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Yankee Humor | Welcome to Your Really Old House

Yankee Humor | Welcome to Your Really Old House
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Old New England Houses
Photo/Art by Mark Brewer

Congratulations! As the proud new owner of a vintage New England home, you can look forward to many years of satisfaction, enjoyment, and repairs.

Steep Thrills
Note the daring slope of the roof, which has approximately the same pitch as Tuckerman Ravine and will get you to the bottom just as fast in case of emergency. A built-in snow-removal system uses heat from the house to melt the white stuff and transform it into those charming full-length icicles featured on New England calendars. (See Appendix B: “Ice Dams.”)

Boxed In
The attic of your old house comes pre-filled with ancient furniture, clothes, and trunks. Don’t worry, none of it’s valuable–your junk will fit right in! The attic is climate-controlled to be an oven in summer and a freezer in winter, just as nature intended.

Rooms with a Flue
Your brick chimney was designed to let small animals come and go at their leisure, providing you with many happy evenings playing “What’s That Noise?”

Breezy Does It
You’ll enjoy fresh air year-round, thanks to patented Flo-Thru technology, consisting of hundreds of tiny air leaks strategically placed around windows, doors, and other openings. Many of these gaps are large enough to let insects pass through, bringing the wonder of nature right into your home.

Hidden Turn-Ons
Light switches in new houses are generally placed just inside entry doors–boring! You’ll find your light switches outside the door, down the hall, and possibly in your neighbor’s broom closet.

Privy Counsel
You’ll enjoy the luxury of 1-1/4 baths (the downstairs toilet was originally an ironing-board closet). The main bath features a clawfoot tub that your friends will ooh and aah over but will not take off your hands, as it weighs only slightly less than the Hoover Dam. There’s no shower, but you can easily add one using a variety of contraptions, most of which will also add a refreshing moistness to the walls and floors.

Wall or Nothing
The walls of your home have been filled with old newspapers that provide an insulating R-value of 0.0002, largely owing to the use of words like “coruscate” and “perspicuous” in the text. The surface is genuine horsehair plaster, noted for its attractiveness, durability, and tendency to crumble to pieces if you try to hammer a picture hanger into it.

Floor Better or Worse
Luxuriate in the warmth and beauty of genuine hardwood floors. They’re guaranteed to be maintenance-free, as long as you don’t care what they look like. They also act as built-in hygrometers, alerting you to excess humidity by popping up high enough to stub a toe on.

Cellar Beware
Your New England cellar is a haven of dampness, coolness, and mold spores the size of rutabagas. Unlike modern basements with their tediously straight angles and smooth walls, your cellar incorporates features of its natural surroundings, such as boulders, ledges, and major root systems. In places, the cellar is actually large enough to let you stand up straight, though generally not where you need to access wires or pipes for repairs. Here, you’ll find handy crawl spaces, home to a variety of interesting creatures, including spiders resembling mohair work gloves. After a long winter, the sound of running water will alert you to the arrival of spring as it passes through your cellar.

The Heat Goes On … and On … and On
Your old house comes equipped with an original furnace the size of a Winnebago. This classic heap o’ technology fires up with a house-rattling roar just a few decibels shy of a space-shuttle launch, giving you the calm assurance that it’s working day and night. Heat is delivered through a single vent to the living room, where it’s free to roam the rest of the house, though it rarely feels called upon to do so. In later models, heat may be provided via iron radiators, which can also be used as anchors by any Class 2 cargo ship.

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10 Responses to Yankee Humor | Welcome to Your Really Old House

  1. Peggy Hobbs April 27, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    Our house was built by my grandfather during the Great Depression, @ 1934. My mom grew up here and recalled a dirt road and bobcat roaming through the yard. I also grew up here, and the dirt road became a major roadway. By the time my mother passed away in 1991, the house was badly neglected, so my husband and I bought it and started an extensive renovation project. The house was completely gutted and gave the appearance of a dollhouse, as exterior and interior walls were removed. Many surprises were found, like newspaper for insulation, antiquated wiring and plumbing, etc., but the biggest surprise was when we removed the walls behind the bathtub. There, we found a huge honeybee hive! It took up the entire corner and parts of two walls, and we were amazed that we never heard the buzzing, which now was very audible. Our beekeeper neighbor came to the rescue with the proper gear to remove them, and we enjoyed eating the honey from the honeycomb. Although the house is nothing fancy, it was built with love, and we have raised two children here – the fourth generation to live here – and have created many memories in this New England family home.

  2. Bonny Hartigan April 27, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    I’m still laughing, kind of, since I thought you read my mind! I have several stories i suppose – but the first that came to mind is this:
    My second husband (first had already had enough of the house – or me – not sure which) and I had just settled down for bed in our “bedroom”, really just a front first floor room since I still hadn’t made enough progress on the house to have an upstairs room. By the way – house built in 1774. We had the light on, which attracted the attention of some chimney swifts, who I guess thought it was time to “go to the light”. We shut off the lights and heard a commotion in the chimney – which at first we assumed were mice, big shocker. At that moment the swifts worked their way down into the room and proceeded to fly around the room. Brave souls that we are – we pulled the covers over our heads -sure they were bats. My hero, now my second ex, was no braver than I, and it was my 9 year old daughter who came to the rescue and got the birds out of the house.
    My then husband and I had been so excited to uncover the original fireplace complete with wooden lintel, but of course, this opened our house to the sky. Another bad move.
    I am now sleeping upstairs in a nicely restored bedroom, screen over the top of the chimney, plastic over the fireplace in that room, daughter a zookeeper, and as stated before – the house claiming another husband – I get the hint….

  3. Suzanne April 27, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    We purchased our New England colonial 30 years ago. A real colonial, as in it was built when this area was still a colony, in 1748. We’ve had many fun surprises…removing a wall to expose a 10ft cooking fireplace complete with beehive oven. Oh yes, it also let everything that was outside come in. Nothing like using bug spray when you come IN to your house! Our walls were stuffed with corncobs, our pumpkin pine floors a source of great amusement when you dropped something. You could never guess which direction it would roll away in. The kids would go down the basement stairs in the spring & sail little boats in the stream that appeared & traveled through. We also had a lovely yellow spotted salamander that lived down there. I could go on, but in the long run we have fixed up some things & replaced others, & we love our little piece of American history.

  4. Jacquie April 28, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    I grew up in a 1759 Connecticut colonial my parents fell in love with despite the overwhelming repairs it needed. Aside from the treasures found in the walls, under the floor boards, and in the gardens- the perils of a restoration project proved to be prime playing grounds for me and my brother. The back half of the second floor was so badly sloped we were able to roll down the wooden floorboards like a well manicured hill. Defunct electrical wiring at the ceiling line served well to hang blankets for makeshift tents. When the second story floors were being replaced, we would tip-toe across the exposed support beams. This fun ended when my brother fell through the dining room ceiling. No worries though- the ceilings in this house were only 6 feet high. Then there was the excitement of our Dad’s showdown with the historical society (lovingly referred to as the hysterical society between the years 1976-1982) which told him the dilapidated and rotting shop attached to our house could not be torn down. Under the light of one summer’s full moon, my Dad assembled a small band of chainsaw wielding neighbors and the shop was “remodeled” before the sun rose. My brother and I were involved (aka free labor) in every detail of the restoration that spanned two decades. My parents still live in the house and when I return home to visit stories and laughter fill those beautifully restored rooms!

  5. Will R. August 5, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    The military call it “mission creep”, but we owners of old houses have a name for similar undertakings: “mushroom projects.”

    The first time I heard this expression was in conjunction with admiring a beautiful finished basement on a friend’s house. He explained that the project started when he went downstairs to get something and found the light bulb was burned out. So he got a flashlight and an new light bulb and began to unscrew the old bulb from the ceiling. The bulb broke off and he had to find a pair of pliers to remove the base — which caused the old ceramic socket to crumble. He went to the local hardware store for a replacement and then discovered that the knob-and-tube wiring did not have a metal junction box to mount the replacement. So he acquired a metal box and started to enlarge the hole in the plaster ceiling to accommodate it. It was then that he noticed that the old plaster was detaching from the wooden lath and, just in time, was able to jump out of the way as a large chunk of ceiling crashed to the basement floor. At that point, it became clear that he would have to pull down the entire ceiling and install new wood strapping to accommodate sheet rock. Well, he figured, as long as he had to hire a sheet rock and plaster company, he might as well install insulation and re-do the interior basement walls. It was a non-brainer to figure that the old flooring should be pulled up to install a vapor barrier and something a little nicer to go with the new walls and ceiling.

    I won’t belabor the rationale behind the beautiful new oak wet bar and the built-in cabinet work for his new big-screen TV. But, all together, it turned out to be a very, very expensive light bulb.

  6. Alyssa August 18, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

    I’m laughing at this picture because a lot of it applies to my grandparent’s Georgian colonial, built in 1909. Especially the bathroom beneath the stairs. Their house has one, and for reasons unknown, it’s pink. Our house also came equipped with a narrow set of servant’s stairs and low-hanging doorjambs; my poor grandfather (who stands well over six feet tall) is constantly hitting his head on door frames when he forgets to duck. And I am constantly teased by my family; our game of “What’s That Noise?” invariably turns out to be bats (several times a month during the summer) and I loathe bats with a passion. I don’t care if they won’t hurt me, I don’t like them!

    And you’d think I would have learned my lesson, but here I sit, typing in my apartment–which is in a converted Victorian, built in 1890.

  7. Kathy September 25, 2014 at 8:06 am #

    How funny to see this! We bought a very old house- they say 1900ish and Wow the things we discovered!! We have virtually no insulation! and it gets wicked cold! It looks like an outhouse off the back but looks like a closet inside… hmmm? We have 3 generations of working electricity.. and have discovered bays in the
    “attic” of the room with the door that goes nowhere… So many things but I love this house and we will make it wonderful, in time! haha

  8. Barb September 25, 2014 at 4:20 pm #

    I don’ really fit with a New England home but we own an 1870 schoolhouse in the Midwest. We have no insulation, just double brick, and yes, the curtains blow in the wind, can you say Polar Vortex? It really tried it’s best to keep us warm this past winter, we were both recovering from surgeries. The warmest place was our bedroom, upstairs with a faux wood burner heater, feather bed, heated mattress pad and down comforter, it was pleasant to say the least. They say we will have a Polar Vortex replay this winter, I’m hoping to add a hot plate up here so I don’t have to go to the north side of the house we lovingly call the kitchen, in good weather, to make our dinners. Kidding aside, we wouldn’t live anywhere else, we love our historic home, wind chill and all!!

  9. josh September 25, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

    ah, memories. our New Englander had everything in the article except the open flue. I is in Maine and is so old the deed has no actual date it was built on it, just 1800’s. the property boundaries describe a “great oak” and some stones, I couldn’t find them on our 1/4 acre lot.
    I noticed some knob and tube wiring in the garage, since it didn’t go to anything, I decided to remove it. as I snipped the wire, the garage light went out…
    The building inspector mentioned we had brass water pipes and they needed to be replaced. Brass corrodes from the inside out, “one day you will get a pin hole leak that will keep getting worse”. A few years later we sawed the clawfoot tub in half and carried it out. The great bathroom remodel was on! I had to change the way the pipes ran in the bathroom floor, so it would be a good time to get that (high priced scrap metal) brass pipe out. The pipes were so brittle just grabbing them and pulling caused the joints to break.
    Attaching new walls to the studs, and even insulating the walls was fun, they don’t sell 19″ wide insulation at Home Centers. Then there were the studs rough cut from local logs, true 2x lumber, full of splinters, and sections where they got the edge of the tree so there is still bark and a rounded edge. Try driving a nail or screw through drywall into that…
    The front door could only be opened during the winter, the rest of the year a team of men with sledge hammers would be needed, as the wooden door swelled up and stuck fast.
    We lived there for 11 years, with most of them being recalled as the year we… put on the new roof, put in the new bathroom, replaced the metal cabinets in the kitchen (the newest room in the house), rewired the whole house, finally hooked the kitchen sink to the septic tank (until then it had a failing drywell), and the best for our wallets, the year we put in the pellet stove.

  10. Susan Cammpbell September 28, 2014 at 7:56 am #

    My house was built in the late 1800’s. It was built on graveyards and farmland. There’s a rectangular box in a built off room w/shelves a a big cabinet. A cross is on the door. one winter evening, I was shovelling the driveway (my husband was up the street getting my car out of a snowpile), I looked up at our floor and saw a lovely lady w/her hair up and mutton chop sleeves, looking down at me. There was no one in the house. My daughters have heard a woman and a little girl talking up and down the stairs. When you take pictures on the third floor there are white lights in them. The cellar also has white noise. It’s all friendly, though.

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