Lost Heritage – The House I’d Rather Have

My grandparents were farmers. My grandmother’s family were original pioneers and were the first to break and farm their land. When my grandparents married, they lived in a large 1 1/2 story kit or catalogue house. It had a large kitchen, dining room, and living room, a small bathroom, and three 120 square foot bedrooms on the main, as well as an east facing sun porch. Upstairs were three small bedrooms and lots of closets. The reason I think it is a kit or catalogue house is because some of the salvaged trim has handwriting on it indicating it was shipped in its finished form to Springwater, ergo not built on site. I’ve tried to find the plan online, but no luck so far.

Grandma’s House

View from the sunporch

Like a lot of people do, I spent much time out at the farm and it became a part of me. Weekends, summer holidays, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and when I could drive and between jobs I would spend weeks of time out there.
I never imagined a time when it wouldn’t be ‘my farm’. But that happened about 20 years ago when my grandparents moved off the farm and into the city. They turned their backs on the house and gave the land to their son, who also turned his back on the house (and the whole home quarter). Now my cousin owns it and he reports that he hasn’t been out there for a decade or more, despite it being just a couple miles from his place.​

Anyway, I took my son out there for a picnic last summer and showed the house to him. The roof was leaking and, inevitably, someone had shot out most of the windows, so the house was rife with swallows and other wildlife. A skunk had been trapped inside and died at one point. Strangers had been in and out of the house, each spreading the garbage my grandma left behind wider and wider. Do they really think she would have left anything of value behind? No, it’s all garbage. Newspapers, magazines, empty boxes. But each trespasser must look and spread and ensure it all gets soaked and ruins the house. They don’t even bother to close the doors when they leave.


Mess in the kitchen






Mess in the dining room






Mess in the living room
Mess in a bedroom







I stewed on that all winter. It was a beautiful house at one time. It was a home. It housed my many splendid memories of being with my grandparents and the farm. It causes me a lot of pain to see the house and the farmyard the way it is now. Unloved. Unappreciated. All the work my grandparents put into it is now lost.​

I stopped in again two weeks ago and saw that since I was there the previous summer someone had been in and started stripping the fir trim from the living and dining rooms. I became obsessed with this. For a whole week I obsessed. Finally my sister encouraged me to call our cousin and ask about taking the trim for myself. I’d wanted to do it for a year, but had a serious ethical dilemma about removing the trim from what was otherwise a beautiful intact house. I couldn’t see at that time that it was beyond salvation. All I could see was that the house deserved to remain intact.
​Anyway, I was finally so upset that I was compelled to call my cousin. He sounded surprised that a stranger had been in the house, although acknowledging that he hadn’t been out there for a decade, and casually told me ‘fill my boots’ with the trim.

I went out a couple of days later and stripped almost the entire house. It took two days. My son came the first day and I was glad for his help and company. The second day was lonelier.

The dilemma plagued me the entire time – how wrong it was to take away part of the heritage of this home – but by the middle of the second day of I realized that the holes in the roof had irreparably harmed the structure and floors, such that it would never be habitable again. I found some peace and was anxious to finish the job and leave.
​I boarded up the broken glass in the exterior door and installed a padlock, and stapled poly on each main floor window. The swallows and bees will have to find a new home. I was not confident going upstairs to poly the windows because the floor looked too sketchy to stand on. But I put a sheet of plywood over the entrance to the upstairs so that no kids would head up there and get hurt.

I plan to go back for some trim I didn’t have time to take off. Also, there is still hundreds of square feet of beautiful fir flooring that is possibly salvageable and which I intend to have. I’ll have to hire someone to come with me though, as it’s backbreaking work to get it off.

But let me give an example of what I now have for my own addition: Old growth fir – baseboards (8″ high and some 18 ‘ long!), plinths, cornices, door and window casings, picture rails, doors with hinges (I have to go back for the jambs), windows, and about 100 square feet of flooring (I have to go back for the rest).

Beautiful old growth Douglas fir floors





More windows








Sunporch windows









None of it was ever painted, only shellacked. It’s beautiful. I’m at peace for having taken it and I will be appreciating it for years to come.

While spending time in this house with a view to architecture, which is something I didn’t do as a young person, and while taking the trim, I saw that this was a very well built and maintained house. The concrete basements are in perfect condition, the walls and floors are square and level, the windows open and close as designed, and the trim and flooring is in immaculate condition. This is a roughly 100 year old house that is, aside from the effects of the broken windows and holey roof, in perfect condition. It could have housed many families after my grandparents left, including my family, had it been cared for properly. Deep sadness for me.

Uncovering the Stairs

In anticipation of the upcoming renovation, which involves putting a landing and a turn in the stairs, I pulled off the carpet. It was time for it to go anyway.

Stairs with some carpet removed. The green is the first paint on the steps.

But, turns out the stairs are not in the best of shape. They move substantially when stepped on, there’s a cracked step, there are large gaps between a couple of treads and risers, and the landing at the top has some serious gouges, gaps, and bouncy spots. The squeaking is outrageous.

I talked to the builder about reusing the balusters and the newel post and he noted that he would want to replace the whole stair anyway. So, not sure where we’re at with the stairs – what I’ll get to reuse and what will be new. Since nothing I’m getting will be ‘finished’, I’m sure I’ll end up with pine stairs and can put any fine wood on it that I want (after the builders have left the building). But it’s one aspect of the build where I’ll have to be present and insistent when it’s happening to get as close to what I want as possible.

Removing the Front Step

This afternoon I spent a couple of hours taking down a deck-style front step that had been built overtop of the original concrete steps. Because the crazy elevation of the yard means the drive and walk ways go down toward the house, the first step of the deck was short, the second was giant, and the third was also high. There was also no handrail where one needed to be. The result was that older people, like my mother and aunt, had a difficult time getting up the steps.

Front step added in the 1990s

The deck-porch was solidly built and I guess it was about 15 years old. It was rotted in some spots, notably the railings, but solid elsewhere. It was difficult to get off – where I needed to pry was rotted, so there was no leverage. But eventually it came off (with a sledgehammer) and the original steps are revealed. ​

The original steps have just two risers to the landing and then another step up into the house. They appear in good shape – concrete covered with indoor/outdoor golf carpet. Clearly some updating to do, but that can wait until next summer. I just had to get the deck-porch off because with the new addition comes a leveled out elevation – no reverse incline to the house, but rather level or even rising in height a little. So, the old deck-porch wouldn’t do anymore.

Upon seeing the original steps I felt a sense of ‘right’ – these small concrete steps feel much more normal and appropriate for the house. They’re ‘right’,  even with the awful golf carpeting. The deck-porch was wrong and I’m glad to see it gone. And I’m delighted that they’re in such good shape.

But now, with the deck-porch gone, I can see significant holes into my basement and a large rotted gap under the door. I don’t think those should wait for next summer’s repair list because I live where it gets to be really cold in the winter, so will make some calls to see about hiring a carpenter to fix these spots.​

I had just made a list today anyway that involved having a carpenter come out and fix the jambs at the front door – and hopefully install new doors. The jambs are rotted and the hinge screws loosen up regularly, so definitely need to replace those. Would be good to also have new weather strips. So, all good reasons to call a carpenter.

Why not the company I hired to do the addition – which by the way they have not started yet (communication is not their strong point – I have no idea when they intend to start)? Because I have signed the contract and it does not include the front door and I would rather not do a ‘change order’ before the work even starts and I might as well just pay someone straight out for this work and get it done.

Anyway, I feel pleased that I’ve liberated the original steps and that they are so fitting for the house.