Wednesday, August 17, 2011

renovation w/ a side of family history

            In January Chris purchased our home and the 40 acres around it. This piece of land and homestead has been in the Happ family for over 150 years. When his great-uncle passed away a couple years back, we inherited a weathered, yet intricate, paper and plywood chest full of letters, receipts, and legal documents dating back to the year the Happ family immigrated to America from Germany (there is a pocket ledger dated 1847 that mentions "Nord Amerika" inside the front cover). Chris's brother, Michael, & I would spend exciting hours delving into their family history. Together we would decipher the flowery handwriting styles of days gone by along with pocket notebooks full of pages and pages of their ancestors' writing and rewriting their names in English over and over again along with common English words such as the names of the days of the week and months.

The oldest thing in the chest, pocketbook dated 1847

            It wasn't long until we stumbled across a building materials receipt dating back to the year 1916. This was the year that the Happ family built a two-story addition connecting to the original small, square two-story home built in 1860. Around the time that Michael & I were delving into the chest full of family-history treasures, Chris's mom allowed me to get a head start on wallpaper removal in the foyer and stairway, as well as in the master bedroom.
          Hours and hours and hoouuuurrsss of steaming and scraping (big THANKS to Michael & my brother, Dillon!), the entire area was finally devoid of 5 thick and sticky layers of wallpaper history. There was a day & night difference between the plaster of the hallway and stairwell & the plaster of the master bedroom, and that building receipt from 1916 helped to explain a lot of it. The plaster in the bedroom was smooth, and almost dry wall-like.  The plaster in the foyer and stair areas, under a blotchy layer of regal pea soup-green, was noticeably lumpier in nature (so much for just slapping a layer or two of paint over it and calling it done).
         Some of the most interesting things we unveiled were found in the master bedroom. While removing the layers of paper from the first short wall in the bedroom we noticed a tic-tac-toe game scrawled in thick pencil lead on the stark-gray plaster wall. Upon removing the paper right next to that we were able to decipher some more chicken scratch exclaiming that "ray loves viola klein" (insert a lumpily drawn heart with a squiggly arrow piercing through it). Ray was Chris's great uncle who left us the paper chest.

beautiful, beautiful, bygone handwriting

           Every section of wallpaper removed made me even more excited to finish the room and uncover more, and more hidden treasures written on the walls of our future master bedroom. Written in beautiful script was the date September 6th, 1939 (the date that the first layer of wallpaper was applied). On another wall we found a drawing of a short-legged, pointy, large-earred dog that creepily resembles one of our current dogs, Dottie, a glorious little mutt. Also, on that same wall we discovered, written three times right next to each other, the words "Gilbert Happ age 12". It had been said that the current master bedroom at our house used to be the bedroom of the 5 boys in the family (including Chris's grandpa, Florian).
The chest is filled with pocket ledgers (the one on the right is from 1847),
old farm leases, deeds, blue prints for tiling systems, wills, personal
letters, funeral prayer cards, consignment receipts from the Chicago Stock Yards,
and stockholder letters from railroads, phone & oil companies.

           Finding all of this, including all of the papers and letters in the paper chest, made me feel proud that Chris & I are continuing the Happ legacy on this farm. When we have children, they will be the 7th generation of Happs to live on this farm. And that's pretty cool.. How many other people today can say that about their home ?
           I am hoping to be able to delve into some of our projects before harvest is in full swing. When that happens, the most Chris & I will see of each other will be the 10 minute intervals when I pull up along side him in the tractor and auger cart while he unloads corn or beans from his combine. Needless to say, we won't exactly have much time for any new home improvement projects. There a few things on our winter project list that we hope to tackle, though.

Here are a few:
1.  Put in 5" natural hickory hardwood flooring in our kitchen

2.  Remove the row of overhead cabinets above the island in the kitchen.. Its kinda ridiculous right now with both of us being taller than 5'5''. We've both knocked our noggins on the sharp corners of them rushing around the kitchen and its impossible to carry on a conversation with me preparing dinner on one side and Chris sitting at the table on the other. Annoying.....

3.  Say "goodbye!" to the wainscoting and chair board outlining our kitchen AND get it painted some cheery, retro colors.

4.  Put up 1/4" drywall in the master bedroom over the plaster (because plaster is THE devil and we would get in WAY over our heads if we tried to rip it all out of the monster master bedroom).

5.  Refinish the original douglas fir wood flooring that's been hiding underneath carpet since God knows when in the master bedroom.

Here's to hoping that I will be able to put some "Before & After" photos up before spring :)

No comments:

Post a Comment

shoot me a line or two