22 August 2015

What I Knew on Day 1

The scope for a house history can go in any of a number of directions.  There are various types of documents from which information can be drawn. We will visit those specific directions and documents in other posts. For me, for my house, I essentially want to know anything there is to know, and in this sense my research may never be considered "complete". Although I did not begin to heavily research the house until many months after I moved in, we always wanted a house with some architectural and historical character, and I was interested in the history the day we closed. So, what did I already know on Day 1?

Approximate Date of Construction
The real estate listing for the house declared the date of construction as 1920. Now, this cannot be definitively stated as a completely accurate fact.  Realtors pull construction date info from local public record databases, most often specifically in property tax assessment records. However, while these records can accurately tell you assessment history (especially more recent assessment history), the construction date listed is most likely not correct if your house is any more than a few decades old. Although the style of the house is supportive of a construction date in this time period, we cannot assume 1920 is the exact year.

Likelihood of a Rear Addition
Our home inspection was invaluable to us as first-time home buyers, and one item that was revealed during this inspection was that the rear living room and bedroom were likely part of an addition. One can tell this from a simple visual inspection-- as we made our way around the north side of the house, a crack/separation in the exterior siding indicates that the foundation at this portion of the house had settled a bit more than that of the main house and was likely built at a different time than the original house.
At some point, the house was re-sided to appear uniform throughout. The other area from visual inspection where an addition is obvious is in the basement-- the original foundation wall ends at this same location, right at the staircase to the basement (and attic, which also ends at this point). A peek into the existing doorway cut in the foundation wall reveals a crawlspace, the stairs which at one point provided direct access to the exterior, and the floor joists supporting my living room floor.

Style of the House
The style of the house is clearly that of a typical American bungalow. The term "Craftsman" could apply to this style, although generally connotes the presence of more elaborately crafted details than my house exhibits. Bungalows were often a single story (or single story with an attic) and were commonly built in the first few decades of the 20th century. Architectural features include a low-pitched gabled roof, often with deeper eaves. My front porch with tapered stone piers is also a typical craftsman bungalow feature, although they more typically extend to the ground, as opposed to sitting on the porch slab.

Diagram of a Craftsman Bungalow, courtesy of A Field Guide to American Houses, by Virginia & Lee McAlester

Previous Ownership
We certainly know who sold the house to us-- a couple not much older than ourselves, who have kids of their own as well, had owned the house for 14 years, and were moving to a larger house in town. Our deed also tells us that they bought the house from a woman of the last name Cantlin. This would be a bit of information for further exploration, and previous deeds will feature heavily in future posts. There had been no recent sales prior to 2001.

It was clear that the previous owners had cared quite a bit for the house and put quite a chunk of change into it. The seller's disclosure form they filled out as part of the process of our transaction indicated such items as new roofs (likely c. 2001) for the back section (previously mentioned "addition") and for the front porch; the addition of a rear deck (2003); and infrastructural improvements such as a new domestic water heater (2001), and brand new natural gas boiler (2013). Although not detailed in documentation, other obvious improvements by these owners include hardwood floors throughout the living areas (modern, not original), and new tile finishes and fixtures in both bathrooms. Most likely the entire kitchen was modestly re-done including new (Ikea I believe) cabinets. Modern, dual-paned, double-hung vinyl windows (Pella) are also recent.

As you can see, even without doing much heavy searching, one can get a great start on a thorough history of the house merely by going through the process of buying it-- we've looked at the real estate listing, the home inspection, and the deed here as sources of information. Although some of these revelations are not "historical" in the sense they did not occur many decades ago, even the recent alterations are part of the long history of the home.

You will also soon come to see that, had I been looking even closer, additional clues would have been apparent...

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