy her a bit on that matter until I rushed upstairs one day to put down the windows during a thunderstorm and saw a large blue ball of static electricity travel from a screen in one of the front windows, across her bed and out the screen in the back window. After that, I decided that she was welcome to keep her cross ventilation.

The window in the upstairs center was in the hall and, in warm weather, was usually open so air could travel to the window on the stair landing at the back of the house and vent the upstairs. The two windows on the upper left were in my room, though I can still remember when I slept in the folks’ bedroom. (THAT must have been cozy for them, since I was a light sleeper as a child!) It had a closet on each side of the blocked-off fireplace on the left wall. If you looked upward in the front one, you could see through a crack in the closet ceiling and see daylight through a crack in a piece of siding in the gable. The room was heated with an old gas space heater, but many a time in my youth, I could see my breath in my bedroom. Thank goodness for quits, comforters and army blankets!

One neat thing about my room was that it had a door into the attic of the back ell of the house. If the folks were in bed, and I couldn’t sleep, I could take the flashlight from my nightstand and sneak into the attic to snoop through the old things stored there. If I felt especially daring, I could go down the tiny spiral stairway into the dining room below. The stairs were so steep that they seemed more like a twisted ladder, and the turn was so quick that I’m certain that I spotted the back of my own head in front of me a few times. Once downstairs, I could sneak a snack out of the fridge, or answer nature’s call in the thunder mug in the one-time pantry (by then a bathroom) off the right side of the kitchen. Sometimes though, boredom was no problem and if I opened the attic door, it was just to better hear the rain on the tin roof.

The old house still stands after nearly a century and a half, though I don’t own it anymore. The attic has been removed in a remodel, and the tin roof has been replaced with modern shingles, but the memories still linger on. © 2012


Crystal Mary said...

Well its great that you have this photo to help you remember it all. So sad that it has otherwise gone to rack and ruin.The attic sounds just the place to fire a childs imagination. I think we older folk are so blessed to have lived in times when life was so different. This current and future technical age in not my cup of tea. I prefer living in our old style house and we will probably get sola power so we are self sufficient. I like chooks down the back yard, with our own eggs and a thats the happy life.

Ralph Goff said...

What a great old house. Expensive to maintain and heat unfortunately. You could spend the money upgrading it to hold heat efficiently but the cost would take years to payback in fuel savings.

Mamabug said...

Awesome post Gorges! I love hearing about the history of old homes; don't you wish you could hear those old walls talk!

Chickenmom said...

Sounds like a great house to grow up in. Loved the line about spotting the back of your head in front of you! My grandmother's home had a staircase like that.

Phyllis (N/W Jersey

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

Wonderful account! That house looks a lot like the one my first wife's great-great-great(?) grandfather built after returning home to Gaddis Holler in Barry County, Miissouri from the Civil War, where he served as a major in an Arkansas Confederate cavalry unit. Although, their house wasn't quite as nicely built as yours was.

A funny thing that we found out while Sam and I were still married was that the property was still in his name! For neither her dad, nor any of the other ones who had inherited it before had ever bothered to amend the title-deed. Sadly, the house burned down a few year back, I was told.

Mary Ann said...

Oh, I loved this post. What a lovely old house, you were lucky (cold breath and all).

Cathy M. said...

Your homeplace seems nearly exactly like mine, in which my father (84) still lives. The upper floor was divided in two by a wall. The spiral staircase you describe was intended (so I was told) for the boys. There was no access from the boys room to the girls room without passing through the downstairs room. I always thought that was strange, since presumably they were brothers and sisters. However, a look at old censuses reveals that a farm house could often have multiple extended family members and others.

Originally, there was a detached kitchen which was later joined to the main house with a large room and porch surround. The boy's stairs were removed in the 1940s, and the brick chimneys are no longer safe to use.

Someday, my sister and I will have to figure out what to do with the old place. The floor joists, which rest upon creek rocks, are badly damaged. The tin-shingled roof is still in perfect shape over the original part, but the addition, not so much. There is a great banister, but it is covered in dozens of layers of lead-based paint. The original smoke house is all that remains of the original out buildings. I think all that smoke cured the wood too! All the surrounding farms have been transformed into subdivisions. Dad's place is the last oasis in a desert of suburban sprawl.

Gorges Smythe said...

Crystal, I didn't chose my words carefully enough; the house is better shape than ever, but it now has a modern shingle roof and the attic has been removed. I corrected the wording. I'm with you on the lifestyle!

It's all insulated now, Ralph, but it's someone else's problem.

They DID sort of talk about Mr. Grant, Mb! ;-)

Thanks, Phyllis; I never have lacked for color, when I choose!

That just proves that there are interesting stories all over, Jerry.

Indeed I was, Mary Ann, though I didn't realize it at the time.

Sounds like a neat old place that you come from, too, Cathy. I hadn't thought about the stairs, but the twwo small bedrooms were on one end, and the two attic rooms at the other, with the master bedroom directly between them. I bet that was the reason in my home, too!

Linda said...

How nice, Gorges! What great memories you have shared here...and that photo! Thank you so much for sharing. It must have been really neat to venture up into the attic.

Gorges Smythe said...

Thanks, Linda. I was blessed and didn't know it.

JaneofVirginia said...

What a truly lovely and gracious home.

Rick Kratzke said...

I truly do love the old time pictures and I must say the houses of yesteryear stand up a lot better than the new modern houses plus they have a lot of character to them.

Gorges Smythe said...

Thanks, Jane; it sure holds a lot of memories for me.

It's got a light-weight pine post and beam frame with tenoned studs between the main members. They really DON'T build 'em like that anymore, Rick.

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

What a cool, old house! I always thought we'd end up with a charming house like this some day with acreage and a lake or stream. I love it!

Gorges Smythe said...

Thanks, Kathy. I hope you find your house.