Finding History in Your House

One evening during the second summer that we lived in our house, a stranger knocked on our front door. He introduced himself and said that his grandfather was an architect that recently passed away. He was cleaning out his grandfather’s office and came across some original blueprints to a house that said it was to be built on Oxford Street, but didn’t give a specific number. The man thought it would be a nice gesture to give the blueprints to the owners of the home, so he walked up and down Oxford Street until he found the house that matched the blueprints.

The house on the blueprints was our house.

We were very grateful that he went through the trouble of finding our home. Looking at the prints was like stepping back in time to the early 1900s- seeing the original design and how it changed from the outset and how it’s been modified over the years. What a great piece of history on our house that we didn’t even know existed.

On another occasion, we met some folks at a dinner party that live in a similar vintage house in West Hartford. They mentioned that in one of the drawers in their butler’s pantry they found several vintage pictures of Elizabeth Park and early 1900s living in Hartford. They were also thrilled with their find because it added a little more color to their house and what life was like during the time when it was built.

Recently a friend emailed me that he finished a wallpaper removal project in his early 1900s home and was surprised to see the paper hanger’s signature on the plaster beneath the paper, “papered by Leonard Des Roches, 1988.” He did some online research and found an obituary for the craftsman, who passed away a few years back. The brief article gave details of a family man that also was a well respected paper hanger in the area for many years. My friend remarked that you could tell that “Lenny” took great care in his work and paid attention to detail in the areas that needed special cuts, he didn’t find one flaw in the entire job.

With older houses, we sometimes get these pleasant surprises when we take on remodeling projects or just dig a little deeper in the built-ins and nooks and crannies. It makes me wonder about the craftsmen that built these homes to begin with, as well as those that have worked on them over time, and the families that lived in them. Old houses can be canvases for history, you just have to be on the lookout.

Readers, have you ever had any interesting finds in your home that helped you learn more about previous owners or the people that built or worked on your home over the years?

One thought on “Finding History in Your House

  1. Well, when I checked city records I found that my house in Washington, DC had once been condemned as unfit for human habitation, but I already knew that the row houses in that area had been quite run-down before being rehabbed in the 1940s.

    When my father was adding paneling to our basement in the 1970s, one of my brothers wrote a few notes on the soon-to-be-covered wall, starting with “Hey! Why are you ripping out this nice paneling?”

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