April 23, 2013

The Skinny House - A Condensed History

I've recently found out much more about my skinny house. Here's a precursor to what I'm about to write. I originally published this on May 9th 2009. 

I live in a red brick Victorian row house. It’s 17 feet wide and attached on both sides; garbage cans and lawnmowers go through the house – not around. It’s similar to the one below, but that’s not my house so don’t come knocking.

Decorated mainly in faded blue and white striped wallpaper; somebody in the ‘80s must have gone for a French provincial feel. When we first saw the house in ’97 it was imbued with a shabby-chic style. Now it’s just shabby. We haven’t had the energy to do anything with the walls.

I did find the energy to trace the house’s history. Through the Central Reference Library, Ancestry.com and the L.D.S. I was able to piece together a chronological record of who lived in our house.

Built in 1892, our house was unoccupied until 1895. The theory bandied about was that the builders, who were brothers, each wanted one of the seven in our row for family members. They ran out of money and my house was purchased by a man called Feagan.

Born in 1853, Feagan worked in a grocer’s downtown owned by Solomon Moyer. He married the grocer’s daughter Susan. They had children Stewart, Susie and a little girl called Harper who died before they moved into this address.

Shortly after moving in Feagan went into partnership with a fellow grocery clerk from Moyer’s called Stipe. Together Feagan & Stipe ran a grocery wholesale close to Toronto’s docks. They could be found in the Toronto City Directory under “Fruiterers” and sounding very much like a firm found in Charles Dickens.

After about 10 years the Feagans left and a succession of owners ensued. Many of them worked for the Toronto Electric Rail Company.

During World War 1 two elderly single sisters lived here. In a subsequent Directory entry an equally old Italian neighbour a few doors down had moved in. By the next year he had married one of the cousins.

In 1919 a Frenchman bought the house – a translator for a large farm implement company. But he and his brood did not move in until much later. They stayed until 1959.

Puzzled about the ductwork in my house, one day I pulled the cast iron cover off the cold air return on my bedroom floor. I immediately spied a note, “Victoria was here, 1994”, lying under the floor boards – a message from the previous tenant of the room.

Curiosity piqued, I didn’t have far to look before I found 3 notebooks dating from the 40s and 50s, a toy block, a box for a gyroscope ( the gyroscope itself still
remains out of reach to this day) and some crumpled up Vargas girl illustrations. These belonged to the Frenchman’s son Albert.

Albert was old enough to know better. He had commandeered his sister’s music scribblers and between the lines written his copious erotic fantasies regarding a married woman called Ruby Reilly. At first I thought I had found a confession but it was just Albert's wishful thinking. Albert’s writing was so repetitive I couldn’t be bothered to read all of what he and Ruby would do when she was ‘Barenakit” It was all very procedural and much like the scene in The Shining - All Work and No Play… But I learned that Ruby had apparently flashed him at a nearby rubber tire factory where they both worked.

I guess he stored his writings under the floor and forgot about them when it was time to move on. Albert still lives in the city.

Over time, my friend and I got a shopvac and brooms and tried to reach the other things under my floor but to no avail. However I did name my next cat Ruby Reilly. She was a horrible wild thing.


willow said...

My daughter lives in a row house in Philly. I think they are so charming. A facinating history, too. What a treasure to find Albert's things. You need to arrange to give them back, like in the Amelie movie!

Brian Miller said...

intersting history...never thought to look at the history of the home...ours is only 25 years so probably a short story...things hidden in the floor would be interesting...a time capsule into the lives of previous dwellers...flashes and all!

ds said...

Now that is an interesting history. Older houses really do have lives of their own. Wonder what poor Albert would do if those old notebooks showed up on his doorstep now...

sallymandy said...

Fascinating, Hazel! I love the houses, and the history you unearthed, and your painting. Especially like that blue window on the top floor.

I did a similar search of city directories of my house--which is newer, being built in 1929. But--we also found detritus from a teenaged boy in an attic. Marijuana smoking apparatus and a Playboy. Some things never change, I guess.

Great post!

Premium T. said...

I love the histories that old houses contain. Mine was built in 1908, but I've never found a thing, much to my dismay! Although I admit to taping some of my own poetry to the underside of a drywall project back in the year 2000. Wonder how long it will sit!

The Clever Pup said...

Premium T - I thought it was you that found those strange telegrams "Don't dissapoint me this time" a la Marion Crane.

Poetikat said...

You took the words right out of my mouth with that Dickens' partnership of Feagan and Stipe.
We did research on all the owners of our home too - although ours is far younger, having been built in the 1940s.


einbildungskraft said...

hi Hazel!
I LOVE row houses, and how exciting for you to find trinkets from past inhabitants. I used to like the Vargas illustrations in Playboy... not that I was an avid reader of the magazine but they were EVERYWHERE many moons ago. Gee the magazine seems like the essence of (sensual)purity these days doesn't it? Please keep us posted on any other tidbits relating to your house! So the Victorian fence must be in the back...

corine said...

You had me at 'Victorian red brick'. Love!!!!

Sandra Leigh said...

You're making me homesick. Don't you just love unearthing long-lost secrets?

Your secret word is datainc. Surely there's a company by that name.


Love red bricks facade! Amazing history...learn new things everyday...~Thanks

Ladybug said...

That's fantastic that you were able to trace so much history of your house! Whenever we've sold a house, we've left a bottle of champagne behind on day of settlement with a note to the new owners, hoping they'll enjoy the house as much as we did.

I started a diary for this house, (haven't kept it up though) about the plants I've planted and where and what birds visit, which I intend to leave when we do. LBx

☆sapphire said...

Your paiting, where you live, is so lovely! I like the colors you used in it very much! Could I live in such a red brick Victorian house once in my lifetime!

The story about your house is like a novel. Very interesting.

Ima Wizer said...

This is SO fabulous! Only you would know the complete history of your house! Wonderful!