In Our Wildest Dreams

We mentioned in our last post that we had been lucky enough to meet one of Edge Hill’s former residents – talk about an unbelievable opportunity!  A few posts ago, our blog received comments from Cindy and Johnny, whose mother, Mary, had grown up at Edge Hill.  Fate certainly wanted us to meet Mary.  It turns out that Mary now lives a few hours east of Quicksburg, and she had not been to the property in a number of years.  When the Powerball Lotto hit $587 million, Mary’s kids sweetly offered to buy back the old farm in the event that their ticket was the big winner.  Not long after, Mary awoke in the night having dreamt of her beloved Edge Hill.  Mary immediately marched to her laptop (which had only been used a handful of times), logged onto the internet (which also had only been used a handful of times), and Googled “Edge Hill Quicksburg.”  Low and behold, our blog popped up as a search result.  Despite the late hour, Mary immediately contacted her children.  When Chad and I received their comments, we could hardly believe our eyes.  We had often thought that one day we would try to track down the descendants of the home’s prior owners, but we had even speculated that our letters would likely go unreturned.  So, to have the opportunity to speak with someone who had not only lived in the house but also whose memory is impeccable is, well, beyond our wildest dreams.

We were able to organize a meeting with Mary and her family within a few weeks of receiving their comments; Mary graciously invited us to her home and we had the pleasure of meeting her children, their spouses, and her grandchildren.  Edge Hill has a special place in their memories and their family history, and Chad and I were thrilled to hear hours of amazing stories about the house.  Along with the wonderful memories, Mary was kind enough to show us dozens of photos, some of which we captured with our iPhones.  A huge thanks to Mary for sharing the images, and apologies for shaky hands and poor cropping!

Mary’s father, Holmes Fowle, was born at Edge Hill in the early 1900s.  His mother was a Moore (we’ve mentioned Samuel Moore as an owner in a prior post), so Edge Hill was truly the family’s homeplace.  This is a portrait of Samuel Moore that Mary’s family still has – what a handsome devil!

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And his wife, Amanda, whose portrait has spooked little kids for generations (although apparently she was a very kind woman):

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 Here is Little Holmes (we heard he was not too fond of this picture because of the “dress”):

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And here is the grown and dashing Holmes, in front of the five-stall horse barn that used to be on the property:

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And here is Edge Hill under the Fowles’ care:

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The little boxwood in the lower lefthand corner, along with its counterpart, is now approximately 12 feet tall!

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The old photo of the house also has two other things of note when compared to the more recent photo, above.

First, the old shot shows the beautiful shutters that adorned the house; although they are not on the house now, they were all diligently removed and stored to await a little TLC to the hardware.  Chad and I just took inventory this weekend and are hoping to restore them to their original glory.

Second, you can see that the current addition (in the immediately preceding picture, the addition stretches off the right side of the house) was predated by an open-air colonnade that connected the main house to to free-standing summer kitchen.  The 1970s addition sits on the same footprint and currently houses the trucking company’s office.

Here are a few other photos and items that Mary graciously shared with us.  It is is so fun to get a feel for what the house has been like through the years!

A beautiful silver service

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A vanity that was originally in the bedroom we will make the master; Mary said her father purchased the bedroom suite from a hotel in Washington, D.C.

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The beautiful runner we knew had once adorned the grand staircase (predating the one we pulled out early last summer).  Mary said her mother, Bootsie (seen here, and apologies if her name is misspelled!), took particular care to make sure the brass guards were polished regularly.

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Here is Bootsie next to the smokehouse; the ash house is the other brick structure over Bootsie’s shoulder.  We think the door to the ash house is what we were looking for when we dug through the pile of dirt behind the smoke house to salvage brick.

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Here are Bootsie and Little Mary on the steps of the “little house,” or what we’ve nicknamed the slave quarters.

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Finally a few oldies-but-goodies:

First, an image of the back entrance of Edge Hill in the Downton Abbey era.  Look at those amazing outfits!  This is now where we pull our cars up.

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This is a shot of one of Holmes’ pheasant hunts on the property.  Mary said he eventually stopped inviting his friends from D.C. to hunt at Edge Hill because they were careless about overhunting!

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We are looking forward to seeing Mary and her family again soon – hopefully, when the weather is warmer, they will be able to come for a visit to see the work-in-progress and give us the historic tour of Edge Hill.  We are so thrilled to share this experience with them and look forward to a long friendship!

Smokehouse Phoenix

Hey everyone! Can you believe it is February? It seems like the holidays flew by, and in the midst of merry-making and cold weather, DIY progress slowed a bit around Edge Hill. Professionals, however, come for paychecks and brave the cold. There have been a lot of jobs around the farm that we have tackled willingly, but Rachel and I draw a hard-and-fast line at masonry; that is a job for the true professionals.

When Rachel and I were looking at houses in Richmond three years ago, we were sold on our little two-bedroom in Stratford Hills for a great number of reasons, one of the best being low maintenance!

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We’re going to miss this place! The Richmond home is solid brick construction, and we knew that meant no painting, reduced insect issues, etc. Edge Hill has taught us, however, that even brickwork needs lovin’ too. And when it does need work, it translates to some major TLC. You might remember that our brick smoke house was in dire straights when we arrived on the scene:

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(this is the view along the top of the back wall; look at how the vegetation turned the timbers into a nice foothold…and eventually dirt!)

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You’ll also remember that, at the end of the summer, we got some help tearing down the roof, removing the rotten rafters, and clearing out the junk that was inside the smoke house.

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Even though we had cleared the place out, the smokehouse was still listing at an uncomfortable angle…think colonial America’s version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Time to call in the professionals: Chuck and his team of brick masons prevented the structure from falling down before our eyes.

The masons went through a “repointing” process – they removed the old mortar and replaced it (this 2.5 minute video is very similar to the process Chuck used). They also used the pallets of brick we salvaged from the brick mound early in the summer . The masons worked on our property primarily on the weekends, which meant we got to observe the process!

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(this is actually the summer kitchen, but you get the idea)

Our first and main concern was the corner of the smokehouse, which was mysteriously missing a sizable chunk right at car-bumper height, and the accompanying decayed wall had been haphazardly repaired with cement slathered into the brick voids.

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Our masons agreed this was the first priority. The guys got right on it:

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We are using Type S mortar and sand so the color is very close to the original mortar color. The guys started by routing out the joints:

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And then proceeded to rebuild!

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While there is some discoloration, fear not! There is a lot of moisture in the bricks and mortar that will evaporate over time, and once the weather is warm again each wall will be gently washed down to remove any excess brick/mortar dust. Last, repairing the east face of the structure was was a job that required a LOT of brick…which we did not have. Our hand-made, original bricks are conveniently size extra-large, meaning that matching brick must be custom-made for approximately $5.00 a brick. We (or should I say, our wallets) were in desperate need of a creative solution.

The masons said they could fix the wall’s structural integrity by using cinder blocks as an internal layer, and, because our walls are SO THICK, they could then face the exterior with “facing brick” made from our small reserve of original brick. This meant they would cut each of our old bricks into three slices, and preserve the historic look without having to patch in bricks that aren’t a perfect match!

View of the cinder blocks in place:

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View of the exterior!

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Once the brick was all repaired and stable, time to call in Colon and frame up the roof:

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We designed the roof trusses exactly like the old rotten ones we took down, adding back the wooden pegs for an authentic timber-framed aesthetic. In the shot below, you can see the pegs as well as the ONE old beam that has survived 180 years!!

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And last, but certainly not least, the roofers came and did their job. Their work was done in a New York Minute, so we only got one picture of their progress:

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And, voila (this image was made only slightly more dramatic by Instagram photo filters)!

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Compare:

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And again, here it is today:

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The Smokehouse: Risen from the ashes!

And speaking of ashes, the smokehouse transformation doesn’t stop there. I decided that it would be best to go ahead and pour a concrete floor in the smokehouse, as we anticipate using it as a workspace and garden shed. I didn’t just want to pour concrete on top of the current grade, so I made the decision that the floor would need to be excavated substantially to accommodate the appropriate depth of concrete while also preserving the head clearance under the meat smoking beams. Get out your digging shovel: this was a do-it-yerself job.

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While digging, I found the original soot line under layers of dirt. This is where the floor height would have back when meats were still being smoked! Here’s another shot, showing the layers of debris.

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We dug down about a foot and a half. Trust me, this process felt like it was going to take all winter. But then the in-laws showed up for Smoke House Round Two! Thanks to Steve and Gina, we had four backs hard at work and we were able to move the dirt efficiently. During the process, we uncovered this cement block, that had been entirely buried pre-dig. We think it may have been the rest for an engine crane at one point when the smoke house was converted to a garage.

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You can see the white line on the wall where the floor was when we started (the white sediment is salt that leeched into the brick during the smoking process). In our excavation we also found some ham bones, a horse shoe, and a bunch of old pottery shards. Our single most exciting find was:

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The hood ornament to an old Packard automobile, quite the luxury car in the early 1900s! This is more proof of the smokehouses’ transforming uses. Usually the Packard winged goddess of flight holds a tire, so we aren’t sure if this piece is after-market, but we do have some confirmation that at least one Packard made the smokehouse garage its home in the 1930s.

In an amazing turn of events, our next blog post will return to the history of the farm, as we have been delighted to make primary contact with one of the home’s former residents!! We’ll leave you with this teaser of things to come: a shot, backdropped by the smokehouse, taken in the early 1900s:

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You can even see how the door boards were originally aligned. HISTORY!

Last, but certainly not least, we want to thank papa Bill for making the smoke house restoration a reality!