…and it is NOT an 18 inch waist!
Part 1: The Land
In the movie, Gone With The Wind, Gerald O’Hara said to Scarlett, ” It will come to you, this love of the land. There’s no gettin’ away from it if you’re Irish. ” Followed up a little later with, ” Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O’Hara, that Tara, that land doesn’t mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.” This is story of the land, three sisters, a new husband, and a farmstead in the family for 142 years, this year. It is the story of saving a farm house from ruins, a house where my parents raised a dozen kids, a house that saw laughter, tears, and a lot of wine!
It starts in 1860, when a quarter-section of land, was given by the United States government to a widow of the War of 1812, Elizabeth North, by a land grant signed by President James Buchanan. In the same year, 1860, our fictional, Scarlett O’Hara, would have been dressed in hoop skirts and seducing the Tarleton twins. This was only six years before a 20 year old from Norway, made his way to Iowa by way of Wisconsin, with a stay in Boone County, Iowa, where he married his bride, Betsy Olson. In 1873, Gunder and Betsy, purchased 80 acres from that quarter-section at $10 an acre. And like the Wilder’s from “Little House On the Prairie”, they settled there in a sod dugout in the hill. It was nearly 10 years later when Gunder built a one room log cabin which is still part of my home today. Fast forward to 2004, my two younger sisters and I decide to buy the farm together in order to save it from ruin. Our older brothers weren’t really interested, so with me, the major investor and planning to live there we plowed head first in the adventure.
Most of you probably remember the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun”, beautiful woman, buys old Italian house with romantic dreams of dinners with her family and friends — but, reality sets in and she finds a myriad of creepy-crawly things in all of the corners. Yup, it was pretty much like that, only bigger…skunks, raccoons, and possum.
Shortly after moving in, I returning late at night from taking a group of students to New York City, I walked into the house to what looked like my cats had a party while I was gone. I had left the house reasonably clean, my kids were at college and I was a young widow at the time. Who was going to mess it up? Rory was! Rory, the raccoon that was living in the ceiling, had fallen through and was somewhere in the house. (I was working on evicting him — but apparently he didn’t get the notice).
It was after midnight, I was tired, the house still had boxes everywhere to unpack, and I just couldn’t deal. So I went to the laundry room to drop off my bag and head to bed. Suspiciously, I heard a thump, thump, thump behind the dryer…when I peaked. THERE WAS RORY!
Very quietly, I pulled the barn door to the laundry room closed, locked it — and then went to bed. Tomorrow is another day! In the morning I called my brother, Jim, who came over and trapped Rory. We are a catch and release family — at least for racoon, so Rory was dropped off near a wildlife area.
Fast forward again to the summer of 2011. I had met, my handsome, soon to be husband a few years earlier and we were planning to marry that fall. I had done some “cosmetic” and small fixes to the farm, mostly inside. And there were still lots of major things that needed to be done before Eric would move out to the farm with me, who he lovingly called “Skunk Girl”.
This is going to be a series of blogs documented this “historic” renovation. Not being millionaires or wanting to go into great debt, we worked very hard to accomplish a lot with reasonable cost. The pictures below are some before pictures and actually demo pictures as we got started. The middle room in the house is still the original log cabin built in 1883, ten years after my ancestors settled here. And because my parents kept having kids, twelve to be exact, my father kept adding on to the house. In the 50’s, he had a one room house moved and attached at the back of the cabin. That is the section you see in flames above. A bathroom was added about that time, and in 1957 when I was three, they added a new kitchen, living room and basement to accommodate all twelve kids.
In our renovation we pulled off the back part of the house and built two new bedrooms and a bathroom, all new windows, doors, new siding, new ceiling in the living room and kitchen, remodeled the kitchen, and all new flooring, among other things….this is the story of our big adventure….
And yes, we did mange to live through it and get happily married in that September.
To be continued….