Friday, March 28, 2008

The Seven Year Itch

I just looked at some old house papers and realized that we bought this place on March 27Th, 2001. Wow! It's been seven years that I have been slugging away on this nightmare. The good news is that we are so far over the hump that with about 30 days notice I could get us moved in and somewhat settled without too much fuss. The biggest obstacle is actually having the shower working and not throwing water all around the room. I still have to replace two tiles after last years plumbing blowout and I am not willing to do that until I know we are going to be there all the time and the place will be heated well above 42 degrees during the winter! We haven't decided whether to put in a free standing glass enclosure or a glass block one yet either so I may have to suspend some copper plumbing pipe on the ceiling as a track for a shower curtain for the time being until a final decision is made. Anyway, I have been instructed by the boss to work on the residence house for the next few weeks so we can put a "For Sale" sign up in the yard. I guess after seven years we are finally itching to get moved in. So when you see the skies open up and hear a celestial hallelujah chorus then you'll know we did it!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Going Once, Going Twice ....

This was a picture of the third floor bathroom on Friday.

The framing has already been dismantled, the sink has been removed and the tub is full of broken drywall. Work has been halted for a quick archaeological evaluation and removal of relics. The relics in this situation being the 1950s era green marbleized plastic wall tile behind the toilet and some black plastic border tiles. I don't know how many green tiles there are there but it is more than 100 and there are some half tiles and additional ones from around the sink.

They are being thrown into a box and I will ship them to the FIRST person who informs me that they need them to recreate a similar ambiance in their own bathroom. I would like only to be reimbursed for the postage which I am guessing will be around $6.00. What a deal! If no one wishes to be the recipient of this wondrous archaeological stockpile then they will end up in that other wondrous stockpile of archaeological relics known as the city dump!

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Third Floor

Our third floor was an apartment when we bought the house.

It was set up as an apartment in the 1960s. The main stairway was extended to access this floor. Prior to that, the only access was through a narrow door that is in our bathroom, only it was a bedroom way back when.

The entire room is now an attic again with massive wood posts that support the roof. It has a bathroom that is going to be made larger and a kitchen area that we plan to replace with a more modern design. I've started to clean the place up because we plan to put blow in insulation in the floor later this year and I have to figure out where all the boards have been ripped up from the great electrical wire installation of the 1920s. I also have to remove three splice boxes in the floor and re-wire some lighting on the second floor now that I know what I am doing! The room is about 1200 sq. ft. in area and the center post is 13 feet long from floor to ceiling. I have to replace some of the supports that were ripped out in the 1960s before I replace the slate on the roof. The supports have been gone for 40 years and the roof is still intact so I guess it is still structurally sound but when you see how many posts were removed to make the livable area larger it leaves you wondering.

This third floor will be a project unto itself and is a few years away from being done but since there is little I can do when the inside temperature is 45 degrees and, since it doesn't cost money to pull nails out of wood, sweep, vacuum and haul crap down to the basement or the first floor, I get to do the dirty work. This picture is a composite made up of three photographs taken from the entrance to the room. Those wood pellet bags in the foreground are getting re-cycled as garbage bags. Since we have about 60 of them I won't need garbage bags for a while. Oh, I'm still waiting for volunteers to help me with the chimney .... the problem with volunteers is you often get what you pay for!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

House History Hunting (A how to)

So you bought an old house and now that you have recovered from the initial shock (and think you have some time on your hands), you want to know what idiot could have possibly put up the Masonite panelling over a door or who poured cement down your chimney. You might want to know who scratched the beautiful woodwork in the hall or who painted that duck egg green color in every room but have no idea where to begin. Here is a "how to" starter guide. Once you head down this path though, you may find that you become addicted to research. You may also discover a few things that you don't really want to know as well so be careful what you wish for!

Start with your deed. It will have the name of the people that you bought the place from on it. It may also have an unusual legal description. Ours had a very old and unusual legal description it read "lot number 8 on the plat of lots attached to the will of S.D. Edgar" and so I went about researching S. D. Edgar. Your deed should also have a reference number on it that will lead you to the previous deed or document. Next you go to the county building where deeds are recorded and ask to look at the old deed records. Someone will help you. The old deeds are most likely stored on microfiche cards so you will have to learn how to research those. Once you find the recorded deed that proceeded yours, you can find the one before that one and so on until you get back to about 1920 in most cases. Before then they didn't always reference the previous deed so, if your house is older than the reference system in your county you will have ask where the oldest deed records are kept. Here in Dayton they are stored in a completely different building and recorded in huge books in hand written script with an ink pen. Most of these deed books have a set of indexes (completely separate set of books) by buyer and seller and are grouped by years. You would simply look for the name of the seller on your oldest deed to see if there are any records associated with that name. In our case with S.D. Edgar there are dozens and maybe even more than a hundred real estate transactions starting in the 1830s and continuing until his death in 1874. After that there are even more as his estate was liquidated and I haven't even scratched the surface looking at them.

What you have now is a bunch of names and a time frame for when they owned in your house. This doesn't mean that they lived in your house, they owned it. So, go to your main library and see if they have old street directories. Be aware that old directories may be indexed by name and not street name. In the directories before 1913 you may find listings by names of people only. After they were listed by street as well. You may find that your house was occupied by someone other than is named on your deed. While at the library you can look in the genealogy department at some of the old maps, atlases and biography books to see if you can find your house or the names of people who lived there. You may want to look in biographies from adjacent counties too. People tended not to move very far and when they did it was generally associated with work and where jobs were available. Most people were not adventurous. For example, my own family arrived in the U.S. in 1753 from Amsterdam arriving in Philadelphia, Pa. By 1930 they had migrated as far west as Pittsburgh, Pa and my grandfather grew up in nearby Punxetawney. So I come from long line of great explorers and well respected groundhogs as you can tell!

The library should have copies of the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps and they may have aerial photographs that reveal things to you also.

Now that you have some names, you can be real creepy you can go and find them in the cemetery. This can actually be fruitful because many people tended to buried in family plots. These yield married names and often a recent interment will list names of surviving children. Descendants often have photographs! This is how I found all of our old photos. Since you now have a date of death, you can then search the obituaries in the paper which may yield more names or tell you a little about the person.

Now, if you have gone this far then you can be classified as addicted and join the ranks of people like me who never stop looking for information. Your next step will be to get involved with your neighborhood association and then your local government because these often played a role in the history of your home. After that happens you will be involved in all kinds of civic meetings and have no time left to work on your house. People will be wowed by your knowledge about the development of your neighborhood and your collection of maps and photographs without realizing that it all started because you wanted to know who pissed on your bathroom floor leaving that stench in the wood!

Just so you realize there is a darker side of house history research. We can be pretty certain that at least 7 people have died in our house or near it. The youngest was a newborn, another was a 4 year old girl. Charles Edgar was 26 and died of convulsions. Sam Edgar died in the house (paralyzing stroke) and so did Elizabeth Volkenand (cancer). The last one was a suicide in the basement (2000) that people were happy to disclose after we bought the place.

I was inspired to write this because of an email that I received from someone at THIS SITE that reproduces historic maps. I have all the maps that they produce regarding our house but thought that the information may help other folks out there in blog-reader-land. You may want to check and see if they have any maps for your county or birds-eye view paintings for your city.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Weather Report

We had our third annual Walnut Hills chili cook off this evening. There were 18 crock pots of chili for the sampling. I anticipate that we will be experiencing some wind in the morning followed by a few smells. Anything to rid us of the snow!

Lovely weather. Wish you were here.

This is the best our slope has looked (without any effort from me) in many years. It is a shame that it will only last a few more days. Needless to say, things are slow at the "Crack House" this winter. Spring will soon be here though. I just can't wait to rebuild my chimney this spring! Are you as excited for me? I only have to carry several hundred bricks up three flights of stairs and then 13 feet up a ladder to the top part of the roof. Any volunteers from the audience? It's a great work-out. Builds up leg muscle. Will test your stamina and it's character building .... anyone?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Then and Now

If you were interested in the "Then" video shots that I posted last week, you will certainly be interested in the "Now" clips. These were taken last week and include the entire first floor. Things have changed dramatacally in the six years since those movies were made. Every room still needs a little work to finish them off. Much is finishing touches on some molding or trim or installing switch plates but there are no more gaping holes in the floors, strips of wood leaning against walls or graffiti on the walls. All the closed up fireplaces have been found and there is still no sign of the lost treasure or our ghost for that matter. On the first floor we can actually pass through every room without going through the same doorway twice. I think doors were considered a vital part of the interior decoration by Victorians.

There are four short clips that walk from room to room totalling 3 minutes 15 seconds with narrative by yours truely. If you have dial-up service like I do then you may not be able to view the entire set because of constant "buffering". If that is the case then you need to download the files and view them off-line. They are all low resolution so making the screen large makes them blurry. Just to prove my clumsy nature in home video recording (using an 8 year old digital camera), when you get to the kitchen clip and hear the thump as I'm about to show you the paintings we bought to hang on the wall, well, that was when I walked into the wheel barrow. It hurt, but I didn't whimper or moan. I just kept on filming .........

Clip 1

Clip 2

Clip 3

Clip 4