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

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

Windows
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.