The House Which Lost its Face
Across the street from the Cross House, at 517 Union, is a house. It is painted blue. So, I always think of it as the Blue House.
A glance reveals that the house has been much altered over the years. Windows have been changed, porches enclosed, and the whole re-sided. Still, the house looked to be around 1920 and of a type called a Four-Square.
A few months ago it was listed for sale and an open house scheduled.
Of course I went. Of course!
The instant first impression, once inside, was that there was nothing left of the original interior. The whole first floor had been gutted and rebuilt circa-1960. It looked like any standard 1960s ranch home inside. As I love ranches, this is not a bad thing, but it is unexpected inside a 1920s home which must have been filled with wonderful doors, trim, and other cool stuff.
Wandering through the Mad Men interior I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks. Right before me was an unmistakable 1870s mantle.
WHAT was this doing inside the house?
I was wholly befuddled, and after some pondering had two thoughts:
- The mantle had been moved into the house at some point.
- The mantle was original, which meant that the house the was significantly older than I, and the realtor, had assumed.
After staring in bewildered amazement for a while, I continued the tour, although now with a nagging suspiciousness.
Upon re-entering the small foyer, I noticed the front door. It had been open when I arrived and I had not noticed it.
It was unmistakably 1870s.
Zounds. My heart leapt. The likelihood of TWO important 1870s items being in a 1920s home was very very very remote. In a flash I knew that, no matter its appearance, this home was indeed 1870s.
Suddenly, thrillingly, I was VERY excited about the place.
I then glanced over to the staircase. It was enclosed in sheetrock and no hint of a grand 1870s newel post nor balustrade remained. But…but…the base molding along one side of the stair was unmistakably 1870s, and it swept down at the bottom riser, only to meet up with decidedly NOT 1870s base.
Fragments. Of the past. I was tingling with excitement.
Upstairs revealed nothing about the original interior save two things:
- There were three doors, and each was without question original to the house and 1870s. They were paneled, thin, and with age-appropriate hardware.
- Unlike the first-floor windows, the windows upstairs were not vintage Mad Men, but vintage 1870s: long, narrow, and almost to the floor.
After departing, I raced to my computer, for the magic machine could offer that oh-so-satisfying thrill: confirmation.
And thrilled I was.
Pulling up an online 1870s Sanborn Map, I was able to confirm the age of the house.
NOTE: Just because the 1870s Sanborn map showed a house on the site did not automatically mean that what existed today was the same house which existed in 1870. The 1870s house on the map could have been replaced by another home in, say, the 1920s. However, I knew this was not the case. What I toured had too many unmistakable 1870s signatures. There was no question that the house was 1870s.
The Sanborn Map revealed a 2-story square-ish home (check), which had a one-story porch across the front (check, now enclosed), a bay to the south (check), and a narrow one-story extension (check, now engulfed in later additions but its hipped roof was visible).
I cannot express enough how exciting I find this kind of adventure.
In the end, I knew that my neighbor was not a 1920s Four-Square, but a once-gorgeous Italianate from the 1870s. And maybe one day….
The above two side-by-side images offer a startling contrast. To the left is how 517 Union pretty much likely looked when first built. It had a one-story porch across the width of the main facade. It had (and still has) three windows upstairs on the main facade, and three openings downstairs (two windows and one door, to the right). The house certainly had eve brackets. The tall, thin 1870s windows shown on the left image are extant on the second-floor of 517.
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