Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Florence On My Mind


People like to remark on our house. It's unusual, for our neighborhood, especially since the addition.

"Say, you'd know," a young woman said once, passing by. "What did this use to be? A house?"

We might have gone a little overboard on our addition. We were young. But the new parts were only a few years old at that point, and already our house was shrouded in mystery. As most are. Unless you've scooped up a historical house built by a 19th-century lumber baron, you probably don't know much about your house, even it it's not that old. Somebody once knew all the answers, but their knowledge has vaporized. Like a virus without a host, it just died out.

That's why it was so much fun to meet Mrs. Kraxberger soon after we bought the place.

We knew the Kraxbergers lived here. We still got some Kraxberger junk mail, and the neighbor lady said it was the Kraxberger place. You don't forget a name like Kraxberger. Tiny Mrs. Kraxberger was chauffeured here by a bored and sullen grand-nephew "to visit the old place," and we'd invited her in.

All we knew about our house was it was built in 1926 in a plat called Foxchase Addition. Wrong, said Mrs. K. It was a one-room house her father built around 1906, and added onto later, finally getting dormers on the second floor in 1926. The kids, she said, lived in a tent in the front yard until there was room for them. Her father had never built anything before, she said, with some pride.

At this point, Dave had been drilling judiciously at likely points in the kitchen wall, looking for studs. Some were inches apart, some yards apart. When he couldn't find a pattern to the construction, he took a SkilSaw to the whole wall in search of studs. Or it might have been a chainsaw, which would have better suited his mood at the time. The windows were truly "hung:" nothing supported them underneath. Wasn't too much later he noticed the dog's ball rolled toward the center of the house from every direction. He went into the basement and came up horrified. Evidently Mrs. Kraxberger's father had decided to put stairs to the basement inside as an afterthought. He'd cut them in but didn't support the joists afterwards, which were just hanging out, open-ended, with two stories of  house on top of them. Dave got some lumber and went to work. The wallpaper ripped as he jacked up the house; there was a vertical displacement of nearly six inches.

So it is a tribute to Dave's finer qualities, which include courtesy and respect for his elders as well as building skills, that he merely smiled, if rigidly, when Mrs. Kraxberger said that her father didn't know anything about construction.

Not Miss Jane
Well, we never got the photographs she said she might have had, and when, fifteen years later, the internet became a thing, I decided to try to find out more about our house. It would be nice to put a name to the gentleman responsible for vexing my husband, which is usually my job. It wouldn't be Kraxberger; that was his daughter's married name. I didn't get too far. Until recently.

The old address of our house, before the Great Renumbering, was 1072 E. 29th Avenue N. If you put that address into the googles, you get one good hit. Miss Jane Farrelly, of that address, is listed as a member of the Mazamas in 1918. The Great Librarian--see previous post--confirmed that a Farrelly was the principle, or possibly only, resident of our house in the 1930 directory.

A Mazama! In order to be a member of the Mazamas, a mountaineering club which lent its name to the massive volcano that blew up 7700 years ago and left Crater Lake behind, you have to have bagged at least one major glaciated peak. The club was founded in 1894 and welcomed women from the outset, which was highly unusual at the time. Miss Jane Farrelly probably started by climbing nearby Mt. Hood. In a dress.

Devil's Punch Bowl
There's a bit more online about Miss Jane: her obituary. She had moved to Alaska Territory and worked in Skagway and Juneau before landing in Fairbanks, surrounded by mountains. I am already, at this point, in love with Miss Jane Farrelly, and have mentally placed her on top of Mt. McKinley, her ice axe raised in victory, but Denali records indicate that between 1930 and 1941 only nine people attempted to summit and four succeeded, all in 1932. But I'm giving her all the other mountains. In fact, Social Notes in the local papers refer to her as one of the "hiking girls" who climbed to Devil's Punch Bowl in Skagway. Unfortunately she developed a heart ailment and died at age 46, a day after arriving in Portland by steamer from Anchorage. She died in the home of her sister. Mrs. Florence Farrelly Kraxberger.

Our home.

37 comments:

  1. I can't wait for your next installment on the history of your house! Murr, you always say that you are "lazy," but digging around like this is not the work of a "lazy" person. I'm interested in knowing more about my house... but it sounds like too much effort, digging around to find out more about it than I already do. I may take inspiration from you and ask the "googles" about it. But if "googles" doesn't tell me anything, I'll probably just say "Pfft..." and go have a drink. Now, that is lazy. (Not that there's a competition or anything. That would be way too much work.)

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    1. Let's put it this way. All "work" was done as a retired person in a recliner. There may have been a beer.

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  2. Wow. Well, if the spirit of young Miss Jane is quietly haunting your treasured abode, I'm sure she's pretty pleased with your company Murr. :^)

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  3. The last two houses I lived in, except for an interim apartment rental, we built under our great tutelage with addition of lots of money.

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    1. Yeah, that gets it done a lot faster, and less divorcey.

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    2. Well, there were arguments, but who would have us?

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  4. Well, whoever built your house initially, be it a Farrelly or a Kraxberger, is the reason there are building codes and licensed contractors nowadays. Fortunately, Dave had the good sense to make some structural improvements so that you could still be with us and not buried under a pile of rubble. A remodeler friend was redoing a bathroom of one of the older houses in this town. The only insulation she found in the exterior wall was an old fox skin hanging between the studs.

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  5. A fascinating voyage of discovery - for you and for us.

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  6. I *love* the fact that you got to actually meet and visit with Mrs. Kraxberger!

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    1. I do too! She died in 1991, says here. But we met in 1979 or so.

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  7. Oh, my. That's a grand tutelary spirit to have about the house! I picture her, skirts hitched up for convenience, rolling dog balls toward the center of the house: determined to catch Dave's eye before the Big One.

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  8. Love this series...but I love all of them. You also get the best replies of any blogger.

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  9. Ours was owned by Shari of “ Shari’s restaurants fame. Only if you live in Oregon tho. Great back story I’ll tell you next time we can get together! Be safe, F

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    1. Does it have the same layout as ALL the Shari's-es?

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  10. I love your house and I love that you could find so much of its history. Dave must have the patience of a saint to be able to politely smile while jacking up houses and ripping out walls to find the studs.

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    1. He has his saintly aspects. But I find myself hearing John Travolta's voice drawling "I ain't that kinda angel."

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  11. I'm willing to bet a fair chunk of what's left of my housekeeping budget that Jane Farrelly was a beer drinker.And if you find evidence otherwise, please drink what *would have been* her share.

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  12. Wow, your house is huge! From your earlier description, I though you had a small craftsman. Not so; three stories.

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    1. It's way bigger-looking from the outside, but yes, it's bigger than we need. When it was going up, in plywood, a friend looked at the picture and said "What are you adding on? Oh, I see, a Montgomery Wards."

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  13. My childhood home, a classic Cape Cod with wonderful dormers, was built by my parents. That’s to say it was built by a Norwegian shipbuilder. (In Utah we got a lot of “Scandahoovian” converts, as my dad called them.) He told my parents, “Some day you will appreciate this construction. Indeed, when we moved to a modern new home, we had leaks when it rained and I remember my father cursing. Today, the 80 year old houses on that first street still look solid and new.
    Any child today would salivate at the intriguing spaces in your house, Murr. It’s beautiful.

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    1. Thanks. Except for the salivating children image...I would feel very comfortable in a house build by a Norwegian shipbuilder, but I wouldn't want to come for dinner.

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  15. A few years ago we went back to northern NJ with my Dad to visit his former home.The people living there now were delighted to meet the former owners, it seemed. But they were rather too eager to show off their "improvements" when what we visitors were looking for was the original.

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    1. I wouldn't feel that way about my childhood home. It could use a lOT of improvements.

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  16. Very interesting. Completion of a circle-- but I note that you still seek to fill the space inside the circle. Good hunting!

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  17. You have a Cool looking house, learning about the History of a Home is interesting. The Historic Home we used to own that was around a Century Old, give or take, since records weren't kept and there was no Town around it back then here when it was still the Wild West... was built entirely out of Salvaged Materials so it was Quirky. I still miss it, even tho' this 1980's Custom Ranch on Acreage in the City we now own is built of Cool burnt Adobe Brick and was remodeled into an Urban Farmhouse ala Chip and Joanna Gaines Fad. May you find all kinds of MORE about your Home and Share it!

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