1840 home questions

kiki_thinkingMay 2, 2008

this home was built in 1840 -

i know this group loves to look at old houses - and share their collective knowledge --

could anyone tell me anything about what sort of style buzzwords I could use to start looking up info about how it ought to look - colors, landscaping etc. we're thinking about making an offer on it - pending of course structural inspection results and i'd just like to find out a little more about it - something to mentally play with while we're considering.

the recent latex paint job is failing, it appears to have pulled the oil paint off the house - i know we'd be looking at extensive paint work - i'm also aware that we'd be launching ourselves into a life of constant projects large and small -

looking at the house, it looks like the original house was maybe one of the sort of upright vertical looking houses and then the boxy side part was maybe built after - is that why the house has such an odd roof line? i like the house but i don't think all the proportions are classically beautiful - it's a little awkward in places.

any thoughts?

thank you!

Here is a link that might be useful: 1840 house

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That's a great house and it's wonderful that it has the original wood windows and storms! Yes, the roof line is different. Can you get into the attic and see if you can see traces of additions? The part of the house with the 3rd flr dormer looks original to me.

Get yourself over to the forums at oldhouseweb.com. There's tons of collective wisdom there as well as loads of pictures as well as others from your state.

Victorian would be my 1st suggestion for a buzzword. Robert Schweitzer has a book out called Historic House Colors and he has a website of the same name.

We're on our 3rd old home and absolutely love taking care of them. That's how we view it - we're caretakers for the period we live here. Yes, there are projects but new houses fall apart too (and I'd suggest that they are lesser quality construction).

How much of the interior is original?

    Bookmark   May 2, 2008 at 2:37PM
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Thanks for the thoughts and suggestions!!!! I don't really know how much of the interior is original. I uploaded some more photos to the link, there should be 20 or so there now, both inside and out. The interior photos have poor resolution, but you can see a little of the inside. I've only been in the home once, and I was absolutely overwhelmed (both good and bad) so I have more impressions than knowledge about the interior. I spent the time going "Wow, that's great!" "Whoa, that's bad!" "Wow, great!" Whoa, Bad!" "Wow, Whoa! Wow! Whoa! .." lol

Thanks for the oldhouseweb.com site - I've been reading this one obsessively for the last few days - Sort of putting together a plan for what questions I'll ask myself when I go back to look again. I need a written plan so I don't go back on the emotional whee!whoa! see-saw state :) and can actually gather information about the condition of the house so we can intelligently and not emotionally make a decision about the house -

One thing I remember is that the house has a beautiful staircase from the second to third story, but the first to second story staircase is just a narrow drywalled and carpeted hallway. When i go back I'd like to remember to look and see if perhaps the real staircase has just been built up around, or if it's gone. I think the prior owner has maybe put up some walls in the foyer to control heat loss, maybe -

I get the impression that the neighborhood is a little angry with the last owner, it seems he cut down an avenue of more than hundred year old trees.

It's in a very small community, with very nice neighbors on a nice little street in WV. It's next door to the hardware store, the grocery store, the drug store and the bank, so I guess if I owned an old house, that would be my daily circuit - bank/$, grocery store/food, hardware store/whatever i was working on that day, and drugstore for tylenol. lol- a friend pointed out that perhaps there should be a counselor's office nearby for small doses of mental health help and marital counseling - lol

The house is in a 100 year flood zone, I believe it flooded into the basement but not the first floor in 1913 - It's one street over from the ohio river (which by the way is eeeeeww! dirty) Anyway, I know we'll have to carry flood insurance.

Some of the wooden mantles were pulled out and replaced with black marble -looking with gold art-deco designed faces - all of the fireplaces are boarded up and listed as decorative only -

Anyway, thinking about it has been very exciting - It could be wonderful, could be awful, could be wonderful and awful in equal measures :)

I do babble on ...

    Bookmark   May 2, 2008 at 3:51PM
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Very nice house. I bet there is alot of hardwood under all that carpeting! If there are foyer walls, you're right about the PO (previous owner) probably trying to control heat loss. And if that's the reason for the walls, the original staircase is probably gone....but stair components are things that can be found at salvage stores!!

If you go with this house, get to know your hardware guys - they will most likely become your best buddies!

When you go back, ask about knob and tube wiring, check the plumbing (copper, galvanized or PVC), check the roof from inside the attic to see signs of water damage, check the condition of of the walls in the basement, check if there are obvious signs of DIY repairs. If possible, check to see if the floors are level - that might be hard with the carpeting. Ask if any of the house parts that are obviously missing (doors, window hardware, trim etc) were stored anywhere.

Keep us posted with what happens! The community of old house owners is a great one and very very supportive!

    Bookmark   May 2, 2008 at 4:48PM
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I think the 1840 is a little early for your house. It looks more post Civil War to 1875-ish to me. Earlier 19th century houses have somewhat different massing to them in most places north of the Mason-Dixon line. The windows are definitely last-quarter of the 19th c. But they could be replacements when the house was refurbished a long time ago. They don't look post-1913, though.

I believe the house has had substantial work done because the gables (esp. the 3rd-floor one) are out of the usual balance. It takes the assymetrical style of the late 19th c and pulls it even more out of balance.

Since it's in the flood zone, you want to think about that issue seriously - and make sure your inspection covers any lingering effects.

There are several good books that describe architectural details and styles. I can list them if you like.

Although it may go against what you're planning, I strongly urge you to consider doing very little to the house if you buy it, for at least a year. Other than a meticulous cleaning, and maybe slapping up some provisional paints, it's usually better to wait a bit. It takes longer than than you may expect for the house to tell you what really needs to be done with it. Many old houses are disrupted and damaged by too-eager-to-make-it-their-own new owners.

And, of course, my standard on-line "housewarming present" for all possible or new old house owners is a link to the Preservation Briefs series of publications. Excellent technical info from a source that's not trying to sell you anything. See below.

Another old house online site: www.historichouses.com (John Leeke's Site).

Welcome to old-house ownership!


Here is a link that might be useful: Preservation Briefs Series - many useful old house topics covered

    Bookmark   May 3, 2008 at 2:05AM
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I'm in complete agreement with Housekeeping's post. And waiting to make changes gives you a time to learn & re-think your choices; it's amazing how much your views will change once you've lived in a house for a while.

Judging by the picture, I'd question if the outside kitchen was really for that purpose. It should have a large (usually end wall) chimney for a cooking type fireplace & I only see a metal flue pipe. Houses built post-Civil War usually didn't have outside kitchens.

Regardless of when it was built, it looks like a great house.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2008 at 12:07PM
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See if the library has a copy.

Here is a link that might be useful: A Field guide to American Houses

    Bookmark   May 3, 2008 at 3:20PM
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"Although it may go against what you're planning, I strongly urge you to consider doing very little to the house if you buy it, for at least a year."

Not to mention there is pretty much a 100% chance of what I call the "holy CRAP!" repair that springs out of nowhere a matter of days (or maybe weeks if you're lucky) after you move in and eats up whatever money you had left after buying the place. Our house needed a great deal of work in the heating and electrical systems (both of which, of course, the so-called old-house-specialist inspector had passed) to the tune of about $5k right after we moved in. I had plans for that five grand!

    Bookmark   May 3, 2008 at 7:20PM
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Pretty house. But it puzzles me concerning the age. From the pictures, it looks as if the house and the larger outbuilding have foundations made of decorative concrete block. This is not consistent with a house supposedly over a hundred and sixty years in age. I live in S.E. Ohio, basically the same general locale as you. My house is circa 1822-1833. Narrowed it down that far.

It was typical for house foundations here of that era to be stone. Mine is, and contains no mortar. Dry pressed stone. Concrete block foundations are a much more modern invention. They weren't even widely manufactured until late in the nineteenth century. That doesn't mean an old house couldn't be moved and set on a newer foundation, but this isn't the original foundation for an 1840s home. I'd suggest you look to see what material the walls in your basement consist of, in case stone has been veneered over with block for some reason. If it's block as well, then we have a conundrum.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2008 at 1:55AM
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I have to agree that home looks later than 1840's, even the drawing of what might be original house is post Civil War. Of course, the 1840 date might not be a total lie, it's possible that a one or two room house is embedded underneath all the rest, but you'd probably have to start tearing down walls to find out.

I've got a Victorian decorating blog with tons of information.

Here is a link that might be useful: Life and Decorating in the Victorian Era

    Bookmark   May 4, 2008 at 11:40AM
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I so very appreciate all of your thoughts and information and links and leads and sources!

Do you think it is possible that the foundation instead of being concrete block is some sort of cut stone? There are other houses in town that have unpainted foundations that look the same, that are maybe sandstone?

As for the date, we checked as to where the information that the house was built in 1840 came from - I believe it was obtained from the record of the assessments - prior to 1840, the property was listed as having no structure on it. Post 1840, the property was assessed as having a structure. I had not thought to question the veracity of the date I was given for the house. Hmmm.

Actually, we are in accord with you on the let-the-house-reveal-itself before launching right on in. Perhaps we'll spend our initial house budget on extra sweaters and socks and blankets and escapist books and movies :)

Honestly, one of the bigger concerns I have about buying this house is that I have a 4 year old - I worry that even if I follow all of the proper control/abatement procedures I can find, that I'll miss something important and jeopardize her/our health. Or what if the PO disturbed lead paint or asbestos and that the toxicity is already present and uncontained - Thoughts?

I'm sure I'll have more questions when I get to go prowl thru the house again, hopefully this week -

Thank you again!!!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2008 at 8:05PM
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No, that is a decorative masonry block, very typical in our locality. I recently sold a little house I had for investment. It lay next door to another house I also own in town, built in the mid thirties. The little house I sold had a very modern concrete block foundation, but the thirties built house has brick.

My father clarified the mystery. The little house was well over a hundred years old, but had been moved to that location and set on a modern foundation......more modern than my thirties built home.

You may very well have a house, within a house, hidden by more modern structures. That's fairly common here. Some even have log cabins at their core. Just like Kennebunker said.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2008 at 10:22PM
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My comment also has to do with age -- house has a much more late 1800's feel both inside and out - does not look or feel like 1840 to me. I think if you go with that age idea, it will become prettier if you exaggerate the Victorian aspects of the house (as in the drawing).

    Bookmark   May 5, 2008 at 3:34PM
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RE: the foundation. Our old house has its original rock foundation, but from the outside it looks like concrete block because someone applied a decorative block to cover up the original rock foundation. It looks just like this house. It doesn't establish the age one way or another. As suggested, you can look at the foundation from the inside to tell more.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2008 at 12:08PM
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Another idea about the foundation is the original stone could have been damaged in the 1913 flood that flooded the basement and a more "modern" foundation could have been added then. Or the house used to be closer to the river and was moved back after the flood. Which is about the time frame when those blocks were popular, at least around where I'm from (a bit up stream in W.PA). Also the Victorian details could have been "updates" in style in the late 1800's. If you do decide to get it I would ask around town for anyone who might know more about the house. Sometimes older folks might know some of the history about the house especially in a small town like that. Another way is to look at the structure, post and beam, hand hewn or sawn lumber might give some clues as well.

I think it's wonderful fun playing detective in my old house.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2008 at 2:22PM
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Since you have a child you might give some thought to testing for lead paint residue. But realistically unless a huge, meticulous, remediation project has already been done it's highly likely that the house has some kind of lead paint which will be disturbed, to some degree, in almost every project you undertake. Old houses can have lead in the paint, and sometimes in plaster and water supply pipes. We live in state of perpetual remodeling in a house loaded with lead paint and we have our blood tested from time to time and it has never been elevated. We use reasonable, but not fanatical, precautions about lead dust and fumes (from paint removal projects). And we are try to carefully contain the projects and wash our clothes after every session.

Asbestos is less inevitable in old houses but can be found in some types of pad insulation (particularly around heating ducts) some types of shingles and, of course, in vermiculite used as insulation. It's mostly found in 20th c repairs and changes. It can also be found in some types of resilient flooring and floor mastic.

About the date: Just because the assessment notes a change from no house to having a house, it does not mean that the present structure is the one from the earliest date. Our farm was occupied in 1784 but the house that exists today was built more than 60 years later. The earlier house is long gone.

There are many ways of zeroing on a house's date and overall shape is strong point, as many posters here have noted it does not read 1840 to the eye. other factors that you might check out are the types of nails or fasteners and the internal structural components. One thing that makes it "read" later than 1840 is that it looks like balloon framing rather timber frame, at least to me, from the pictures. Balloon framing is a later 19th c technique that was not known earlier and can absolutely be used for establishing dates.



    Bookmark   May 6, 2008 at 10:17PM
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I do really really appreciate the help and advice. I put some more interior photos up in case anyone is interested - Thank you!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 6:24PM
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Transoms over the interior doors, all those fireplaces and a swinging door that is still intact! You've got one great house! I'm not so keen on the blue and yellow bedroom, though - ouch.

Was your house divided into apartments or was it a rooming house at one time? The plumbing and dryer hookup in the one bedroom, and plumbing in the hall is why I'm asking.

Which rooms are in the part that could be the addition?

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 8:59PM
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i think the "office (with the wooden wainscottng) and the "living room" as well as a couple of the bedrooms and the 3rd floor purple room must have been the addition originally.

i'm still finding out details but it seems that the house was owned by one family until the prior owner.

there are no photos yet, but the basement, well, it's black and red with mirrors - so it's certainly not original.

we are thinking about making an offer, so it's not ours - trying to check thru the perils and not be blinded by the cute little lot, the nice little street, the very adorable butler's pantry (i know the butler's pantry is the wrong reason to buy a house) lol

my 92 year old grandmother is aghast at the idea of the continuous $ waste of buying a home that would require flood insurance
and double aghast "aghast-aghast" at what the heating bills would be.

i'm thrilled that you are taking the time to look at the photos and offer the help that you are offering - thank you!!!!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 10:45PM
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Now that I've seen the inside, I am more convinced than ever that the house is a late 19th c house rather than 1840-ish. Which is not to say that lurking somewhere within the mass there isn't an 1840 structure, but it was long-ago subsumed into the current late-Victorian style building. The window proportions, the transoms, the trim details, the flooring, the likely framing techniques, and of course, the over-all massing of the house, all read no earlier than about 1875 to me.

This is just a personal observation, but I think the odd, sort of lumpy roofline would drive me nuts and I would always be wishing to change it back to the slimmer, less top-heavy, lines that are typical of that style. But this would erase lots of space in the house and probably be quite expensive. BTW, the drawing you posted is exactly what I think the house originally was, or was remodeled to be.

Regarding the peeling paint: Latex over oil is the standard way to do it, not an aberration or defect in technique. But peeling can happen because of moisture migration in areas w/o vapor barriers within the walls and because of paint-product incompatibility, or lack of surface preparation before painting.

If you want explore the dating more, I would be asking when historical floods occurred that innundated the property. Those dates will tell you when it was built, rebuilt or substantially remodeled. And give you some insight into the possibilities you may face, one day.

Another possibility for uses of the outbuilding is that it was used as a workshop for some sort of home-based manufacturing operation: rope-making, spinning or weaving, carpentry, shoe-making, etc. It was quite common to have something like that going on. A search in the Federal (and local, if you get lucky) census records may give clue about the occupations of the residents.


    Bookmark   May 14, 2008 at 2:32AM
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Molly, thank you so much - it's funny, just moments ago I was looking at the house with a friend and saying it was a shame that the roof was new, that it was one of the things that most displeased me - I'm a big fan of symmetry and having seen the drawing, I now have trouble seeing the house as a unified whole instead of as a house plus an addition.

If I could figure out how to edit the subject of my post, I'd change it to "1875ish house" :) It is such a small community, I'm sure that if I simply invited the town to an open house if we bought it and mentioned that if anyone had photos or knew of dates we'd be glad to see the info that we'd quickly find out a great deal about the house. Aside from the last owner, the house was kept by members of the family who built it. I'm sure they'd be happy to share information and photos too.

I've spent the whole day reading about issues with lead - since the windows are peeling and cracking so badly, and so much renovation has been done. I'm worried that the inside carpets might be saturated with lead dust if the proper precautions weren't taken with the earlier remodeling. I have a 4 year old - and I think that the biggest obstacle to purchase is the concern that I might jeopardize her health -

Upon closer inspection, the paint problems seem to be:

On one wall, peeling paint both inside and out under an unflashed vent in the roof - moisture problems - failing paint.

On the rest of the house - We've done some serious looking and reading - you are very right - there was very very little surface prep. You know, this house has been foreclosed on - inspections, deciding on the offer, negotiations, closing - it could be autumn before we are able to occupy the house - I'm wondering what kind of harm has come to the wood of the house in the last (vacant) winter and the coming one. What needs to be done before winter to protect the wood if a full-scale painting is needed but not feasible because of the weather?

I have days when I'm wild for the house, and days where I'm scared to death I'll end up in it - lol

You are very knowledgeable - thank you so much for taking the time to look and comment!

    Bookmark   May 14, 2008 at 11:13PM
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