We have lived in our house for the past ten years and over those ten years, as we have renovated the house, some mysteries come to light. The biggest mystery we have had to endure is the actual date of construction. The title to our house states 1943 as the date of construction. Unfortunately for the title, the methods of construction in the house (hand hewn log beams, single plank construction, horse-hair plaster and square cut nails suggest a much earlier time period for construction.
When we renovated our bathroom, we removed a drum trap from the bathroom floor. Drum traps were created for ease of access for cleaning. Imagine a coffee can that someone has drilled two holes into. The first hole is low on the can and the second hole is high on the can. Now, two pipes are inserted into those holes. The lower hole is the inlet and the higher hole is the outlet. At the top of the can is a screw-top lid to allow access to the can. This is essentially a drum trap.
A drum trap may sound great: ease of access through the screw-top to clean any clogs within the trap. In practice, however, the trap does not work as planned. Imagine what happens when the trap gets clogged and someone needs to clean it. Because the trap is not a single pipe there is no way to snake any clogs out. The only way to remove a clog is to open the trap, thereby allowing any of the water stuck behind a clog out onto your floor.
Drum traps were banned in 1945. Because of this bit of information, I believe that my bathroom was added in 1943 (outhouse prior to 1943).
I decided to research construction methods for the 19th century. The square cut nails gave me a clue as to the age of the house. All of the original nails in the wood lath and plaster as well as the few remaining supporting columns were square cut nails. The round nails we are familiar with today only became prevalent in the 1890’s. I now knew that my house was built prior to 1890, but I still didn’t know exactly when or by who.
For another personal project, I was researching deeds and found that each deed lists not only the prior owner of the property, but usually two owners prior. Using this information, I realized that I could ‘go back in time’ to learn who owned the land my house was on and try to discern when the house was built.
Our county has online access to all deeds back to when lands were originally purchased from the state (mine was originally part of a 400 acre tract purchased by John Irwin in 1794).
Using this database, I was able to find one reference which reads: “…having thereon erected a frame dwelling house and log stable,…”. The only question which remains is this: The Sarah P Biddle/Lois M Gates deed, which includes the reference to the frame dwelling does not state who built the house, just that Elizabeth Booth died and that Sarah P Biddle, Mary E Wilson, Bella J Zimmerman, Lois M Gates and Phoebe A Smith were all owners and ownership was transferring to Lois M Gates (whose husband was also the attorney representing Lois during these negotiations).
A quick read of the deed above may suggest that Sarah P Biddle built the house between 1879 when she acquired the property, and 1907 when she sold the property. However, after some additional research, Elizabeth Booth owned two pieces of land, one part of which was sold to Sarah Biddle. The larger property that Elizabeth bought was purchased from Hiram Hendrixson in August of 1865 for $500. This is the land where my house now sits.
Given the age of my house and Elizabeth’s need for housing, it is my assumption that my house was built between August 1865 and September 1879, when Sarah Biddle acquired the property. During the late 1860s and the 1870s, Elizabeth would have owned approximately seven acres on which to farm or otherwise make a living. Our house is situated about three miles from downtown State College and about two and a half miles to the old town of Scotia (now a ghost town).
If I find anything more, I’ll update the post.