|Our house is the green side|
My house had actually been on the market for almost a year when I bought it, and I think a lot of folks looked at the picture from the outside and decided to pass. First, the house is what’s called a classic Madison double. No, it is not a duplex. Duplexes came along later. But in the 1840s when folks were building in Madison, they often built two houses attached to each other. This isn’t so different from the row houses you see in places like Phildelphia, and there are some blocks of row housing here in Madison. But the double is more common.
My house is a front-gabled double, and that’s not as common in Madison. Most of the doubles are side-gabled. You have now heard the full extent of my knowledge of architectural jargon, but it basically means my house has the little peak in the front, rather than the side. Double houses were built at the same time and usually mirrored each other on the inside, but they were never one house. They were almost always owned separately, and they continue to be sold separately. In today’s age of the single family, detached home, this is kind of mind-blowing. My father is still not convinced that my house was not once one house that someone split in two, but I can assure you, it has always been two houses.
I grew up out in the country, with quite a bit of distance between us and the nearest neighbors. Every time someone moved even vaguely close to our house, my parents would plant a row of fast-growing pine trees between us and them. So the idea of living actually attached to your neighbor is really hard for my parents to handle. But the walls in these old houses are thick. For example, I had been playing the fiddle for a good 3 months before my neighbor realized it, and then only because he heard me as he was sitting on his front porch and I had the front window open.
Old houses, or at least the old houses in Madison, are porous. I think a metaphor my husband used once was that they’re kind of like ships in the sea; they take on some water, but they don’t sink. Or maybe that was my metaphor. At any rate, the bricks in these old houses were made of sand from the river banks, and so they don’t share the same properties as today’s bricks. If you don’t have some good, thick layers of paint on them, they’ll leach water in and you will get the inevitable plaster bubbling. Because, yes, the walls are plaster, and when plaster gets wet, it bubbles. Sometimes this happens even when you have a good, thick coat of paint, and then you have to spend a great deal of money figuring out why. And I learned just the other day that it takes 2 years after you correct whatever it was that was getting your bricks wet in the first place for them to totally dry out. So, owning an old house teaches you to think of time differently.
On the other hand, the beams that hold up our floor are poplar, and they probably came from the hills around town, which in the 1800s, were completely bare of trees. The plaster in the basement is horsehair, which means it has real horsehair in it. The ceilings are high, the stairs are totally not up to any building code from the last century, and there are doors in all kinds of strange places. I do my very best not to try to think about how many people might have died in my house, because after The Sixth Sense, it just creeps me out.
|The rose bush in front of my house|
When you have a historic home in a small town like Madison, every person you bring in to do some work will have tidbits to share with you about the history of your house. A plumber informed me that the mantle in our living room is not original to the house, but was salvaged from a hotel that was torn down in Madison. The plumber can also tell you how old the water heater is, because he installed it.