Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas photos.

Here are some photos of our house during the Christmas Tour of Historic Homes 2014. It was great to have so many nice people come in and share the warmth of Dun Elise. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

This Old House at Christmas

This Sunday we are opening up our house to strangers.

No snow yet, but the Christmas wreaths are up.
We don't do that often. It has been our refuge from the wide world for more than 20 years. Cozy in the winter storms and howling winds. 

This year, however, we have been asked to be part of the historic Christmas homes tour.

It all starts with a Finnish Christmas Concert at the historic Deep River Evangelical Lutheran Church on December 7th at 1:30 pm. Donations go the upkeep of this historic church. Following it is a Tour of Homes sponsored by the Finnish-American Folk Festival Tickets are $5/person and can be purchased at the church, Hair Villa, Finn Ware, and Radio Shack. We also have maps and can take donations at the house if you want to start the tour from this end. 

Our house is known as the Elsie Torpa place by locals. Amy grew up just across the fields always called it Elsie’s and remembered coming to visit and having cookies in the welcoming kitchen.

The land was first patented under the Homestead act in February 1877 by Hans P Nadresen. It is not clear, based on our limited research, what improvements he made to the property. His claim included the uplands on the other side of the state route 4 -- which was not built until the 1920s -- as well as the fields totaling 146 acres.  

We attempted to research the property in the 1990s, but records from Wahkiakum county are currently located in Olympia. Some county records have been lost to a fire. We are always looking for more information about the previous owners and history of our home. I have searched the archives for a historic picture of our home, but haven't been able to find one.

We believe the house was built in about 1917 based on the increase in tax values at that time. A few years before a young man married one of the Rosburg girls and the property was split off from the larger Rosburg holding. The property tax records increased between 1916 and 1917 and the construction of a house is noted. There was also a round roofed barn for the dairy. When we removed the original cedar siding two years ago, we found cigarette papers dated 1918.  

Many have told us over the years that the house was a “Sears house.” These were house kits that could be ordered right out of the Sears catalog and delivered to your property -- but you had to put together the pre-measured lumber yourself. While the house is similar to some of the Sears kits of the era, the abundance of mills and lumber at the time makes me think it was likely built of local materials. The cedar siding came from the Grays River Shingle Co. and the house is all built of straight grained Douglas Fir. That said, the quality of the craftsmanship is high.

The Durrah family had the property for a time, before Elmer and Elsie purchased the house in the 1940s. Henry Nelson bought the property with the house from the Torpa family in the about 1990. His daughter Amy Nelson married Ed Hunt in 1992 at the Grays River covered bridge. We moved into the house in 1993 and purchased the house -- split off from the pasture -- in 1995.

The house was unremodled, but needed major upgrades to the electrical, plumbing, windows and insulation when the purchased by the Hunts. Over the past 20 years Amy and Ed have slowly restored and revived the old house.  I did all of the plumbing and light fixtures himself. Amy spent many nights tirelessly stripping layers of paint from the beautiful wood trim and floors in the living room and dining room. I
built the fireplace mantle behind the Jotul 404 wood cook stove.

We welcome visitors and anyone who can help us learn more about this house.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Good Fences

My last wood screw went in to the last board as the rain began to fall.

There had been a steady drizzle, but now the dark ceiling opened up to a torrential downpour. 

I scrambled to put my tools away, slipping in the mud.  It took me a few moments to realize that it was the very last screw in my pouch - the last 3.25 inch construction screw I had.   It took still longer for me to get inside and out of my wet clothes, to stand at the window looking at the green gray fields and admire what I had accomplished.

The fence was finished.

It still needed a coat of white stain on the last section, but that would come on a sunny day. My daughters love painting the white stain. I love good fences.

I never thought much about fences until we moved out West in 1978. I was Grace's age then and the forest hills and hidden fields seemed vast open wonderlands to me compared to the crowded suburbs of New Jersey. To be sure, we rambled through the wooded swamplands that backed up to our home there, but it nothing like 82 acres of field and forest. 

There was a great hill overlooking the whole property that we would climb in the last hours of a summer day with the night hawks already diving for prey. It was a grand thing to me then, to stand in an open field on the crest of a high hill, counting the white capped mountains as the pink fire of sunset painted the sky. 

The fences were barbed wire, which tears your shirt if you slide under it, and is too unsteady to climb over. Best to have a friend hold the wire for you,  if you want to climb through. Still they seemed few and far between.  We could ride our horses for miles without touching a road by simply finding the gates between properties, and making sure that we closed each gate we opened behind us. 

I never liked barbed wire. It rips the flesh of spooked horses and his hard to see in the trees. 

The fences I loved were at Crosby Stables. White painted rails around the whole property including the arena where Jim Crosby trained his Tennessee Walkers. I remember the mint green barns and the ink-black Schipperke dogs that Jim and Eunice used to keep. Little Tasmania devil dogs that would run and hop up to land on the rump a moving horse that never lost its stride. Jim was an Iowa man who landed out West with the railroad. We would ride over the hill to his place for 4H sometimes and he gave our family invaluable advice on horses when we were just starting out. Crosby Stables was like a microcosm of a Kentucky estate, four rail white fences cutting serenely through rolling hills. 

It is the fences of his idyll that I have tried to recreate here on my little patch of land. 

When we moved in, 22 years ago. The house was in need of attention more than the property so it became our priority. 

 The borders of the land were blackberry bushes with barbed wire buried somewhere underneath. 

When we had time and energy from our busy low-paying just out of college jobs, I hacked at the blackberries with a machete. Year by year cutting away at the invasive plant's empire of thorns. It was cathartic, but my desk job left me too weak to counter it's ever encroaching vines. It took years -- and eventually Hank's excavator -- to clear the last of it. It opened our property up so we could see the open fields beyond. We put in posts -- some dug with auger on the back of the tractor, other's dug by hand -- until finally the bright white-stained rails emerged. 

Just in time for little girls to clamber over them for walks out in the field. 

You see a good fence does more than just keep livestock in. It keeps animals -- and children -- safe. Lindsay and Grace love climbing the fences, or sitting on them and waving to grandpa as he goes by on the tractor. The white brings bright beauty in the dark gray of winter. 

I ripped out the last of the barbed wire a few weeks ago. 

Dug the post holes by hand. A good post hole digger will beat a week at the gym for building upper body muscles. There was a layer of gravel to go through too and some concrete from the old dairy barn that used to be nearby. At times, I was hands and knees pulling up rocks from the holes. 

Of course I never count right when it comes to how many boards I need, and that means another trip into town. No matter. There was a time when we could only afford to do a few sections of the fence at a time.  

Now I can even afford to buy a store-bought gate and latch. Much better than the home made gates that now want for replacing. 

The girls are helping me paint now that the weather has turned. Lindsay is dreaming of horses that will one day lean their heads over the top rail trying to see if there is a treat in her pocket.

I tell her to take a step back every now while she paints.

"Why she asks."

"So you can look at how far you've come," I tell her. "So you can see how much better you've made it by your hard work."

Sunday, February 9, 2014