09 March 2016

Confirmed: The Neighboring Lot Was Once "Part" of My Current Property

Several months ago, I was fortunate enough to interview the daughter-in-law of John J. and Catherine Cantlin, the long-time owners of my home from 1932-2001 (John Cantlin passed away in 1961 and Catherine continued living here for 40 more years). This woman was able to share several pieces of information I had not known previously, including a birth in the home (her husband, in 1934), and the fact that Mrs. Cantlin also owned the neighboring lot on the north side, which was undeveloped at the time. This was the lead upon which to build more solid information.

My 1920's home in the foreground, with an even earlier home in the background (light blue); sandwiched in between the two is land which was owned by the Cantlins for some time, now occupied by my neighbor's ranch house.
Today, that lot contains a one-story ranch style house where my neighbors, a friendly family of Italian descent, live. These being lots of modest width, their driveway defines the property line, leaving about 6-8 feet between it and my house. The daughter-in-law had relayed that Catherine owned the lot and "sold it off about 20 or 30 years ago. She sold it and then that house was built." The stucco and brick rancher could be 1980's by the looks of it, although I'd have bet somewhere in the 1950-1980 range. My neighbor has been there since 1989 (27 years ago, could fit the timeline given). The only problem was that on the county assessment office's online database, there are listed transactions back to 1973, and none of them involve the Cantlins. So, naturally, where would I look to solve the problem? A chain of title search at the county's Recorder of Deeds office, of course.

I performed the search in person at the office-- although my county does allow off-site access to historical deeds, it currently costs 30 cents per minute so this can add up (I hope new Recorder Jeanne Sorg takes cues from Mr. Schiller in Berks County!). Also, since the assessor's database lists the last three transactions for this property, I could have skipped back to 1973 if I so chose. But, since I was there in person I decided to complete the full chain from my current neighbor back to Ferguson's subdivision (Reginald T. Ferguson was the man who subdivided Emma Spear's roughly 200 acre tract into individual building lots).

The first step was to locate my current neighbor's Grantee deed from 1989. As with most deeds in this area, there is a paragraph which includes reference to the previous deed in the chain. Repeating this process took me backwards successively in time, from deed to deed, and after not too long I located the 1919 deed with Ferguson's conveyance of the lot to a Albert F. Troast.

However, it's later in the chain's chronology where I'm hoping to locate the Cantlins, and earlier within that search I found it. On May 18, 1946, John J. Cantlin and Catherine Cantlin purchased the lot from Troast, who apparently held it for 26 years, for the sum of $500. The property actually consisted of three skinny lots, numbered #2220, #2221, and #2223 on Ferguson's plan, none of which were individually large enough to build on-- I have yet to learn why most of the land was apportioned in such a way by Ferguson's surveyor.

Clip from 1946 deed conveying the neighboring lot from Albert Troast to John and Catherine Cantlin
Around this time in the 1940s, the remainder of the block was finally starting to fill in with new stone-front Cape Cod homes. Although it is mere speculation, the Cantlins may have recognized burgeoning development on their block and decided to snag the adjacent land while they had the chance, holding open the possibility of expanding to the north, or to hold onto the lot for use by one of their children or other family. As I've discovered previously, the Cantlins were in the process of enclosing their rear porch to expand the house, taking out the permit only a month prior to this! So clearly, they had expansion on their minds in some respect. If I get the chance to ask the Cantlins' daughter-in-law, I'll see if she can provide any further insight.

In any case, John Cantlin passed on in 1961, and the neighboring lot remained undeveloped by the Cantlins. Catherine held onto it until 1972-- 44 years ago. I'll certainly forgive the daughter-in-law for the inaccuracy in timing, for she provided me the clue in the first place! I wonder how Catherine used the open lot-- did she garden there? Let her teenage kids frolic there? Another question to ask. When she did unload the land on May 10, 1972, she sold it to a company called Mont-Bux, Inc. for $7,000. Mont-Bux flipped it a year later to a Sidney and Carol Mann for $29,275. It seems clear that Mont-Bux Inc. was a local residential development company; a brief search turns up a few appellate court cases from the 1970's, all involving residential developments planned by the company. This evidence that Mont-Bux was a residential developer, grouped with the sharp increase in value in 1973 plus my interviewee's recollection that a house was built shortly after Mrs. Cantlin's sale of the land, strongly suggest that the rancher house was built between May 1972 and May 1973.

Clip from 1972 deed conveying the lot from Catherine Cantlin to Mont-Bux, Inc.

The second page of the 1972 mentions John's passing in 1961, in order to clear up any potential question in the title chain. Also note in the last line of this page that the lot is subject to the same restrictions spelled out in all Ferguson's lots, as discussed here.
Another clue turns into a fun research task and a question answered, adding another component to the history of my house! And further evidence that you must reach out to actual people who may have first-hand knowledge about your house's history, even if they don't realize it.

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