Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Historical Finds

DH and I have spent several days removing crumbling old plaster from the walls of the stairwell of the sheriff's residence. The house is a big mess, of course, but we made a few finds that have helped us learn more about this old building.
A closet had been added to the stairwell, just left of the front door, at some point late in the last century. The closet had a ceiling that was several feet lower than the stairwell ceiling, which is pretty high. When removing the closet, DH found an old Crane ammo box between the two ceilings. It was a time capsule, put there in May 1968 by a fellow from Mitchell named Ron Trueblood. My guess is that Mr. Trueblood is the person who built the closet and added the ubiquitous dark woody paneling to most of the rest of the house. I'm not going to say much about the time capsule just now, since the Times-Mail newspaper is in the process of writing a story, but it was very interesting to travel back to a time that I remember only vaguely from my childhood, when all the important businesses were around the Bedford square. I immediately called my friend and fellow history enthusiast Mary Margaret Stipp, who came over to go through the contents with me. What do you know--on the front page of one of the newspapers in the box was an article by Mary Margaret about the first Lawrence County jail, which was built in Palestine in 1818, before the county seat moved to Bedford.
Removing the plaster walls also revealed some evidence to support my theory that the red brick 1850's jail was at least partly incorporated into our limestone building. I had read that the "new" (i.e., 1904) building was built on the foundations of the old, but there are a number of walls on the first and second floors, and in the attic, that frankly wouldn't have been there had any normal architect designed the building from scratch. A photo and a sketch of the 1850's building in the Lawrence County History Museum confirmed this theory at least partially, and most people agree with me that our kitchen at least is older than the rest of the house.
DH's first find was a square hole, four bricks in size, in the brick wall over the attic stair landing. It seems pretty obvious to me that this hole held a beam of some kind, maybe a roof support given the two-story height of the first jail. What that would mean is that the entire north wall of the 1850's jail was built into the 1904 building.
The second find was even more exciting; a window in the wall between the kitchen and the stairwell, proving that the wall predates the house. The window is at an odd height--too high up for the first floor and too low for the second. I can't say why it is so exciting to find evidence of a 150-year-old window that has been hidden for over 100 yers, but it is, and I'm thinking hard about ways to finish the stairwell without hiding it again.
All the breaking and hauling of plaster (and cleaning of the resulting dust) has left me with little time to work on any of my other projects, unfortunately.

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