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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Things I Like About an Old House..

Most folks, when asking about our house, are always intrigued when they find out when it was built (we have pretty definitive proof it was between late 1886 to 1887) and invariably the most often heard comment is, "I LOVE old houses, they have such character!"  This is followed by a brief pause and then, "But.......they are so much work!".
Yes, this is true.
Unless you are very, very, very lucky and someone else ahead of you has already done all the work for you and you bought a house that was fully restored.
And  money is no object.
And you can spend all your time working on it.

But, the hard work and the often difficult and sometimes creative ways needed to get an old house "up to snuff" is worth it, I think, if you really love it.

Our house, is by no means, a very elaborate example of a Queen Anne Victorian. The family that owned the property at the time the house was built (there was another building, a residence presumably, on this lot prior to this house being built, but what it looked like is unknown), were probably what was considered to be middle-class or upper-middle class. They were a family perhaps affluent enough to have one or two domestic servants and may have kept their own carriage, but they were not extremely wealthy. They were a middle-aged couple, in their forties, when they bought the property and built this house a few years later. The man ran a successful mercantile business in town and was well-regarded in his community. Their only child, a son, later attained more prominence and wealth in a number of  different business concerns, one of which was his father's mercantile business which he took over after his father died in 1900. The son later built a large, opulent, English Gothic style house for his family that still stands today and is located only a few blocks from our house.

The more disposable income a family had, the more elaborate and expensive the decoration and furnishings of the house. Of course, it's hard to know how much of the original exterior decor has been lost to the years and certainly, much of the interior details, like light fixtures, leaded glass windows and other details, have long ago been stripped from the house by the numerous owners over the last 123 years.

Some things, however, have miraculously survived. So, here are some of the things that I like about our old house:

A very fancy heating duct cover in one of the bedrooms upstairs.

There is also one of these in the parlor downstairs:


It has a patent date on the bottom of August 1900. Our house was originally heated by the three centrally located coal fireplaces and also two other small coal stoves (probably similar to the popular Franklin stoves or pot-belly stoves). These floor grates were put in later, probably for an oil or coal burning furnace in the basement.  Basically,the grates were not attached to any ductwork, but because heat rises, they were probably just openings that allowed heat to rise up through the house. My grandparents' old farmhouse had the same thing. Later, when forced-air furnaces were developed, duct work was attached to these.

I love the original molding and trim that has survived. All of the downstairs windows, doorways and the two sets of French doors have this molding with "bull's-eye" corner blocks. It was a very popular trim style in the 1880s.


This is a metal flue cover of some kind that is in our bedroom. It's above a door that leads to a very strange, small little closet in our room. I use it to hold our laundry hampers but it's original purpose is unknown. It appears to have been altered at some point, however, so it may actually have been a pass-through to the adjoining bedroom and where also one of the coal stoves was located. The flue pipe came out of the back wall of this strange "closet" and ended here above the door. This cover has been painted over, but it can be lifted up to open it.


I played with the resolution on this picture quite a bit so it would show up, but in real life this subtle damask pattern is really only visible if you are really looking for it or if the sun is shining very brightly on this wall, which rarely happens (our dining room faces north.)  There is this long, rectangular section where this shows through the red paint and one small square on the other side of the French doors. The previous owners painted this room, so I am not sure how visible this was when they painted or what the walls looked like before. There are only these two places where this can be seen and we haven't been able to figure it out. My best guess at this point is that it might be from old wallpaper that had once been on the walls and somehow the pattern, maybe from the glue, got super-imposed somehow on the wall. This area is directly across from the dining room's north-west facing window, which might account for something also. It's a mystery!

Just about every room in the house has one or two of these. These were outlets for the gas-lighting which was the way our house was lit at the time it was built. Electricity did not become available in our city until after 1890. Most of these gas lighting tubes have caps, like this one.(and have been painted over--no surprise there.)

This one, on  the floor of the entry hall, does not.

All of the upstairs bedrooms have transom windows above the doors. And, like many other things in the house, have been slopped with paint by previous owners. Only one of the transom windows has it's opening mechanism, which is the one pictured. It works, albeit with all the paint on it, it's hard to move it. Yet another project for me to do!!

The tile hearth in front of the parlor fireplace. It's a little beat-up and has some cracks from the house settling over the years, but it's still pretty. We actually found a box with some extra pieces of this tile in the basement, so if we need to replace some of the badly cracked ones, we might be able to use the spares!! Fixing this hearth is Project # 1 Million and Four on our list. (lol!)


The tile hearth in the front hall is in better shape,( not as many chips and dings), but settling of the house has caused some crazing and cracks  in the tiles also. In a couple of spots a piece has cracked off and is missing. I did not find any of the octagonal tiles in the box in the basement, so those we might have to have custom-made to replace the missing ones. Fortunately, there are only two that are missing a piece.

The front entry hall fireplace has these pretty tiles around the fireplace opening. The flower pattern is striking and is also slightly raised.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed viewing some of my favorite things about our old Victorian lady!

3 comments:

Bella said...

You are lucky to have so many of the original parts to your house. The heat vent / grates are lovely, and all the nice tilework.. lucky!
Our house is 1902 and we have woodwork, a couple chandeliers, and a bathtub.. all else pilfered by the people who we bought it from. Prior to that it had stayed in the same family.. not a family who took nice care of things but... at least the were not to motivated to change things either :-)
I love my old house and enjoyed hearing about yours. You are lucky to live in an area that still has so many lovely Victorian Ladies:-) Bella

Katie@LeBeauPaonVictorien said...

Wow...that's interesting that the same family had it for so long. Our lot had about five or six owners before anything was built on it (the lot was originally designated in 1856!) Something was built on the lot in the 1860s-1870s (we don't know what--some kind of house). Our house was built later to replace whatever was there in 1886-1887 and it went through so many owners after 1904 that we gave up looking at them all after 1960....the file was HUGE!!!

Mrs. Cherry Heart said...

Katie, It takes special people to buy and love a victorian home because it is a labor of love! I don't see our home as "too much work" as most people do I see it as a home with a history and character!
I love big old homes.
I am glad I found your blog. You are inspiring me! We bought our 1875 victorian a year ago. We live in an 1800s village filled with many many victorian homes! I love it, its like stepping back in time!

Blessings, Dolly