Saturday, March 18, 2017

History of the Old House property

While I grew up in old houses, the homes that my husband and I have owned to date have all been fairly modern homes in subdivisions in the suburbs. They are comfortable and convenient but they just don't have the character of an older home. Our latest purchase is quite a bit older than any home we've owned, but we are not quite sure yet just how old it is.

The sellers gave us the abstract they received when they bought the house. An abstract is an interesting document that lists every warranty deed (purchase), deed of trust (mortgage), and quit claim deed filed for that piece of property. Our abstract goes back to 1856 when Robert H- purchased the land from the United States of America. By sorting the deeds into date order, you can get a good sense of who owned the property and note when there are price jumps, possibly indicating an improvement of some kind.

1917 Plat map.  The property outlined in red is ours, owned then by Mrs. William S- and sold shortly after.  The green overlay is the original farm owned by John O-.
What the abstract does not tell you is when buildings may have been built on a property. You might get an idea from a plat map, but no detail. Plat maps are fun because you can see property lines and who owned the property at the time the plat map was produced. If you can find older plat maps, they can show you the history of the property. I was able to find plat maps for our two acres for 1876, 1898, 1917 and 1920 something (no exact date for that one).

In addition to the plat maps and abstract, I found more information by just searching for land deed databases. I found both one for Missouri and one for the US that gave some more information and that led to more research about how the land was originally allocated. Finally, I did a lot of research on to find census data to get a little more history on the families who owned our property and when (or if) they lived there. I was hoping that someone might have posted a picture of a family posed in front of the house, but no luck in that quarter.

From all this, I learned a lot about our property and the people who owned it. I knew, from my history classes, that Missouri was acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1804, then became a state in 1821. Our county was formed in 1845 as settlers started moving in and the town of B- was designated as the county seat. Some people felt that the county seat should be located more centrally in the county and founded a little town they named Lorraine that was located 9 miles north of B-. They drew property lines, built streets and started businesses and challenged B- to the county seat. However, when the railroad company changed the proposed railway to bypass Lorraine, people began moving their homes and businesses to a location close to the railroad. The town of R- was founded in 1880 in that location and incorporated in 1881. Despite a valiant effort by the citizens of Lorraine, B- retained the county seat and Lorraine eventually disappeared completely off the map.

Our property was originally part of a 79.54 acre parcel of land purchased by Robert H- as part of a military land grant program. The Scrip Warrant Act of 1855 allowed war veterans to use script to purchase government owned land at reduced prices. They could also sell their script to others instead of using it themselves. Daniel B-, a veteran of the War of 1812, sold his script to Robert so Robert could buy it at something under the $1.25 per acre government price. The purchase price was not listed in the patent deed.

Robert kept the land for a few years then sold it for $400. It changed hands a couple more times, then was purchased by a man named John E. O-, a Civil War veteran, farmer and business man in 1872 for $400. John had originally settled in Lorraine, but when the railroad company announced the change in route, he moved his home (literally) and several other buildings from Lorraine to the new village of R-. He is generally accredited with owning the first home in the town. He also began subdividing his almost 80 acre parcel into smaller parcels and his farm formed the central portion of the town. In 1881, he sold 2.1 acres to a William E. and Mary R- for $100. Less than a year later, they sold it to a family named I- for $600, so I can only assume that they built something on it, be it a house or barns.

The I- family sold the property in 1886 for $900 to Lewis and Rosa N-, who probably never lived there. From the research that I've done, Rosa was a real estate agent and very probably rented the house out for income. They sold it in 1888 for $1,100 to J.C B- and his wife Sarah who had a very large family. J.C. was also a Civil War veteran, live stock broker, business man and civic leader in the town and county. In 1897, he was appointed the postmaster of R- and then sold the property to William E. S- and his wife Melissa for $1,600 in January 1898,

William E was another Civil War vet and farmer. He and Melissa had 11 children, 9 of whom were still living when they decided to move from their 80 acre farm to town. Their son Lynus took over the farm and the S- family, with at least 5 of their children, moved into the property on the edge of R-. Lynus married in April and in June, William contracted typhoid and died in July of 1898, leaving his wife alone to raise several children of the remaining 9 to adulthood. Melissa remained in that house until 1917 when she sold it and moved to a little house on Pine Street. She lived there until her death in 1938.

Samuel S. "Sig" O- and his wife Rosa bought the property from the S- family for an unknown price in August 1917. They moved there with their youngest son Ted while their older children lived in Stockton KS. Ted marched off to WW1 and was killed on the battlefield in 1918.

Sig was the younger brother of the John O- who had owned the property when the town was founded. Sig was a carpenter and based on the fact that they borrowed money against the property several times, we are guessing that they either remodeled the original house significantly or tore it down and built new. Sig lived in the house until his death of bladder cancer in 1930 and Rosa lived there until 1939. She borrowed money against it in October 1939, then sold it to her son Ralph for $1 in November. She then moved to Kansas to live with Ralph and his family until her death in 1941.

Ralph kept the property until 1943 when it was sold to the M- family. There is evidence that the M- family never lived there. A history of R-, published for the town's centennial celebration in 1980, indicates that the A- family was living there in 1948. Per the story, Roger A- and his friend Paul J-, both high school seniors, operated a small newspaper out of the east bedroom called the Mercury Herald from 1948 to 1949. The M-H contained local news and gossip, hand-drawn ads and lots of other fun things including the wedding announcement for Dear Husband's parents.

The property, including the present day house, passed through a couple more hands until it was purchased by the F- family in the 1970s. H- and S- raised a family of three in that house and lived there for 42 years until we purchased it in October of 2017.

As the abstract doesn't tell us what buildings were on the property at any given time, we can't use it to prove the age of the house. We know, based on the plat maps in 1898 and 1917, there was a building on the property at that time. The 1898 map shows buildings that line up with the two properties north of it, just like the houses still do today.  But the 1898 map shows that the building is located more where the barns are now, out in the pasture by the well. We also think it is odd that there are concrete walk ways out there -- why would some one put a side walk in the middle of a field?

We found one other thing that makes us suspect the current house replaced an older one. In having some work done on the foundation, we had to have the basement steps torn out and rebuilt. Poking through the debris, I found newspapers layered between the sub floor and flooring. I assume they were put there to prevent the floor from squeaking.  

So what was the point of doing all the research? I had a couple of objectives. First, I wanted to verify the age of the house. The sellers told us they thought the house had been built in 1890. The insurance company thought it was built in 1920 and the appraisers thought 1900.  Some parts of the house fits the earlier period (the entrance hall, lack of bathroom and electric wiring) and some things fit the 1920s time period (the ribbon windows and book case colonnades. The newspapers under the flooring don't definitively set the age of the house as the floor may have been replaced in 1922.

Second, I wanted to know what the house looked like originally. I was hoping to find pictures of families grouped in front of the house, but couldn't find anything. Everyone seemed to favor formal pictures in a photographer's studio.

We suspect that a lot of things have changed over the life of the house.  We know the basement was  dug out after the house was built, probably to add plumbing and a new furnace,  The kitchen is definitely not either 1890s or 1920s but more like a late 1940s or 1950s kitchen. We think that the bathroom and several closets were added later, so what did the upstairs floor plan look like originally? There have never been bedrooms on the main floor, though there may have been a sleeping porch on the back of the house.  Possibly the shed dormers were added later to provide more room for a growing family.  The house had at best three to four bedrooms, but they would have been cramped with a sloping roof line. 

Finally, I just like local history. I love learning about families and how they managed day to day living. Reading census reports and learning about people is my passion and gives me a real sense of the people who lived and loved in my house. There have been a lot of tears shed on that land, but I hope there has been a lot of laughter as well.

Whether the house is 95 years old or 126 years old doesn't really matter in the end.  It's our turn to love it and maintain it. We have already started doing the renovations that will hopefully make it last another 100 years or more. We have a lot of work ahead of us and we have already started some of it.

** Names are abbreviated for sake of privacy. 

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