Monday, March 14, 2011

Finding a Little House in a Big House

Last week I talked about the hidden treasures you can find inside the walls of an old house and the stories they can tell of the occupants and their lives.  The walls themselves can tell a story also.  In this case, its the story of different iterations of the house and how it has grown and changed to accommodate different uses over time.

We are in the midst of demolition on the Westview House.  And yes, gasp, we are removing the old plaster.  This house dates to the early 1900s, and has absolutely no remarkable features on the interior.  It's more important to us to make the house warm, comfortable, and safe for the new occupants.  So, we are removing the 1970's paneling, old sheetrock, dirty plaster, and who knows what all else so we can add insulation, new wiring, and new plumbing and adjust the floor plan to better fit today's lifestyle.  

We knew that this house had been changed to three apartments in the 1940s when local industry boomed.  We could also tell that the stairs to the second floor was not original since it is in the back of the house and ends at a side door.  Great for apartments.  Weird for a single family house.  Lo and behold, as we demolished the walls in the front room, we found the diagonal framing for an old stairway.  Next to that was a closed in doorway that would have provided access to the stairs and the other now-closed-in front room.  We could also tell that the existing doorway was new.

In the same room, the back wall had several other hidden surprises.  One was that the existing doorway was once much larger and may have once had French doors.  The French doors were probably not original though because the lumber, though old, wasn't as old as the framing.  But also because the other hidden surprise was that the wall had window framing inside!  That means that this house was once much smaller (and means I need to take a trip to the courthouse and see what I can find out about the property).  We're not going to be able to tell on the first floor if there's a matching window hidden in the next room because of the doorway configuration, but we may be able to tell upstairs when we get to the rooms above.  

Looking at the outside of the house, the windows match on the upper and lower floors only one room deep: this was probably a vernacular I-house that was heavily added onto.  It will be interesting to see what else the house tells us as we move through the demolition phase.  We had already expected to find some additional exterior windows, but what else might be hiding behind the old plaster? 

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