Monday, October 17, 2016

Demolition Day 5

I forgot to mention yesterday that I stepped on a rusty nail.  It went right through my thick soled shoes and into my foot.  It was a big nail.  My mom freaked out, so we had to go to Urgent Care.  They cleaned it out, gave me a tetanus shot, and an antibiotic for 10 days.


Today, my foot is sore, but after a little padding and advil, I was ready to go.  I started the morning at the Connellsville Historical Society building.  I had collected so much information on the past owners of this house, and wanted to share.  I also wanted to see what other information they might have.  Sadly, I have yet to find pictures of the inside (or outside) of this house as it originally stood, but we are still searching.  Apparently the courts aren't required to keep any kind of layout of the homes on file, so we may never find it.

After our morning of learning, we went to the house to continue demolition of the second floor.  We spent a lot of time making piles for trash today - things that couldn't go into the dumpster because they just took up too much room.  We wanted to save room in the dumpster for the construction materials.

I decided to take a break at one point from pounding, and went to the first floor to check out the understairs closet.  It still had its original door on it, but it was blocked off by some garbage the old owners left.  What we found in there was true treasure for this house.  We found many moldings that were missing from around most of the windows.  I am so grateful they had just stashed them and didn't throw them away.  I was so excited.  I lined up all of our findings in the living room on the first floor, so that we can use them as we need them.

Also, while we were taking down some of the paneling and plaster on the stairs, we found some drawings of layouts.  I took their picture - no idea when they were put there, but they were neat all the same.

This is a picture of Joseph Soisson from a newspaper article in 1902.  He was the original founder of the Fire Brick Company
 I had my mom take a picture of the historical society, and this is what she took. :)  I love her, but I wanted the whole building.
 These are original paintings of Joseph's oldest son, John, and his wife.  They hang in the historical society.  They are the only paintings that were ever found.
 This is Leo Soisson.  Son of Joseph  Soisson, and the person who owned our house the longest.  Check out that stach.
Some of the drawings we found of room layouts behind the paneling and first layer of plaster.

 The gold mine of things we found in the understairs closet.  We are going to have a good time finding out where they all belong.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Demolition Day 4

Before we got dirty today, my  mom and I headed to the court house.  I wanted to search the people who had owned the house.  I already knew the most prominent family that lived there (The Soissons), but I didn't know much about the people who lived there before them.  That intrigued me the most because I wanted to know who built the house and how it came to be a house the Soisson's lived in.

I did find my answers.  There were a few families that lived there prior to the Soisson family.  They obtained it when the owner went bankrupt - Joseph Soisson was the highest bidder.  He owned it for two years until he gave it to his son, Leo Soisson and his wife who then lived there for a very long time.  After the Soissons left, it changed hands rapidly, and got divided into apartments, and got run down, and now it belongs to ME.  And as long as nothing happens, it will be in our family for a long time so we can protect it.

This is me in the office of records.  This place was really cool.  Pennsylvania keeps its records on a county system, so I went to the county courthouse.  After about 1975, I had to search the actual deeds - not the computer.  It was kind of fun, though.  Most of those deeds were all handwritten.

We think this is who built the house, or at least we know this is who owned the land the house was built on.  In Connellsville, Davidson and Newmyer are streets.  Newmyer is the name that was on the original deed to our house.

After our trip down history lane, we went back into our old clothes and started day four of demolition.  The dumpster showed up today, so we had a great time tossing things out the window.  IT was thrilling to get it out of the house.  Put on quite the show for the neighbors

 It was a game to see if we could get the trash actually IN the dumpster.

I also wanted to share another near original piece in the house.  This bench is sitting in the front of the house - just beyond the front door.  We have been making guesses to its use.  Is it where they sat to wait to be introduced to the family?  Is it where they sat for reflection?  Is it where they took off their shoes?  It is anyone's guess, but it is a beautiful bench.  Well - at least it will be when I take the baby poop brown paint off of it

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Demolition Day 3

Day three - today we worked outside. Because I had to have the electric inspected, we decided to take a break from hammering. Tomorrow the dumpster is delivered, so that will help! What we found outside is tons and tons of overgrowth. There is ivy everywhere. Up the house, through the yard....just crazy. And just tons of weeds. So we spent part of the day pulling that out. In the rubble I found a loose brick, and it was a golden find - it was a FBC (Fire Brick Company) brick - an original from the people who owned this house, and that company. SCORE!! We also found another stained glass window that had been removed, so that will be going back in. Successful day.

One of my discoveries today.  While cleaning out a closet, this original stained glass was found.  I was just giddy with excitement.  I think we have figured out where it was originally - above the front door.  So that is where it will return.
 This is one of the original bricks.  This one is labeled UFBC - Unified Fire Brick Company.  Which is the company the Soisson's owned.  I found two, so I donated one to the Historical society.
 I wish I would have taken a "Before" picture - not just a "during" picture.  All of this ivy was climbing over the fire escape stairs, up the wall and just covered the ground.  It was so much work to try and get it out.  We got about 1/2 way done before we had to quite for the day.  We are going to have a lot of the landscaping removed professionally - lots of big trees and bushes that need to be pulled out.

Demolition Day 2

Day two in the 126 year old house. More demo on the same floor. Lots of paneling to remove. (lots) I took a few more pictures of a few of my favorite things in the house. We are down to the latis on most of the floor we are working on, and I completely gutted one of the bathrooms today. My parents have been troopers helping me out. We got a lot done this weekend. The people who owned this house (way back when) were part of the family that owned the largest Fire Brick company in the country (at the time). So....lots of brick. (house is even brick)

This is my dad taking down the drop ceiling and discovering almost 2 feet of ceiling above it.  Along with.....more ceiling.  We did finally get it all down and come to plaster.  The plaster will probably need to all come down - it was in pretty bad shape.
 Me pulling off the 1,000,000th piece of paneling.  This is where I am about to discover that the paneling is not only behind the door frame, it is way above the drop ceiling.  Fun times.

I knocked down most of the bathroom today.  Pulled out the toilet, the vanity, the medicine cabinet.  In this room there were two layers of paneling, and then drywall, then plaster, and then brick.  I think I am going to keep the one wall of exposed brick for an accent wall.  Especially with the family's history

This is an original stained glass window that is in a window on the front of the house.  All the woodwork around it has been painted, so that will be stripped and retained.
 This is an original entrance way into the living room on the first floor.  The woodwork is just beautiful.  And it has never been painted, which I find kind of unbelievable.
 Close up of the woodwork in the living room entrance.  All hand carved - just needs to be cleaned and possibly restained.

 This is the original fireplace on the first floor.  Of the two fireplaces in the house, this one is in better shape.  Can't believe it has never been painted.  And those are the original Victorian Tiles
Detail on the fireplace.
 So - these tiles, I think, are pretty ugly.  They look like someone spray painted them.  But when I looked up Victorian tiles, most of them looked like this.  Some of them are damaged - I think we will keep the good ones, and maybe inter lace them with a little bit more neutral of a Victorian tile.  We shall see.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Demolition - Day 1

On September 30th - I packed a bag, left Mat with our three kids in Massachusetts, and went to Connellsville to start to work on the Soisson House.  (I am just going to call it this from now on.  When you have 4 rentals - you have to be creative, or you lose your mind).  My wonderful husband felt that it was important for me to get a head start on the house.  And I think he felt I needed a little stress relief.

On Saturday, October 1st, my parents and I took our tools, gloves, masks, and goggles and headed over to the house.  The old owners had left quite a bit of stuff behind, so the first task was to consolidate that stuff into a few rooms to get it out of the way.  There was a big garbage pick up at the end of my week long stay, so it would be disappearing with that.  In the meantime, we would have to work around it.

Sidebar - why was so much stuff left you ask?  If you are in the rental property business, you will know that this isn't an uncommon occurrence.  But in this case - we knew ahead of time that personal, unwanted belongings were going to be left in the house.  This house belonged to the previous owners mother - who passed away.  She just didn't have the heart to go through her mother's things - things she didn't want.  So we relieved her of that duty, and she was grateful.

What I wanted to accomplish on my week long stay was to get as much demolition to the second floor done as possible.  Why the second floor?  This is where the previous owner's mother resided.

And she loved paneling.

There was paneling everywhere - the hallways, the stairs, the bedrooms, the bathrooms....every room.  She also liked pink carpet.  And cats.  Lots of cats.

We put on our game faces, called a dumpster company to deliver the longest dumpster they had, and started hammering away.  Most of the plaster walls had been covered with paneling, so the paneling removal was first.  Unfortunately, the glued the paneling right to the plaster, so the plaster was not able to be saved in most cases.

Did I mention she also loved drop ceilings?  She loved that too.  This is a forgivable offense because it does help with heat cost.  Since the original home would not have had drop ceilings, they had to come out too.

We tackled a lot that first day - knocked down a lot of paneling, and even started chipping away at the cracked plaster.  Behind the plaster was either lattis, or brick wall (which was actually a great find).

We made a big mess, but it was a lot of fun knocking down walls, and taking a first step toward making the house beautiful again.

 This is one of the original fireplaces that survived the constant turnover of the house.  the mirror is one and we have found bits of the original victorian tile around the house.  IT will all stay.  The paneling and drop ceiling.....bye bye
 Original moldings around the windows.  They will be eventually stripped  and retained.
 We started to smash down paneling and discovered a door hidden behind the paneling.  It leads to a staircase that came up from the first floor.  Probably for the servants
 Walls after we removed the paneling and cracked plaster

 This was the original staicase that lead to the second floor.  They put paneling all over the walls and ceiling here too
 In the bathroom we discovered (behind two layers of paneling, drywall and plaster) brick wall

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

How We Got Here

On September 30th, 2016 - my husband and I closed on a house we have been admiring for 2 years.  For a small background story - Mat and I have been buying houses in our hometown of Connellsville, PA for the last few years.  It started with me wanting to improve the neighborhood around where my parents live.  While the last few years my parents immediate neighbors have improved greatly, the general area still had some.....slums.  We had been looking to get into the rental property business, so 3 years ago, we took the plunge and bought a triplex a few blocks from my parents.

That triplex was our baby for the last few years.  Our only child.  Or - for lack of better words - our only demon child.  It needed, and continues to need, so much work.  We have named it the "Orange Monster" because whomever owned it in years past decided that rust orange was their color.  Due to all of the other repairs it has needed these last 3 years, paint job has been low on the list.  So - it is still orange.  And still a monster.  But we finally have three beautiful apartments with three wonderful tenants.  We felt like we were no longer novices in this rental market game, so this year we added three more properties.  That is how families work, right?  One child is working out great, so you add three more all at once?  I thought so.

The first two properties we added were duplexes.  Little charmers in the same neighborhood as our demon child.  We have learned a lot of valuable lessons.  Like....ask how old the roof is.  And how old the furnace is.  Both of the duplexes have new of both, so boom, boom.  They became ours.  They both needed cosmetic work, but we have an amazing contractor, so we weren't worried.  As long as they didn't need a $22,000 roof like the Orange Monster (don't even ask), then we were already better off.

Our fourth child is why I decided to start this blog.  This house is a beautiful red brick number whose picture is to the right of this blog post.  Two years ago we looked at it and decided we were too new to the rental property business to take a plunge this big.  It was off the market for awhile, but at the end of August, my realtor called and said the "sign was back" in the lawn.  We had already seen it - knew it was bad - so we just decided to offer a lowball number and see how interested the sellers were to unload the house.  And it worked.  For the very low price of $17,000 - we had our beauty.

Unlike our other three properties, this one has some history.  It was built in 1898, and was owned by a very prominent family in the town at that time.  It is a red brick Victorian that at one time - had a turret.  While we have yet to find pictures of it from long ago, we have spent a huge amount of time researching the history of the house and the families that owned it.

I am sad to say that the Soissons (the family that lived here the longest) would be very upset to see what has become of their mansion.  It has changed hands many many times, and by the time we got in there - not much from its original days was left.  It has been vacant for three years, and hasn't had power or water for more than 1 year.  It's copper pipes were stolen in early August, along with the water meters.  It has mold, and mildew, and a scary amount of work.

But the beauty and unique features that remain are what sold us on the property.  Believe it or not - even though the house changed hands many times - some of the original woodwork survived.  And the best feature of all?  There is a tunnel in the basement.  A tunnel, people.  It is partially blocked off, but it originally was a pass through to a house across the street for the servants.  Here is a picture of it.

Cool, right?  Every time I think about what this house doesn't have - I look at a picture of this, think of its amazing history, and realize it deserves to be made pretty again.

This house will be another rental.  There are not many families left in the Connellsville area that would need - or coulc afford - a 7 bedroom, 3 bathroom 3 story home.  But we will be restoring the floors to the original character of the home the best we can.  Mat and I are going to be doing some of the work ourselves because, unlike our other rentals, this one just has different meaning.  It is more than a "nice place for people to live".  It has a story to tell.