I tend to have many asides when I tell the tales of the house and the renovation, but I thought you might be entertained by a few stories about former inhabitants of the home. In my ‘Flooring’ post I didn’t fully explain the story of the reservoir. I had met up with the elderly lady whose family had purchased the house back in 1915 or so. I spent a little time with her hearing her stories and finding out what it was like to live here back then. Her father, it seems, was always brimming with new ideas and was probably trying to prove wrong the ominous pronouncement of the Amish farmer who first lived here:”This farm will never make a profit- it will break you”. It seems the Amish moved here just at the turn of the century- it was unfit for farm use in the nineteenth century due to the fact that it was a swampy wet prairie, didn’t dry out until well into June-July and had drought conditions in August-September. The drainage ditches eliminated the swampiness and the farms switched from livestock grazing pastures to farmed fields. So the Amish farmers were among the first to own this house, although I think it was built before they arrived- sometime around 1895 (according to a date marking on some old lath in the original part of the house).
Anyway, to get back to the story, this old lady’s father felt that if he put a reservoir in that upper bedroom it would keep the water from freezing and be a ready source for the new toilet facilities ( located in the old pantry downstairs). I imagine it was one of those barrel like cisterns, but don’t know. What I do know is that it bowed the joists and gave a shallow bowl shape to the floor up there. And despite what they say about old houses having quality construction, in some ways they skimped in slapping up the ubiquitous clapboard farmhouses you often see across the Midwest. Not all, but some. The joists weren’t spaced properly, and that wasn’t helped by the fact that during one of the many remodels this house has suffered they took out a bearing wall. For quite a long time- until we re-did the kitchen. So it wasn’t only this room that had some, um, unique configuration. My husband now has his own muttered maxim: “nothing is plumb”. He custom fits everything.
This Amish father also remodeled the barn to be a bank barn- which his son was never happy about as he had to drive the horses up that hill under a too short clearance for the door. His story is that it almost decapitated him- he never did like that bank addition to the barn….. Of course not all work was one of missteps, and I am sure that there were numbers of little conveniences that did operate ingeniously well. A number of the families claim invention of a particular type of wooden handmade latch on the barn doors. Too bad so much of that is lost, and the barn well past our ability to renovate.
Unfortunately the things I see of his innovation are those I don’t care for- one part of the L-shape house was rebuilt after, in Oct 1921 according to the incised date, the basement area was excavated and the house expanded to the 2 1/2 stories and perhaps 1 1/2 feet larger from the original foundation. Probably the house only had the original root cellar of small proportions accessed from the old kitchen. By the time we moved here there was only sign of access from under the crawl space and it was now integrated into the basement. That basement which is never dry, drains to the middle instead of to the drain…even though someone carved a crude channel into the concrete… and has to have jacks to support the bouncy living room floor above it. Yes, weak and poorly spaced joists again.
Lest you think I hate this house, and the work the previous owners did- one of the selling points was the pretty chair rail height wainscot in the living room and the the rustic wainscot ( made from leftover floor boards) of the dining area. And it was big enough for my rather large brood… and overly ambitious dreams of homesteading.
Well, that is the story on how the upper bedroom gained its bowed floors, and more. Time enough as the winter draws on to regale you with other tales of my old house.
Added to the mushroom theory is my own rendition of old house speak:”what were they thinking?”
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