One thing that interests us about old houses is the history of the home. Who lived there? What did they do? What are their stories? I have always felt that our homes have “spoken” to us. I have walked into a room, felt like it should be a certain color, then discovered that exact color originally painted after the layers of wallpaper and paint were removed. Hubby once took a hammer to a ceiling because he had a feeling the ceilings were lowered (they were). Is it the ghosts of residents past? Have I just inhaled too many paint fumes? Who knows…..
Our first old home told generic stories. We didn’t know much about researching house history back then, so we knew only the basics. Our second old home told more detailed stories. The previous owner had done all the research and left us a detailed account of previous owners, their professions, and even had a couple great legends. We were told that James Michener was friends with one of the previous owners (the local paper’s editor) and would come over to enjoy a cup of coffee in the breakfast nook of the kitchen!
But this house, this house tells us the most detailed stories of all. Mostly because we hunted down the daughter in law of the woman who lived here the longest. She has shared photos, told stores, and even invited us to her home to visit! With her help and a little leg work on our own, we’ve learned a lot about the original owners and the owners since.
The original owners of the home were Horace and Anna Hopkins. They built the home around 1901-1903. In addition to farming, Horace was a prospector. He would be gone for long periods of time and Anna would redecorate while he was gone. We’ve unearthed evidence of these remodels as we’ve restored rooms. We believe the large wrap around veranda was originally a simple front porch. The two large pocket doors were added after original construction. We discovered evidence of doors being moved around. We found an entire roof hidden under the existing roof in the attic by the kitchen. We found old cement steps hidden in the crawl space where the back door once was. Knowing that Anna liked to remodel and redecorate while Horace was away, finding these little clues always makes me laugh. It’s like Anna is still telling us her story.
After Horace and Anna passed away, their daughter Mildred and her family moved in. Not long after, her sister Helen and family joined her. We have been told that one of the upstairs bedrooms was converted into a kitchen while both families were living here! Helen lived in this home longer than anyone. She sounds like a lady I would like to know. Her daughter in law tells a great story about Helen stopping the gas company from drilling on the property because she hadn’t received her check yet! She was elderly at this point, probably nearing 90, and scooted over there with her walker to halt their work until her check was delivered. I just love that visual.
After Helen passed away and the family sold the home, the next owner lived here from 1994 to 2007. 14 years of neglect….14 years of cats peeing everywhere…..they even stole the light fixtures that were original to the home and sold them on ebay. Blerg.
What’s crazy is that we actually looked at this home when it was for sale at this point. I remember thinking that it was in severe disrepair and was way out of our price range.
And I loved it and wanted it……
But, it wasn’t to be at that time. Someone else bought the home. They started to do some restorations (like ripping out the cat urine soaked bathroom floor – Thank you!), but not much happened until we bought the place nearly two years ago. It wasn’t until after we bought the home and started digging around that we realized it was the same house we looked at in 2007. It felt like the house needed us to save it. Needed us to take it back to its former glory. Needed us to hear its story.
How can you research your old home? Start with your county property records. Most counties have this available online. Go back as far as you can with those records. Then, you can check out your local museum. Many of them have local records dating back 100 plus years. We also used ancestry.com to research previous owners and look at census records. This is how we learned who living relatives of the longest resident were. From there, we connected through Facebook. We are extremely grateful that Facebook, with all its drama, connected us with Helen’s daughter in law. The stories she told and the joy she had knowing that someone was taking loving care of the home meant so much to us. I feel fortunate to have that connection.
Now, we are part of the story of this home. We are letting the home speak to us. We are honoring its history and securing its future.