I went into our basement yesterday. Normally, it takes a funnel cloud — actually sighted, not just suspected, mind you — to make me go down there.
As basements go, ours isn’t terrible. The spiders seem to like it just fine. It has 9-foot ceilings, solid stone walls, sturdy beams and a mess of old pipes and plumbing best described as “spaghetti-like.”
I was visiting the basement because we are having a new water softener installed. Being country dwellers means we have well water. Well water means we get to invest in a water treatment system, lest all our fixtures and probably our insides are stained.
The prior system was “only” 25 years old and I’m aggravated that it finally died. I stomped around for a few weeks pretending I was just NOT going to fix it.
Eventually, my inner princess caved to the lure of water that didn’t smell like old eggs.
To his credit, our water softener professional used the term “cattywampus” to describe the water lines. It was a perfect description of plumbing run willy-nilly over the last 12 decades — give or take.
I say give or take because I have no exact idea how old this house actually is.
I have been on an obsessive quest to figure out the exact year our home was constructed. Old newspapers and deed records have narrowed it down to about a 30-year span between 1885 and 1915.
The journalist in me cannot accept this. In a place where someone buying an automobile or the lady of the house hosting quilt club was written up in the newspaper, I am just gobsmacked that I cannot find any definitive article about the construction of a very large house on an even larger farm.
To add to the mystery there were, at one time, two houses on our property. These in addition to a variety of cottages used for orchard workers who came seasonally to pick and pack fruit.
An 1885 newspaper article mentions the then owner of our property “building an addition.” I thought this might be our home, until I found hardware marked “patented 1899” on our doors.
So there went my 1885 theory. I suspect the “addition” was for the smaller “back house” on the property. So I think I must have narrowed it down to 1899-1915?
You will be told that you can simply go to your local county recorder’s office and look up old records and permits. At this I laugh, in rural Appalachian county without building codes or much oversight at all.
In fact, according to our records every single old structure in the region was built “around 1900.” Cabin? 1900. Center hall colonial? 1900. Mobile home? 1900.
If you pay attention, you will actually see this throughout the U.S. At a certain point for tax purposes, old is old.
Most older homes listed for sale are said to have been built in 1900. I’m sure SOME of them actually were but to read up on real estate, one would think there was a massive building boom in that year alone.
Anyway, back to the scintillating tale of my braving my own basement — and only because the softener installer was down there, so I figured the boogeyman couldn’t get me. I was prowling around the basement thinking that there surely must be SOME clue as to the construction date of the house.
I peered past an impressive array of spiderwebs to find stamped on the lumber “Enterprise Plg Mill Co. New Waterford O.”
This was exciting! I sped upstairs to jump on a computer and search for information about this company. I was quickly able to crowdsource more information — in large part thanks to our own Sam Moore of Rusty Iron fame.
The man is an amazing historic resource. Thanks to Sam, and some very old newspaper articles, I was able to ascertain that the lumber that frames up our home came from a mill in operation from … 1885 to 1915. Of course. I have to laugh.
I am poring over old newspaper articles, stalking prior owners through old family trees, and hoping someone in the region will suddenly remember that their great-great-grandfather built our house (and exactly what year that happened). A girl can dream.
This has become quite a slow going hobby of mine. I want to know because I love our house. I consider myself a steward of this home and property. I like to know the names of those who lived here before us. To know those who walked these fields — and these floors.
I have researched deeds. Prowled around in the basement, perused plumbing and peered into walls. I love this old house but she is NOT giving up her secrets. After all, a lady never tells her age.
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