23 March 2016

Zeroing in on the House's Construction Date, Part 1

This is Part 1 of a series of posts focusing in on my house's assumed construction date within the years 1922-1924.

Short of locating an original building permit, a record of one, or some other primary document providing definitive proof, nailing down the construction date of an older house down to the exact year can be quite elusive. For my house, after I completed a chain of title chart based on recorded property deeds, I noted a jump in sales price from $650 in November 1923 to $5,500 less than a year later in October 1924. Such an increase could indicate that the house was constructed within that time frame during Andrew F. Gutekunst's ownership-- $650 is more in line with what an empty lot would have cost in this area at that time, whereas a price tag of a few thousand dollars is in line with what a single-family house would have cost. However, one must be careful with taking this at face value-- several of the deeds in the property's history recorded a consideration amount of only $1, meaning the actual market value is unrecorded.

Mortgage documents associated with the exact same property can be consulted to shed further light on the value, especially in these cases of "$1" transactions. Andrew Gutekunst, although he paid $650 (that we know of) directly to Harry Renninger in November 1923, he also simultaneously took out a mortgage on the property in the amount of $3,800. Whether he used part of these proceeds to compensate Renninger more properly, or used them for some other purpose, is not known, but the fact remains that the property was used as collateral to take out that mortgage-- the subject property is legally described in the mortgage document on record. This is highly suggestive that the property is "worth" at least $3,800 in November 1923, and that the house may have been built prior to that date.

Further clouding the issue is the fact that Harry Renninger bought the property the year prior in December 1922 from Jayson Stover, whom I know was a carpenter by trade. Stover had only owned the property for about 7 months, since May 1922. A shortened timeline presents the basic facts:
  • May to December 1922: Jayson Stover, a carpenter who probably would have been capable of building a home in such a time period, owns the property.
  • December 1922: Harry Renninger, a real estate broker who conducted many, many transactions, buys the property. The recorded consideration amount is $465, more suggestive of an empty lot value. No mortgage document is associated with this transaction, but note that Renninger may have had the means to compensate Stover a higher unrecorded amount without the use of a mortgage instrument.
  • November 1923: Andrew F. Gutekunst, a flooring contractor, buys the property, officially for $650, while simultaneously using the property as collateral for a $3,800 mortgage.
  • October 1924: Gutekunst sells the property to Anna Coogan for an official amount of $5,500. I feel very confident that the house was built prior to this date.
These facts give me enough reason to keep the dates from May 1922 to October 1924 as candidates for the actual construction date of the house. This is a relatively satisfactory range (2 year, 5 months), but it spans three different owners. I want to know WHO built this house, and if I can, narrow the WHEN down to a specific year.

So How Can We Narrow This Down Further?

One method is to locate other property deeds and mortgages for these three men-- Jayson Stover, Harry Renninger, and Andrew Gutekunst-- which are unrelated to my specific property. How many other properties were they buying in this general time frame and does it give me any further relevant insight into my own house?? This research will certainly give us more contextual information to consider. Renninger, as I've noted, bought and sold real estate for a living, and was associated with several real estate businesses. Index searches at the Recorder of Deeds yield over 150 documents involving him by name as one of the parties. It's too overwhelming to start with Renninger, so we'll focus on Stover and Gutekunst for now.

Both seem to have been somewhat active in local real estate investment, yet only for relatively brief periods of time in Abington. Limiting my search for Jayson Stover to transactions involving only property in Abington Township yielded the following results:
  • Grantee on three (3) deeds in 1922, plus one in 1951
  • Grantor on five (5) deeds between 1919 and 1922, plus one in 1952
  • Mortgagor on five (5) mortgages in 1922
As a side note, Stover was very active in Hatboro, Horsham, and Upper Moreland to the north, during the 1940's and 1950's when he lived in that area.

And now for Andrew F. Gutekunst:
  • Grantee on eight (8) deed between 1923 and 1928, plus two more in the 1940's
  • Grantor on six (6) deeds in 1923 and 1924, plus three more from 1930-1947
  • Mortgagor on eight (8) mortgages from 1921 to 1924
These are just from index searches-- there certainly are likely at least a few more that are not indexed quite correctly and might turn up once we look closer at each of these documents.

Observations and Next Steps

It's interesting that both of these men seem to have been dabbling in real estate. Jayson Stover, the carpenter, was in and out of Abington rather quickly, gone by the end of 1922 when he sold my property to Renninger. He was a Philadelphia resident at the time, and perhaps had always been quite active there. At first glance it appears that Stover held properties for short periods of time-- perhaps building homes quickly and moving on?

Andrew Gutekunst was a resident of North Glenside and was most actively acquiring property in 1923, the year in which he also acquired my property. He disposed of these properties more gradually over time and lived within walking distance of the properties he held. He was also a skilled tradesman, a flooring contractor, and perhaps was engaged in improving these properties to the point of building houses, albeit at a slower pace that Stover would have.

Something in my gut tells me that if I investigate each of these local properties where Stover and Gutekunst dipped their toes, I'll get closer to my answer. I plan to take this deeper dive by examining the legal descriptions listed in the recorded documents and locating the properties on Google Maps. If I can determine how often or how rarely each man left behind a house when they disposed of a property, it may serve as an important clue in bolstering the case for either as the builder of my own house.


  1. One clue that sometimes can help you narrow down the building date of a house is a water permit--our library (Omaha Public Library) has a large collection of original water permits, and it seems that getting the water connected was often a good indication of the general time-frame for the completion of a house.

  2. This is absolutely a great tip Martha. I have been to the local building department here but they hadn't saved anything older than the 1940's. My area does not have it's own water department/authority but is instead is sourced by a large utility corporation. Luckily that utility company was founded in the 19th century and DID serve my area back in the 1920's, so there may be something to be gained there yet. If the Omaha Public Library has such a collection, I'll have to search around here with some of the libraries and historical societies and see if they may have something similar. Thanks again and stay tuned!

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