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House History

by Laurel ~ July 21st, 2010

G. H. Lapham signature on beam discovered during renovation

G. H. Lapham signature on beam discovered during renovation

We have been drawn to old historic homes for a long time now. In Manhattan, we lived in an 1870’s brownstone. In Brooklyn, it was a 1920 eclectic brick house in a designated historic district. Even in Massachusetts, our house, contemporary in appearance, had originally served as a workshop, connected to an old Victorian house in town and moved to the current location. This fact is unknown to many people, we only knew of it because the person from whom we purchased the house gave us the details, including photographs.

In researching a house there is the paper trail, which can sometimes lead to some good information about a property. Then there is the anecdotal evidence one might learn from local histories, neighbors, long-time locals, and even evidence in the house itself.

For example, during one our our recent bathroom renovations a beam in the walls revealed the signature of George Lapham, one of the early owners of the house some sources credited for a major renovation in 1879. Other sources credit someone else for this renovation, but with the signature on that beam, and the fact it is located in the “new” section of the house, it seems that Lapham was indeed the driving force. The image above shows, in part, this signature — I will find a better picture later on Llewellyn’s computer, but if you view it at the larger size you can see the H and L in G. H. Lapham.

In our Brooklyn house, inside one closet on the second floor, a ladder was permanently affixed to the wall to provide roof access. Somewhere near the top of the ladder, near the roof hatch, if you had a flashlight in hand you could find the names of the former owners and their children scratched into the plaster.

Here, in Penn Yan, we often wonder about the history of our house and the people who lived in it. We have met, briefly, the people from whom we bought the house. These people graciously gave us a number of artifacts including photos of the carriage house reno, a 1910 document of what we believe to be the plan for heating installation, a stereoscopic card, and a few other items. The house, however, is 145 years old and that equals a lot of history. Our house abstract is huge.

I present all of this because in late spring of this year I received a phone call from a woman who found this blog. The “R” family (in respect of privacy, I never know if I should actually mention names in this type of forum) lived in this house for 21 years beginning in 1975. They were responsible for what I consider to be all the important renovations and changes in this house — kitchen updates, Bradbury wallpaper, room configuration — the reason we fell in love with this place. Mrs. R., who called, is delightful and we spoke on the phone for a long time talking about the house. You may have see me mention Amy’s room here as the aka for the Woodland Room. Well, Amy is the daughter of Mrs. R.

We decided to meet on Memorial Day. The entire R. family would be in town and they were all interested in seeing the house again. We were excited to have an opportunity to meet them too. Plus, who would turn down an opportunity to learn more about the house you live in?

And so, in the interest of time and space rather than trying to promote a sense of drama, I’ll be continuing this particular adventure and the resulting additional knowledge we now have about our home in subsequent posts.

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