Behind old walls, a house has its history

By Holly Vanorse | Aug 05, 2010

When I brought my dog Dunkin to our new house once all of the demolition debris had been cleaned up, I was fascinated by his reaction.

Sheer terror at being inside, pure joy while romping in the large yard outside.

Dunkin, who is a nosy and curious spirit, sniffed around very quickly on the first floor and made his way to the stairs to the second. He looked at them, then with his ears back and eyes wide, looked at me as if to say, "Heck no momma, get me outta here!"

The second he was outside, he was off on his usual investigative adventures. Smelling every blade of grass, every tree branch at his height and attempting to reach the tennis ball under the side porch left behind by the former owners.

The house has not only consumed every minute of mine and my boyfriend Justin's time, but it's taken on a life of its own. Some have even suggested that it may be haunted. I just think it should have come with a disclaimer: Buyer Beware.

From the start, what we were expecting to be a house in rough shape, turned out to be a house in borderline disrepair. Built in 1880, the house seemed to never have received the care needed or basic upkeep. It was a patchwork quilt for a lack of better definition.

Any work that had been done to the property, was done hodge-podge and most likely for dirt cheap. Leaving us with more work than we expected, and quickly forcing us to re-evaluate our renovation budget and timeline. What was to have taken a month, is now into the third.

The only insulation we found during the demolition was in the attic. That is, unless you count the 20 tons of mice nests we hauled out of the walls and ceilings. The windows, although new, were just shoved and screwed into the old window holes. Gaps I could put almost my entire hand through on the tops or bottoms of them.

That new roof? It leaked. Not just a small leak, water ran like small rivers down the chimney and around the stink pipe. The basement that was dry? Suddenly now that was wet too.

The heating ducts from the hot air heat were full of dog and/or cat hair, food, thick dust and toys forever lost in the mix. The back wall of the bathroom contained nearly 100, if not more, rusty razor blades, heaped in a pile.

After exposing charred, black wood on one side of the house, we learned that part of the house had survived a fire. The living room ceiling had a live wire tucked in and round the beams that supported the second floor. How the house hadn't caught fire again was becoming the million dollar question.

The movie with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long, "The Money Pit" from the 1980s played in a continuous loop in my head.

It wasn't until after my father pulled down the living room ceiling that our finds stopped being gross, obnoxiously odorous or frustrating, but fascinating.

We found the boot, or at least what used to be a boot, and was now just a shoe. Looking at the bottom of it, you could see that the shoe had been repaired several times. The edges of the worn sole were nailed and pinned all the way around.

Justin wanted to throw it out. I wanted to keep it for the garden. We should have put it back in the walls.

We've learned that putting shoes in walls or ceilings of houses was a common practice that back in the 1800s. It was done to ward off any evil spirits that may try to enter the house. I wondered if I put the shoe in the garage or outside, would it give the evil spirits that been shooed away for the past 130 years a free entrance to the house?

This house's history was starting to fall onto the floor all around us.

A peg that was once used to hold the beams of the house together was found in the dining room wall, along with part of the bottom of an old chair. Big, thick, old wooden clothing pins were littered throughout the walls near the bathroom and in the kitchen.

The nails were incredible. Each were hand fashioned, each one varying slightly from the other. A far cry from the uniform, machined shape of nails today. Some looked as though they could be used as railroad pins, used to hold the rails down.

Then we found the graduation tickets.

They were the first thing Justin handed to me one afternoon when I walked into the house after work. He'd found them behind the massive wall-length wardrobe in the master bedroom. Georges Valley High School commencement ceremony for the class of 1964. Apparently, the ticket holders never made the graduation, and from the looks of the edges, the mice that had been living in the walls were hungry for those green tickets.

One of my aunts lives down the road from us a little bit, and my father knew that she'd been living there in the 1960s. We asked her if she possibly knew who had lived there during 1964, but unfortunately she didn't start the construction of her home until a few years later. She knew all of the owners that lived there since she'd been on that street.

That list was rather scary. A lot of people have owned our house. That's never a good sign.

After talking with my boss and telling him about the tickets, we both became curious to find out if that was the first year that the Georges Valley school was open.

Unlike in '64, I had the speed of internet on my side and within less than a half-hour, I'd discovered I held in my hands at that moment the tickets to the first graduation ceremony at the Georges Valley High School. The school opened it's doors to Thomaston and St. George students in the fall of 1963.

Finding the tickets was by far better than finding half a wall full of razor blades.

Now that the sheetrock is up, the tile and the fixtures are going in, Dunkin is still a bit leary of the upstairs. Leaves me wondering if I should find a place to put that old shoe before we finish everything up.

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