Monday, May 14, 2012

The Old House

A house we lived in 25-35 years ago had a fire over a month ago.  I can glimpse it on my way home from work, and have been keeping tabs what they will do with it.  The fire only affected the back corner addition, an ell on slab.  It hasn't looked like they have been doing anything.

An odd house.  It was built around 1905 rather in protest, a single room at first, capping the top of Spring St so that the town could not extend the road further.  It was a summer house for a woman who lived about 3 blocks away, in the center of town.

Just about every room was a separate addition.  As near as I could tell, the tiny kitchen came second, a small porch after that.  Then a 7x10 room reached by double doors, with a fieldstone fireplace of indifferent construction, rather like something from an Appalachian cabin.  There was a porch addition, then two small bedrooms with a different roofline were slapped onto the other side. The bathroom came next.  The main room, fairly good-sized with a stone foundation, higher ceiling, and a wood stove was the only interesting living space.  It had a clerestory window, and one had to climb a ladder to get into the attic, where the ceramic post wiring lay.  The other rooms were barely functional, and were over crawl spaces. 

A third porch section, then the ell, were added quite a bit later, we concluded. 

It was our first house together, our first two children were born in those years, and it was eccentric.  We remember it fondly, but it was a nightmare to care for, far beyond my poor skills, and I was relieved to be rid of it. 

The place very gradually deteriorated through the next few owners, until someone extended the roofline on one side and put in a nicer addition in the last few years.  I suspect they would have to have upgraded the wiring and plumbing to get an occupancy certificate.

Today I went to check it out when I had an errand nearby, and the house is gone.

The new addition remains, but they have torn down everything else.  They are digging, clearly intending to put in a new foundation.  Who knows what house they will build?

The great irony is that the fieldstone fireplace seems to be the only remaining piece.  They preserved that for some reason when they put on the addition, though it became an interior chimney rather than exterior.  It is charming but poorly built.  I hope they have joy of it. My son had it in his bedroom for a time, and how many people can say that?

It is an irony because it is the chimney of our current house, less than half the age, that is falling apart, and will need to be replaced to the tune of thousands of dollars.  I'm guessing the old fireplace cost about $20 when new, around 1930.


Ben Wyman said...

I was three years old when we left that house, and yet I remember that fireplace. That's a memorable structure. My memories of the living room are vague, the kitchen vaguer still. Mentally, I can round from the living room into the kitchen, but go no further.

All other rooms are merely black spaces with doorways in front of them, with no concept of depth. In my memory, there's not even a slight sense of space. Whether those rooms end immediately, or go on for miles, I cannot tell.

Because it's so far back in my childhood, my memories within the house are shadowy and few. My strongest (and perhaps earliest) memory is lying in bed and vomiting repeatedly into that light teal mixing bowl we had for such occasions, while you, having stayed home from work, came dashing in from some other part of the house that you were reading in every time you heard me start to retch again.

And you accuse Jonathan and I of having an excessively rose-colored view of our old house.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Jonathan is still on the hook. I thought you were unduly influenced by his nostalgia. Apparently not.

james said...

I wonder what shape Grandpa's place in Mississippi is in. My cousin isn't all that great at preparation or maintenance, and Katrina took some bits off that never really got replaced.

Family folklore said the place started as a one-room shack built by an Indian--the center of the current place. Then another room (now a pantry) and then a larger one (now the kitchen), and finally a large wrap-around to add a living room and large bedrooms and even a bathroom! The floors never matched very well.

Grandpa always kept the windows open in winter, for fear (justifiable) of CO poisoning from the gas heaters. The water was "healthy", for which read "stunk of sulfur and left you feeling slippery after a bath."

It was a fun place anyway. I remember plinking tin cans out back for the first time there, and lighting firecrackers with my feckless cousin, and other things my mother didn't approve of.

Erin said...

I remember the main room and a room off to the right (I believe) with double (pocket?) doors. And the dome climbing structure in the yard.

"It was eccentric." Isn't it funny that even as a young child I felt that way. Looking back later in childhood it seemed to me to be the kind of place you envision in a Roald Dahl or St. Exupery story. Perhaps it was your permanent connection in my mind to storytelling and books. Or perhaps it was the fact that you had a geodesic dome in your yard. C'mon, how cool is that to a toddler?!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Erin, that is deeply gratifying to read. It likely was a combination of eccentricities, including the dark hunting-lodgestrip paneling, even on the ceiling, and the hand-done (by Tracy) stained glass on the bathroom door. And then that fireplace. The dome, of course. I had forgotten. There were probably 1000 books lining a 900 sf house, and the wood stove stuck well out into the living room. And the dog was crazy.

You will notice I haven't even mentioned the people yet.

Ben Wyman said...

I cannot remember any of the things you mention, except for a vague idea of the living room being "dark." I could not even verify with any certainty that we had a bathroom. This whole post has been a fun and illuminating trip down the shadowy bits of Memory Lane for me.

GraniteDad said...

I could draw almost everything in the house, including furniture from memory, 25 years later. The Moomintroll house will always be 20 Spring St to me. The dining room in Cair Paravel is our living room. The place where Matthias first meets the GUOSIM is near Small Rock. Sense a trend here?

GraniteDad said...

And Ben, I still can't see that bowl (or the purple backup bowl) without feeling a little queasy.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I was over in the rain tonight, talking to the guy next door. The footprint will be the same - it probably has to, since it is so close to two abutters. There is a nice construction shed on site, which uses the front door and the diamond-shaped windows. Cool.

It will have a better foundation, better plumbing and wiring. Maybe you should buy it.

Assistant Village Idiot's wife said...

I was reading an interior design book in that living room. The interior designer was commenting that he could not design for a living room because it had 3 doors. I looked up and realized that MY living room had 6 doors(one a double door), a woodstove sticking out into the room and a built in china closet. And we had figured out two ways to arrange the furniture!

Sam L. said...

Those who consider themselves as professionals often have designed the box they keep their minds in.