Friday, April 15, 2011

What do you buy a house for its 140th Birthday?

What do you buy a house for its 140th birthday? This year, our little second empire cottage turns 140 years old and Greg and I have been in discussions of just what to do to celebrate that event. In this day of disposable everything it is amazing to me that anything last for 140 years.

Imagine what it must have been like to build up on the hill back then. Everything had to be brought up the hill because this are had been cleared and was largely farm and grazing land with a few small "gentleman vineyards thrown in. In  fact the early Titus map shows Knox St ending a block further East. The area was being developed as there were already some houses up on  Knox Hill, in fact some date to the late 1840's. But it was still 'no mans land' far across the valley floor from Cincinatti.

The wood, the stone, EVERYTHING had to be brought up that hill in wagons. The roads were little more that dirt paths. It took real money to build a weekend place back then. that likely explains why Knox Hill houses have incredible details like high end fireplace and trim work you would expect to see on a Dayton Street Mansion. When I think of the fact that the owner commissioned an artisan to come up the hill and elaborately stencil the rooms of the house. it was no small job either. I know from experience that it takes  hours upon hours to stencil these designs. Today I have modern 12 mill mylar to make stencils out of, back then they were make of paper that had been shellaced. It took dozens of stencils to do just one pattern on a wall as they would  deteriorate and were only good for few feet.
I often wonder what the house looked like when new with its rich Pompei Red  walls and darker red stencils adorning all the rooms with its gold gilt hanging rail and cast iron fireplaces that were likely elaborately stenciled and faux finished... Iamgine being to go back in time for just a day to see that, it must have glowed by candle or oil lamps!

 Houses and neighborhood evolve and with the demise of the Schuetzenbuckle so did our cottage. The wealthy moved to new playgrounds and our cottage became a home to a young family the Naegeles came to Knox Hill in the late 1880's. The home was modernized with gas lighting and indoor plumbing and the neighborhood became a neighborhood of mostly German Merchants and businessmen and it stayed that way all the way up till WW2. Remarkable that our house stayed in the same family ownership the Naegel's and the Merz families until 2006.

So here we are full circle. the Knox Hill cottage is being rebuilt returned to its once dignified person a. Certainly had we not come along the house would be in a landfill. It has rewarded us for saving it with a plethora of treasures. A 1871 German newspaper fragments used by the plasterers to fill larder gaps in laths, an old wood handled chisel, to all of Antones 'mistakes" he brought home from the Naegele Stone works in the 1890's.
I have to thank Antone for that wonderful front wall he built and I imagine that wagon hauling that stone up the hill. the roads were a bit better by then but it was still a feat to haul all that stone up that hill. I also have to thank his wife to worked for years on  the gardens. Of course by the time we came along they were overgrown, filled in but I think when we are done she will be happy to see her little cottage, its gardens blooming once again.

The house still presents us with small gifts, Old toys and marbles  found as we recreate gardens no doubt from the days when the Nagele children played in the yard.

I think this fall we will have Birthday party for the house. Invite some "preservationist friends' and neighbors over for croquet and cocktails, maybe even dress in Victorian Era clothing,. maybe I'll even recreate our little Second Empire cottage in cake form and we can do homemade ice cream.

As for a gift? Maybe just saving this house is gift enough, it seems to appreciate it.

1 comment:

Karen Anne said...

Some party! If I lived in Ohio I would shamelessly try to get an invitation :-)