Thursday, July 23, 2015

History of Our Home

A few months after we moved into The Papered House, my husband and I ventured to the county historical society to see if we could learn anything about the history of our home. The helpful folks at the historic society recommended that we start by researching our deed at the Hall of Records. Once we had a better idea of our home's ownership through the years, we would be able to return to the historic society to peruse their genealogical records and learn more about the home's prior owners. The Hall of Records is only open during the week, so my husband and I made a mental note to visit the next time we scheduled a day off from work.

In the meantime, though, the volunteers handed us a few binders filled with historic photos. The photos were not cataloged or organized in any particular order, and many of them were unlabeled. Most of the photos were of people or of public buildings, so it was unlikely that we would find any pictures of our home. The historic society folks warned us that it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack...and the needle might not actually exist.

My husband and I each took a binder, flipping through the photos quickly, without expecting much. After about three minutes, I heard my husband gasp in amazement. He nudged me and whispered, "Hey...look at this. Isn't that our house?"

Sure enough, that house on the right is ours. I would recognize the roofline anywhere. The kind folks at the historic society allowed us to take photos with a phone, so long as we promised not to use the flash.

And here is a closer view, admittedly a bit grainy since the original document was on the small side. 

We were pleased to discover that our house looks relatively the same today as it did in this photo. We noticed a few differences: this photo shows a light paint color on the body of the house, with light shutters and trim, as well. Our house is currently white with green shutters, which is true of approximately 20-30% of the homes in our town. We currently have a railing on our porch (those pesky code requirements!), and some of the porch trim looks different now than it did in this picture. There was a picket fence, which must have been removed at some time. But otherwise, the house looks substantially the same. It's hard to believe -- and also gratifying -- that the house still looks so similar after 135 years.

After we returned home from the historic society, we did some subsequent research and concluded that this photo was likely taken sometime ranging from the 1890s to early 1900s. We knew that this photo had to be pre-1920 because homes were built across the street starting in 1920. We looked at the Sanborn insurance maps for our block through 1910, and discovered that a business near our home burned down between 1895 and 1910. Part of the original photo was cropped out when we snapped these pics, but it showed a building with significant fire damage. We've surmised that this picture was primarily intended to document the fire damage -- perhaps for a news article? --  and our house just happened to be in the background.

A few days after we visited the historic society, we came home to a lovely surprise. There was a packet of papers on our front porch,  neatly sealed in one of those goldenrod envelopes. One of the volunteers at the historic society went to the Hall of Records on our behalf and researched several of our deeds. He dropped off copies of the deedd back to the 1890s, and left us a nice note telling us the book and page where the original deed from the 1880s was recorded. He said he didn't want to "ruin all our fun" by finding the first deed.

We were blown away by his kindness. We can't believe someone would go to so much effort for a couple of strangers. We're continually amazed by how friendly and welcoming everyone has been in this small town -- but that's a post for another time.

We still haven't been to the Hall of Records to track down the original deed, but I've got a vacation day scheduled in a few weeks and getting a copy of the original deed is high on my priority list. After reviewing the deeds back to 1895, I skimmed census records and obituaries to learn as much as possible about the previous owners. So far, this is what I know (I'm not using full names, to protect the privacy of TPH's former owners and their descendants):

*In 1895, the house was purchased by a Mrs. H, who was the wife of a prominent lawyer. I suspect that this house was used as an investment property, rather than as their primary residence. Most of the prominent professionals at the turn of the century would have lived in the grand homes on Main Street, rather than in a more modest house like ours. In addition, Mr. H's obituary mentioned that he owned several properties in our town, which he "enjoyed improving."

I don't have a good theory for why the deed was solely in Mrs. H's name. This seems like an uncommon occurrence for the time. Perhaps she was financially independent or received an inheritance and wanted to make her own investments. I suppose it will always remain a mystery to me. Mr. H passed away about 15 years after they purchased this house. I did not find an obituary for Mrs. H, but I believe she passed away about 10 years earlier than her husband, based on the details in his obituary. When Mr. and Mrs. H had both passed, TPH was left to their daughters.

*In 1927, TPH was purchased by the B family. I was not able to find much written information about Mr. B, although a long-time resident told me that the "B" family were masons by trade. However, there was plenty of information available about Mrs. B. She was the second wife of Mr. B. and they were married after his first wife passed away. Based on genealogical and marriage records, I believe the second Mrs. B was the younger sister of Mr. B's first wife. During Mrs. B's life, she worked in many "pink collar" jobs and she lived in this home until she passed in 2013.

*In 2013, Mrs. B's estate sold TPH to a Mr. F. Unfortunately, he experienced a job transfer shortly after purchasing the home, and needed to put it back on the market. We purchased the home in fall 2014.

It is incredible to me that this home remained under a single family/owner for more than 80 years. Based on Mrs. B's obituary and conversations with neighbors, it is clear to us that she was well-known and well-liked. Many of the people in this town still think of this as her home, and we can certainly understand why.

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  1. I can't believe you guys were able to get so much history about your home. The photo is amazing. It's really sweet he left you such a great surprise and your neighbors have been so helpful. 80 years in one family is exciting! Hope your day is fabulous, Coco

    1. Isn't that picture great? We were really lucky to find it -- and lucky to connect with such helpful volunteers at the historic society. Thanks for your comment, Coco!