Thursday, March 31, 2005

70 Years Ago Today at Foxcroft

March 31, 1935… From Bess’ Journal:

"Finished 'Hungry Men.' Heard Sox lose, finished fringe on napkins- Mr. & Mrs. Koser, H, and I set out petunias, hollyhocks, + sunflowers + planted glads along RR track. 70 degrees."

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Signs of Progress

We have a good start on the back room and the sewing room. The pictures above show stripping off the ceiling paper and removing old finish from the baseboard. Originally the big room was Bess' bedroom, then it became Helen's. We are planning to use it as a family room and the attached sewing room as a crafts room. In all likelihood it will be the girls' room while we are finishing the upstairs. When the upstairs is finished our goal would be to remove the closet which bumps into the kitchen, thereby gaining space there, as well as allow you to go from the kitchen to the family room without having to walk into the dining room, down the hallway and around the corner.

I will be able to take pictures of the finished paint job tomorrow, so far so good.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

A Lifetime Supply of Cardboard

I just came back from lunch, and got today's topic. "Lunch" this week has consisted of going to Foxcroft, flattening cardboard for 30 minutes, and driving back to dump at the recycling plant next to my office. The picture above was taken Dec. '03 right before we bought the place, and shows a small portion of the west side of the unfinished upstairs which contains every cardboard box to ever come throgh the front door since 1928. The area filled with cardboard is 10 feet wide, 34 feet long, and the head of the knee wall pictured is 5 feet high.

We didn't do anything upstairs until Helen passed away and now still seem to have barely made a dent in the accumulation. I need to empty the cardboard section however, since that is where the new gable will go. A sane person would drive up under the north window and pitch, so that's NOT what I am doing.

I am looking at the boxes as they go, and have found some pretty cool stuff. As an aside, in the picture above the bottom box that says "chocolates" on it contained all the correspondence between Bess and the architect (30+ letters) the original house contract, letters to the realtor (15+ and he ended up building next door) catalogs: house plans, millwork, plumbing, carpets, fireplaces, wallpaper etc. AND the notebook Bess sent to the architect complete with her idea for the floorplan and all built ins, room colors, and more.

Some of the boxes I've hung onto include:
  • Swaner's Dairy butter box, Iowa City
  • Hand's Jeweler's, Iowa City
  • Piper's Candies, Iowa City
  • Russell Stover Campfire Girls candy box
  • Abraham's Chocolates, Moline, IL - the house plans box
  • Softasilk Flour Minneapolis, MN box- This had a label indicating what it held when Bess moved in!
  • Metal Kodak film cans
  • Various greeting card boxes with cool pictures
  • Marshall Field's Christmas box

What I'll do with any of this I have no idea...


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Why the name?

After buying the house last year I discovered that Helen had donated her parents' WWI correspondence, along with her own WWII letters to the special collections department of the UI Library. As I went and started reading I found details Helen had not told me. Bess' husband, Walter Fox, was a 1905 UI Medical School grad. Bess studied for her master's degree in English Literature at UI before they were married. Walter became a small Iowa town doctor after teaching anatomy at UI for 2 years. Helen was born in 1911. At age 39 Walter volunteered for the army at the outbreak of WWI. As a captain and doctor he was sent to France and served in field hospitals. At the conclusion of the war he was sent to Serbia to fight a typhus outbreak, contracted pneumonia, and died in 1920. Bess was widowed at 36, Helen was 7 years old.

I found that Bess, Helen's mother, had built our house when Helen was starting as a freshman at the University of Iowa. Her plan was to move out the small town where she had remained since Walter's death, give up her many civic commitments (school board, lecture series, Daughter's of American Revolution) and retire to her gardening and reading.

Bess bought 2+ lots in the new development just outside Iowa City limits called University Heights. She had enormous vegetable and flower gardens, and according to her letters to Helen when she wasn't reading or gardening she was listening to Chicago Cubs baseball games on the radio.

So given the original family name= Fox, and the old English word for a small farm= Croft I knew exactly that if we had to have a name for our home it would be Foxcroft.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

In the beginning...

... we knew this was the house for us. It was a complicated purchasing situation, there was a life estate involved, meaning we'd own the house but not be able to live in it for an indefinite period of time. However this was the first house that Lisa answered "yes" to when I would put the inevitable question to her: "Is this place triple our mortgage payment better?" I agreed, so we bought it December 31, 2003. Helen, our life tenant, was 92 years old at the time. She was 18 when her widowed mother built the place in 1928. In the ensuing year we gardened in the back and got to know a little of her story, as well as that of her cousin who also lived in the home and was Helen's caretaker. Helen passed away December 5, 2004. And now that the estate sale has been completed we are starting to work at getting the house ready for us. In the past two weeks we have:
  • Removed ceiling paper from the back bedroom
  • Stripped and revarnished the back bedroom and ajoining sewing room's woodwork
  • Removed the add-on closet to the front bedroom
  • Removed old carpeting
  • Cleared 10 dead and or volunteer trees from the backyard
  • Washed more walls and windows than the Merry Maids!

There will be lots to comment on and keep you up to date with but this is a start.