It's too cold to do much of anything rehab-related on the outside of the house, I don't have any projects currently planned for the house's interior, and I just started a new job - always a little chaotic - so there isn't much to talk about as far as the house goes.
But the other night I went down a wild internet rabbit hole and got kind of fixated on old pics of local houses, which turned into wanting to really investigate what remains of the neighborhood's building stock dating back to 1883.
As such...here we are.
I live in a neighborhood called Compton Heights, which is more or less defined by Grand Avenue, Lafayette Avenue (in 1883; now I-44 is the border), Nebraska Avenue, and Shenandoah Avenue. In 1876, per the Compton & Dry Topographical Survey, this area was home to the water reservoir and a few large houses but was still relatively undeveloped.
By 1883 the area had been somewhat platted, although the platting changed to accommodate the curvilinear section of the neighborhood, which was way ahead of its time. I-44, completed in the early 1970s, eliminated several neighborhood blocks.
During the early days of St. Louis' rapid population expansion the area was highly desirable due to its proximity to the city's central business district while still being a safe distance from downtown's industrial activity, and the vast majority of the neighborhood was developed between 1890 and 1910.
But what remains from 1883? And what existed back then that no longer exists now? That's what I want to take a look at. Using the 1883 map - the 1876 map is a lot cooler to look at but because the area was still so undeveloped it takes forever for me to figure out house addresses - I'll go block by block and see what I can come up with.
Starting in the upper left corner of the 1883 map, there were 3 structures shown in blocks 1367 and 1368.
All 3 structures appear on the 1876 map, and look like a small commercial building and 2 small homes.
The 2 houses were gone by 1903, and weren't notable enough for their to be any easily accessible record of their history. The structure on the corner, however, was significantly added onto in 1895 by the Griesedieck brewing family and still stands today. Amongst local history aficionados the structure, seemingly an eating/drinking establishment since it's initial construction, is primarily known as the home of "Pelican's Grill", a restaurant operated by James Pelican (born Demetrius Spiros Pelekanos) from 1938 - 1956, and until 1975 under different ownership.
The building was listed as a city landmark in 1976, although it fell on hard times for several decades afterwards, including a fire intentionally set on the first floor in 1985 by the building's financially distressed owner, who then committed suicide in the building's basement.
Several years ago the building was rehabbed and now has new life as a Domino's Pizza on the 1st floor, with a large apartment building fronting Grand just to the north. A coffee shop is planned for the empty storefront space between Domino's and the apartments, but given the Starbucks 2 blocks to the south, it'll be interesting to see if that development pans out.
So...the building at the corner of Grand and Shenandoah definitely predates, albeit with major alterations, my house's construction in 1878. I doubt more than a handful of existing neighborhood buildings can say the same thing, but this is 1 that can.
Another piece of grandpa's collection I now get to call my own, a vintage Stanley No. 00 level.
Based on the trademark detail stamped in the brass plate on the top of the level, I think it was made between 1886 and 1890 by, obviously, the Stanley Rule & Level Co.
The Stanley Rule & Level Co. was founded in 1857 in New Britain, Connecticut, by Henry Stanley. The company made all sorts of carpentry tools and by 1890 the Stanley Rule & Level Co.'s plant was a fairly sizable operation:
In 1920, the company merged with the founder's cousin's company, Stanley Works, and is still around today as Stanley Black & Decker. Unfortunately, the Stanley Rule & Level Co. plant was demo'd in the 1960s or 1970s like so many other large, urban brick structures. We'll save a conversation on the reason(s) why for another day. 😉
Anyhow, if my date guesses are correct, this exact level originally cost somebody under $2 to purchase.
Pretty cool find. It's obsolete, on the one hand, given its wooden body. On the other hand, I'm willing to bet that the bubble gauges are both still dead on, and I can't tell you how many modern, metal levels I have where 1 bubble says 1 thing and another bubble 18 inches away says something slightly different.
This was a well-built tool and cared for by the people that owned it. I'll clean 'er up a little bit and then find a nice spot to put 'er on display.
My dad recently dropped off some more finds from the clean out effort at grandpa's house, including this, a relatively old skew rabbet plane:
What's a skew rabbet plane? Let's split up the term to make this real simple.
A plane is a wood-shaving tool. Long, wide planes are used for flattening lumber. Short, slender planes are used for edge or profile work. And, there's a whole world of planes in between that are, essentially, general purpose. Nowadays most plane bodies are made of metal but way back when they were made, exclusively, of wood.
A rabbet is a woodworking term used to describe a channel or recess cut along the edge of a piece of material. These are commonly confused with dados, which are the same thing but in a different location in the material.
Skew means some angle that isn't parallel or perpendicular to a reference line. In this case it's referencing the angle of the cutting edge of the plane iron, which sits a little cockeyed relative to the plane body and allows for cleaner, more controllable work than if the plane iron were square to the body.
So...a skew rabbet plane is a woodworking tool that's used to cut a little channel along the edge of a piece of wood, and 100+ years ago would have been prevalent in the construction of picture frames and casework, stuff where precision and detail were critical.
To the casual observer this may appear to be a homemade tool, like something somebody crafted in their basement or garage. But it's not; it was made sometime between 1869 and 1929 by the Sandusky Tool Company in Sandusky, OH. It's legit.
Aside from the Sandusky Tool Co. name, the plane is also stamped with the number "146", clearly identifying it - per an 1891 product catalog - as a skew rabbet plane. My (grandpa's) plane happens to be the 1-1/2" variety.
What do we know about the Sandusky Tool Company? They were located on Lake Erie at the very northern tip of Sandusky, OH, operated until 1929, and produced a variety of hand tools serving the carpentry and agriculture industries.
Per an 1888 book detailing Sandusky's industrial giants, the tool company employed several hundred people and brought in hundreds of train car loads of wood each year for use in the construction of various tools and tool handles. The plant covered 5 acres and by 1905, apparently, was producing 75% of all the wood body plane irons sold in America.
Unfortunately for Sandusky Tool Co., several things worked against them in the early part of the 20th century: the agricultural hand tool market was drying up as mechanization took over, the company failed to transition to more metal-bodied planes like their competitor, and recovering from the devastation of a 1924 tornado proved to be an insurmountable task.
The tool company was purchased by a competitor in 1926, and the "Sandusky Tool Co." name disappeared around 1929.
But...if one digs through enough dusty boxes of stuff in their grandpa's basement...it's very possible to find a tool keeping the company's name alive.
Last year I jumped into the middle of the #52weeksofhome photo challenge, created by @amyleigh_1902victorian, although I didn't do a very good job of sticking with it. This year, I'm going to give it a better effort.
2023's week 1 theme is "welcome & entryway". So...here's my house's primary entrance:
What if I told you that this little porch - which desperately needs a pretty healthy do-over - is NOT original to the house?
'Cause it's not.
Here's how I know:
1 - The 1903 Sanborn Fire Insurance map clearly indicates covered porches at the rear and side of the building as well as 2 detached structures, but no front porch. These maps got an astounding amount of detail correct, which makes me trust them when it comes to historical research. As of 1903, this house did NOT have any sort of front porch.
2 - For those of you local to St. Louis, you may not have paid attention to it but these old houses with recessed entryways, 99 times out of 100 they did NOT originally have covered porches. Drive around and look; front doors in line with the front facade got covered porches, front doors recessed from the front facade - like my setup - did not.
3 - If you stand out in the street and west of the house, the old arched brick entryway is still (barely) visible just above the porch roof. That arch was the original setup. There would have been a set of stairs - maybe wood, maybe stone - up to that arched opening, then a tile floor, maybe some paneling on the side walls, a few feet of cover, and the recessed front door.
Sometime in the 1910s or 1920s, somebody really put some money into the house. By 1910 the house was already 30+ years old and if the house still needed to be updated with electricity and indoor plumbing, somebody - I think it was the dentist that lived here - probably figured they may as well do it up.
That's when the brick auto house (garage, in modern terms) was built, replacing the original wood structure.
And the cast iron fence was added.
And the basement received a granitoid finish on everything.
And this porch, I think it was probably added then as well.
That's the porch's history, or at least what I think is the porch's history. When I get around to redoing the parts that need redoing, maybe I'll learn more. Until then, here's what the porch consists of:
The current floor is this nasty slate tile, installed in the 1980s. However, I've found chunks of old floor tile buried in a couple different spots in the yard. I can't prove that the old blue and white tile came from the porch but it 100% could have, and would certainly be period-correct for the 1910s or 1920s. Some day that slate will be replaced with something like what would have been there originally.
Then there's the side panels, which are sort of intriguing. Originally, like even before the porch, the little wall spaces between the front door and the front facade would have most likely been covered with some type of wood paneling. For example, the back door still has its original millwork on the exterior side of the door jamb. The front porch side panels would have looked something like that.
I suspect that when the porch was added, or maybe even later, whatever was there originally was covered up. Currently, there's some sort of almost drywall-like sheet material on the sides of the recessed opening. The paint is cracking and the sheet material has some give to it, like it was either mounted on furring strips or existing paneling. As much as I want to hold off on the front porch for a couple years...curiosity may get the best of me and I may poke some holes in the side panels to see what, if anything, may be hiding underneath. I would be super, super excited to find the original paneling...but I'm not getting my hopes up.
Up top, there's the capitals, millwork, and ceiling. I don't really like the capitals - they're Corinthian, sort of a Greek Revival architectural style - because they don't mesh with ANYTHING on the house architecturally, but they were pretty common for one reason or another 100+ years ago and they are what they are.
The millwork is relatively ornate but out of whack symmetrically, either because the design was a little off or the construction dudes weren't all that good. Like, the porch roof midpoint doesn't line up with the wall opening midpoint, and that doesn't line up with the floor midpoint. But again, it is what it is. The structure is in place, no changing it now.
That said, something really has to be done about the lighting situation, and the space between the transom and front facade in general. Right now it's a cobwebby dead space and none of the trim or surface coverings make any sense, which makes me think this was the space that became hard to deal with design-wise once the porch was added, and everybody involved kinda threw up their hands and just ignored it.
I will ignore it too, for now. But not forever.
And lastly, there's the door and transom. They're correct for 1878 construction based on architecture, construction means, methods, and materials, and wear and tear but it's hard to 100% verify that both are original.
The exterior side is pretty gaudy with the ugly brown aluminum storm door and transom cover, and on the interior the only thing I've done since I moved in was raise the center drape a little so the dogs - both strongly qualify as the "guard dog" variety - could see through the glass. Otherwise, I haven't touched ANY of it, all of it was like that when I bought the place, 3 sets of house numbers, 2 doorbells, 2 deadbolts, and everything.
I really like operable transoms. The one over the back door is hinged on the side, but the front door transom is hinged at the top and I wonder how it would have been kept open back when transoms were critical for airflow through a house.
Anyhow...that's the front porch and primary house entrance. Someday I'll get around the makin' it all shine like it did 100 years ago...
OK, it's not new.
New to me, but not new. It's actually relatively old.
I haven't worked on the house much lately. I really wanted to get the porch complete but I ran out of good weather to slap a final coat of paint on everything. I had a very, very small window of opportunity to at least get the lattice up and painted, but work demands closed that window before I got around to painting it and now it looks like it'll be too cold to paint for the next few months so...it is what it is. If I do happen to get a random day where the temps rise above 50°F, I'll get it done.
Due to historic district guidelines, I have to skirt the underside of the porch with lattice in a horizontal and vertical pattern, which is fine. I opted for plastic lattice because I know from experience how much of a nightmare wood lattice is once it starts to fall apart. Unfortunately, I let the rolled up lattice sit for months in the boxes you see under the porch and when it was finally time to cut it the stuff didn't really want to unroll. Long story short, I did manage to get the frame built and all 4 pieces of lattice cut to fit; now it's all disassembled and staying dry in the basement. And, I've got the lattice laying flat and sandwiched between sheets of plywood to flatten it out. The next time the weather cooperates - which won't be any time soon - I'll fire up the sprayer, paint the lattice and wood frame the same color as the posts, and get it all installed.
More recently, I got all the Christmas stuff up which is always a bit of an adventure. This year I opted for stringing lighted garland along the cast iron fence and setting up a giant tree inside the house. The pic doesn't do it justice, but the tree I bought - and drug into the house, which is a young man's game - was 12' tall. Trees that big and heavy just aren't a lot of fun to wrestle with but because the house has 11' ceilings I refuse to buy a smaller tree. Sometimes my stubbornness lies in direct conflict with rationality.
Back to the plane.
My only living grandparent recently moved into an assisted living facility and the family is in the process of cleaning out his house so it can be sold. Some day I may dedicate a blog post or two to grandpa but for now, as it pertains to the plane, grandpa was always a bit of a "collector" and in recent years the collecting had started to border on hoarding.
Any items the family members don't claim will get donated, or thrown out, or sold at an estate sale. My dad has the main floor of the house pretty well sorted, packaged up, and cleaned, but my interests are down in the basement which is still a total catastrophe.
The basement was where grandpa had his office, and his little workshop, and his bathroom. Aside from the laundry area, the basement was sort of his territory. At one time, many, many years ago, I knew where grandpa kept all his cool stuff in the basement but now it's all buried under mountains of paper and random junk.
Grandpa was always a bit of an artist and maker, the kinda guy that could sorta make anything out of anything, and without the aid of any big fancy tools. I'm sure that a childhood spent in an orphanage and not having a whole lot is where that resourcefulness and skillset began to develop.
I didn't really go through much in the basement because without a dumpster on site it just doesn't make any sense to create more of a mess than the space already is. But I kinda rummaged through what remains of grandpa's workshop area and found the plane. At first I was happy to find it just because it was grandpa's; I didn't care how old or what brand it was. And even if I did care, I'm not enough of a bench plane aficionado to know what's what when it comes to what's desirable and what isn't.
Once I had the plane in my hands, I instantly saw that it was a Stanley. I know enough to know that certain eras of old Stanley planes are sought after items, so that was kinda cool. There were a lot of other markings on the plane that caught my eye, even though I didn't know what they meant.
So I went home with the plane and did some homework.
As it turns out, I believe the plane is a Stanley 603c bedrock series "sweetheart" era smoothing plane and was made in either 1929 or 1930. I don't know that there's any way to discern which year exactly, but when I tell the story I'll go with 1930 -- that was the year grandpa was born.
It's a pretty cool find. The bedrock series of Stanley planes were apparently more robust and easier to dial in that the regular Stanley planes, and the "c" in 603c indicates that it has a corrugated bottom, which may or may not make for more effective planing than a completely smooth-bottomed plane. Either way, I think the corrugation adds to its uniqueness.
It's not perfect. The lever cap is broken, but I think I can find a period-correct replacement without a whole lot of trouble. And the rosewood handle is cracked, but that can be fixed and really, all the crack means is that the tool got used (or dropped) quite a bit. I'm OK with that. Any "builder" with tools that are all shiny and new is very, very suspect in my book.
The old tools that I've accumulated over the years, in old car terms, are NOT trailer queens. They get used. The hand saw that once belonged to a great-grandpa, it gets used. My other grandpa, his hand tools that are now in my possession, they get used. This plane, it'll get used as well, once it's back in good working condition.
The best part about having these old tools isn't that they may have some sort of monetary value or that they work a particular way, it's that they will forever serve as a reminder of the people that used them previously and provide a physical connection to them that I'm not eloquent enough to accurately put into words. But it's a super rad little plane, and every time I use it I'll think of grandpa.