19th Century Houses in the 21st Century: Share Your Experiences!

Joined
May 12, 2018
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The house I live in is a Craftsman, vintage 1924 and like most houses in my town is approaching 100 years old now. It has its good sides and bad (interior design and structural integrity being the good and bad sides respectively).

That recently got me thinking: surely there must be some people on CivilWarTalk that live in Civil War or older homes? What has there experiences of living in these historic structures been?
 
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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Grew up in one, great granddmother, and I can't remember how many relatives lived in more. Ours had a dumbwaiter, the thing we kids thought was the most amazing. But beyond that, there was a double door, micro-tiled foyer- those doors opened onto a wide hall, rooms on either side, stairs beyond., wide steps and curved bannister. You slid down that when your parents weren't around. Wayyyy down the hall was the kitchen, stairs down to cellars and up to the old servants quarters.

Really high ceilings, windows almost as high, rooms connected but you could split them by those hidden wooden doors that slid from somewhere.Dining room and a the pantry between kitchen with the swinging door. Massive kitchen but everything was massive.I just tried to count how many bedrooms- and can't. Maybe 6? 7? 4 or 5 more in the attic/servant's rooms. That was a great house. Used to sleep on the balconies in the summer.
 

Intheshop

Cadet
Joined
Jul 17, 2020
We live in an 1810 "repro" federal period house,my father and I built. Started before turning 30..... am 63 and still here. Huge house,fantastic mountain views,yadayada.

Worked in historic preservation for decades on houses and small-medium buildings and quite a few churches in mainly Virginia but have done some work in Md,and N.C.

It was interesting,for over a 10 year period would leave our "old house" and go to work. That,being another historic venue,every day. Just sayin,it does change the way you view modern contrivances on a level that's very hard to put into words.

Two biggest gripes or things that bristle me,and we're all different is;

Concrete and "gum wrappers",haha. The latter is more about ANY minor paper trash,not just gum. Cigarette butts,styrofoam,etc just get to me like fingernails on a chalkboard:nah disagree:
 
Joined
May 12, 2018
I spent some summers working giving tours & interpreting a 1834 house on the weekends, and after a while I began to feel very at home there, especially when in costume. It must be an interesting experience to go from a repro to authentic house, from home to work. I guess we all take home a little bit of our work, because we love it so much!

I must say as a guy who doesn't have great hopes of ever owning a home due to the current state of affairs (but hey a man can dream!), I am super jealous of people in the 19th century who could buy vast tracks of land at rock bottom prices, and build their homes on it. Even more so of modern people who claim to have built simple homes on shoestring budgets (I think they can get away with claiming that because the real cost of the home actually lies more in the real estate than the structure of the home itself, so it's a hidden cost).

I'm quite fond of the Greek Revival style thanks to my work at the Oldest Stone House of 1834, as well as the Nicholson House that's the local historical society's other property, but I also kinda like some of the log houses now too thanks to seeing the Bimmler Cabin at Zoar. I think I'd do well in a Greek Revival or maybe even Federal House, if it was one of the nicer ones. Though the interior decorating would be eclectic since my tastes are all over the place and I would want the modern conveniences I am accustomed to for sake of comfort.
 

Cavalier

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 20, 2019
A house came up for sale years ago in a Baltimore suburb that was built in 1806. They had an open house so the Princess and I went to look at it. I told the owner we could never afford it and did he mind if we looked around anyway. There were no other potential customers so he very graciously gave us the chef's tour, our lack of financial wherewithal not withstanding.

Quite a place. Had to cross a little bridge to get to it. At the conclusion of our little tour the comment he made to us was interesting. You have to not only afford to buy it, you also have to be able to afford to keep it up.

John
 

mofederal

Major
Joined
Jun 27, 2017
Location
Southeast Missouri
I grew up in a farm house built in 1850 or 51. It was a story and a half building. I froze in the winter and practically died from the heat in the summer. The living room and my parent's bedroom had 12-14 foot ceilings. The rest of the house did not maybe more like 6 to 7 feet high, the house was built on piers of limestone. The back bedroom was barely off of the ground. I lived in the upstairs room. It had only a 6 foot ceiling. A dirt floor basement. I loved living in the old house, and I didn't think it was all that weird. We had wood stoves for heat, and an oil burner stove too. The fireplaces had been removed at some point in favor of stoves. It also had the godawful wall paper on the walls. We painted it over. This was the "new" house on the farm, we had no idea how old the "old" house was on the place. The "old" house had no heat at all, no running water, but it did have an outhouse. Oddly enough the front door on the "new" house came off of a Greek Revival house with real stained glass in it. My mom was hunting in the front yard with a metal detector, and found a 3 cent piece dated 1865 about 3 feet from the front porch. Under the "old" house, we found the complete frame, engine and all of the running gear to a Model "T", including the horn, and a forge from a Blacksmith's shop, we also found many very old items in the old barn on the place. Originally the cash crop on the farm was tobacco. It was grown there until WWII. All clay soil. Many of the old houses in the area were from the 1850's, the old school houses were from the 1860's or 70's. I would not have traded the experience of living and growing there for anything in the world.
 

lupaglupa

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
This is such a great question! My current house and my childhood house were both built in the 1920s and that's as old as I go. My husband however lived in 1720s and early 1800s houses when he was growing up. Both had a mixture of challenges and charm. I do think the man talking about the cost of upkeep hits on an important point. While in many ways these old houses were built very well, at a certain point all old houses need significant work.
 

Patrick H

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Mar 7, 2014
We live in a house with many additions. The original part witnessed Civil War events like two battles, a lengthy occupation of the town by out of state troops, Shelby's raid of 1863, Price's invasion of 1864, Bill Anderson's guerrilla band riding in with human scalps hanging from their bridles, and lots of intrigue and violence throughout the war years. As I said, it got new additions periodically, and it got modernized each time. The most recent addition / modernization was in the 1970s. Now we're bracing ourselves for a major kitchen overhaul, which will start pretty soon. It's a very comfortable house for us.
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
I grew up in a house that started as a two room log cabin that was enlarged to make a saltbox style house before the War. This was located in the Virginia Military District of Ohio, land given to Virginia's soldiers in the Revolutionary War who agreed to accept land in the far west (Ohio) instead of cash. The walls of the front rooms were three feet thick, because they were the original log walls, so windows had three feet wide sills on the inside!
The upstairs two rooms had floors of plank at least 14 inches wide, and the door between my room and my sisters room was made like you would make a barn door, four boards side by side, fastened by three boards in a "Z" shape nailed (and nails cinched) to hold them together.
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
My parents rented a house when they were first married in the east of England. One day my father wanted to hang a picture so he decided to hammer a nail into one of the oak beams. Unfortunately, the wood was harder than the nail - the house was 11th century!

My childhood home was framed with 3 inches by 5 inches oak studs, unevenly spaced to fill each space. Today, everything is based on 4 foot wide spacing, so 2x4 studs are spaced 16 inches apart. This allows standardized 4 foot wide plywood, insulation panels, and drywall panels to be used. But back then, there was no standardized materials, and if a builder had a space five feet wide, he might well fill this with a single upright stud, 3 inches by five inches, and so a strong structural member, so the open span would be two 2-1/2 feet lengths.

About 1960, I watched a furnace installer put a furnace into a closet area, and when he had to saw a hole in the wall of that closet to install a cold air return, he had to saw through a single stud. He broke four saws-all type blades on that 100 year aged oak!
 

Lubliner

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
I had opportunity to visit an old home over in St. Elmo in 1999, (Chattanooga). It was a rental and a family of brothers lived there. It was drafty, with out of date code violations, and had a very unique personality. Most of these old homes have now been sold and revitalized.
I also had a friend that rented an old home (over 100yrs.) on the opposite side of Lookout Mtn. close to the Chattanooga creek, about 3 miles south of Tiftonia. He said the house was huge and drafty. The owners of the extensive property had built a brick home away off on another hill, and rented the wooden structure full of additions to my friend.
Lubliner.
 

Intheshop

Cadet
Joined
Jul 17, 2020
Don't get me started on Baltimore (which I love).

We have a pretty durn good collection of furniture and architectural books here. Use them for research,study,and enjoyment. Constantly on the lookout for furniture books on Federal period,from online dealers and especially fun during our travels at historic sites and old bookstores.

Baltimore,without a doubt,is the best(worst) kept secret in American furniture. With Charelston(SC) coming in at #2. The publishing efforts to beat Bmore down is simply notorious. Last book I bought on Federal furniture was a very $$$,supposedly authoritative work on the subject. Bmore and Federal period goes together like PB&J..... but when getting the book,quickly turning to the chapter on Baltimore,there's TWO paragraphs and then right back to the dreaded north east region. If it wasn't produced in Philadelphia,or Rhode Island or New York? publishers want nothing to do with it. And yes I know how this all started.I could write a book on the subject.

Same with looking for info on water power in the U.S.,Baltimore pretty much is the mecca for this relatively short period. Try finding even an "honorable mention" in history books.
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
.....looking for info on water power in the U.S.,Baltimore pretty much is the mecca for this relatively short period. Try finding even an "honorable mention" in history books.

Much is forgotten, and it's interesting to learn forgotten history. I knew I had some great great great grandfathers who drove cattle over central Ohio over the mountains to Baltimore in the 1840s (this was mentioned in the local history books and in family memory where one ancestor drove a herd with a neighbor, and upon return, fell in love with that neighbor's daughter and married her), but I was surprised to find an interesting history "Cattle Driving from the Ohio Country 1800-1850" which shows that my county, Madison County in central Ohio, was the center of cattle ranching for the whole US for a time in the early 1800s. This area contains the easternmost areas of the tallgrass prairie and so was perfect cattle country. A sleepy crossroads town I know well was the gathering point for these herds, with the leading figure a fellow who must have looked a bit like Buffalo Bill, white horse, white hat, a bit of a showman.
The book explains that after farmers learned how to tile and drain the land and so make it excellent for crops, the grass was mostly plowed under, and lots of cattlemen from Ohio headed west and took with them the skills needed to drive cattle.
Ohio was "the cattle west" before "the west" moved....well.... West!
Who knew?
 

JeffFromSyracuse

Corporal
Joined
Jul 6, 2020
Location
Hoboken living, CNY raised
I'm not sure when the original part of the house I grew up in was built, but it's on a town map from 1867. As far as I know, the original part of the house was two stories and quite snug. The ceilings in the upstairs rooms are no taller than 6'6".

My grandmother grew up across the road, and her father bought the property. After this purchase was made, the house moved from the back of the property to the front of the property - around 1923. The house was jacked up and placed on logs. A team pulled the house forward, and the logs in the back were moved to the front. Then, the process was repeated. This was done enough times to move the house 300 or so yards.

My grandmother moved into the house in ~1948, and my grandparents sold it to my parents in 1989.

Since being relocated, the house has seen no less than 5 additions. Because of its ad hoc design, it has very few hallways, even fewer closets, and no potential for central air.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I had opportunity to visit an old home over in St. Elmo in 1999, (Chattanooga). It was a rental and a family of brothers lived there. It was drafty, with out of date code violations, and had a very unique personality. Most of these old homes have now been sold and revitalized.
I also had a friend that rented an old home (over 100yrs.) on the opposite side of Lookout Mtn. close to the Chattanooga creek, about 3 miles south of Tiftonia. He said the house was huge and drafty. The owners of the extensive property had built a brick home away off on another hill, and rented the wooden structure full of additions to my friend.
Lubliner.
Saint Elmo is a very interesting place to look around. It could be a movie set.
 

donna

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
May 12, 2010
Location
Now Florida but always a Kentuckian
My Grandparents had old farm house from 1800s. They added to it several times. It had a fireplace in almost every room. I remember many a summer staying there and sitting on front porch. This was outside of Lexington, Ky.

My Aunt and Uncle lived in old house built early 1800s. It was said to be haunted. I remember many strange things happening there at night. I would spend night over there because had 2 cousins who were only 1 1/2 years older then me.

Doors would open and close. The parlor always felt cold. They never used it. They only stayed there a year. It was too scary for my Aunt.
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
Almost certainly there will have been a lot of deaths over the years, probably the parlour would be where the body was laid out.

I guess it would be wise to select the coldest room in the house, wouldn't it?
An old house across the road from where I grew up had double doors from the parlor to the outside of the house. It was on the side of the house, away from the driveway, and it was not used. It had been made to allow a coffin to be carried out of the parlor.
 
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