December 31, 2008
December 24, 2008
So after stuffing ourselves fat as ticks on Christmas dinner and opening up our presents, we were all sitting around talking when my brother asked, "Do you smell that? That weird kinda burning smell?" Uh-oh. We walked around the house trying to find the source, then both suddenly had the same thought at the same time, and ran down the steps to the basement. Weird smell located. The furnace motor sounded like a freight train. "Blower motor's burning up," I told my brother. He walked through the dim room and flicked the switch to turn off the motor. Then he realized he was standing in water. "Hunh?!" he said. We turned on the lights and saw a giant puddle of water about seven feet long and four feet wide all around the furnace and the water heater. It was only a quarter of an inch deep or so, but still, that's a lot of water. We checked the water heater and found no problem with it. We took the panel off the furnace and found an inch of water in there. That explained the blower motor working overtime. But where the heck was the water coming from? After a few more minutes of exploration laced with some un-Christmas-like language, we found it: the sewer drain line was clogged and the overflow was backing up into the basement. That's when the un-Christmas-like language really started....
My brother snaked out the sewer line and opened it back up (with a giant sucking sound that was really gross), I pulled the damp hammock filter out of the furnace and cut a new one, and my son used a shop vac to suck up all the yucky water from the floor and from inside the furnace. My mom paced back and forth in the finished part of the basement and fretted while my son's fiancee told her everything would be okay. (And she was right--after we got everything dried out and cleaned up and turned the furnace back on, it worked fine.) Meanwhile, my sister-in-law kept their kids upstairs and out of the way, and even managed to wash up all the dishes (yay!!) while the rest of us grown-ups were otherwise occupied.
Back upstairs over coffee and pie my mom said, "This is certainly not how I wanted us to spend our Christmas Eve."
And Sarah, my future daughter-in-law, had the best line of the day: "Well, you said you wanted us all to get together and do things more often..."
December 23, 2008
Yes, it's that time of year again--time for my annual Light-O-Rama obsession! I swear, y'all, if I ever win the lottery I'm getting a ginormous Light-O-Rama setup at my house. Year-round.
December 18, 2008
When did Mary Withers pass away? This is a question I've been wondering about, too, and the short answer so far is, I don't know. I'm never satisfied with just the short answer, so read on for everything else I've uncovered. Missouri didn't require mandatory reporting of births and deaths until 1910. Although earlier records exist for some counties, the Missouri State Archives has none for Lafayette County. I'm unable to find a death certificate for Mary Withers, so she probably died sometime after 1888 (when she sold the second parcel of land to the Kellys) and prior to 1910. (By the way, did you know you can search for Missouri birth and death certificates from 1910 to 1957 at http://sos.mo.gov/archives/resources/deathcertificates/
and see digitized copies of the documents?) A woman named Marty Helm Brunetti compiled an index to tombstone inscriptions for every known cemetery in Lafayette County by mapping out each cemetery into a grid and then walking the rows of stones with her husband and their two dogs, writing down each inscription as they went along. (The scope of that project just astounds me.) I've used her reference books for years to locate tombstones for my own family and to answer genealogical questions the local library receives from time to time. In all those years I've never known Ms. Brunetti to make an error. If there is a stub of a tombstone or a depression in the ground she will note it. Her index to Machpelah Cemetery in Lexington gives the inscription on Marquis Withers's tombstone (18 March 1815/Garrett Co., Ky./13 August 1885/IOOF) but has no listing for his wife. There is an entry in Machpelah's records for a Mary J. Withers (our Mary had a middle initial of A) who died of grippe at age 85 and was buried 7 February 1910. That woman's birthdate would have been 1825, so it's possible she could have been Marquis Withers's wife (though ten years younger than he) and the cemetery misread or misheard her middle initial. I cannot locate a death certificate for that Mary Withers. The most likely answer, as I see it, is that Mary A. Withers is indeed buried next to her husband but her tombstone was long gone by the early 1980s when Ms. Brunetti cataloged Machpelah.
What's the name of the B&B in the Witherses' former summer kitchen? I have no idea. There's no sign outside it advertising it and I don't really know those neighbors all that well. Those neighbors also own Il Bel Carrello, a fabulous little shop here in Lexington, and you might be able to call the store or email them (click on Contact Us on their website) and find out more about the bed and breakfast. It's not listed on Lexington's crappy website, either. I googled "Lexington Missouri bed and breakfast" and found B&Bs in the area, but not Lexington proper. There are two B&Bs on my block alone, one right across the street from my house, and at least three more within walking distance of my house. It frustrates me no end that Lexington bills itself as a tourist destination and then does so little for prospective visitors. (That's not directed at my neighbors, but at the pathetic Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau here. They're an embarrassment, but that's a story--or several stories--for another time.)
How much did the Kellys pay for the land they bought from Mary Withers? James C. and Maria L. Kelly bought two parcels of land from Mary Withers. The first, 23 August 1887, was the west 50 feet of Lot 7 (my property now) for which they paid $500. The second, for the rest of Lot 7 and all of Lot 8, was purchased 28 March 1888 for the price of $600. The terms of both sales were that the total purchase price would be paid in full within one year at the rate of 8% per annum. Five hundred dollars seemed to be the going rate for a lot of land inside Lexington city limits at that time, I've noticed while paging through the records in the Courthouse.
Are you going to have a champagne christening of the house or the new blog title? This is my favorite question, asked tongue-in-cheek by Why S. I'm not--why waste a perfectly good bottle of champagne by cracking it all to pieces against the house?--but I am enjoying a glass of very tasty white wine, made just a few miles from here by the good folks at Baltimore Bend Vineyard. Here's what the label says: "Sweet Beginnings aptly names two special events in our lives. First, our venture into the wine business...We dove in and began turning an apple warehouse into a wine processing and tasting facility. Our second sweet beginning was an addition to our clan, Andrew. He arrived on a snowy January day to brighten our lives." Now I ask you, how could you pass up a bottle of wine with such a sweet label? (For you wine aficionados, Sweet Beginnings is a sweet wine made from Catawba grapes. It's fruity but not cloying and the aftertaste hints of apple.) But I am having another christening of sorts in the spring: when I finally finish painting the house, Carl (my wonderful neighbor who owns The Parsonage Bed & Breakfast) has promised to throw a little party for me. He says we're inviting all the people who have helped and having wine, cheese and fruit. That's something to look forward to on this cold, gloomy day when the sky is raining down pellets of ice, isn't it?
December 17, 2008
Me: [in a fake sleepy voice] Hello?
Dylan: Mom, where are you? Lonnie just called and said you're late for jury duty.
Me: I'm not goin'.
Dylan: What?! You can't just not show up!
Me: They can kiss my butt. I'm tired. Like they're gonna issue a warrant for ME.
Dylan: Mom, seriously, you better get over there--
Me: Just kiddin'! I'm standin' here lookin' at Lonnie right now, baby.
Dylan: [laughing] You think you're funny but you're not.
I was excused from jury duty four hours later. The defendant was stopped by the Highway Patrol while traveling down Interstate 70 this spring and had--I mean, allegedly had twenty pounds of marijuana in his vehicle. Something tells me he wasn't gonna smoke that up all by himself. I used to work at the Sheriff's Department here, my son works there now, the Assistant Prosecutor is a good friend of mine, and I am acquainted with one of the troopers who arrested the defendant. Living in a rural county (total population at 2006 census: 33,146) does have its advantages.
For jury duty.
December 14, 2008
It's still some house, isn't it? The stone and iron fencing described in the 1885 lawsuit is still there, as is the original summer kitchen, which the current owners are using as a very cozy bed & breakfast. The National Register inventory says, "Built in 1854, this structure stands as one of the finest examples of Italianate architecture still remaining..."
Mrs. Withers sold the two lots behind this house to James C. Kelly on August 23, 1887. The Kelly family would become the most permanent occupants of my house, living here until well into the 20th century. I have found a treasure trove of information about them, nearly all of it thanks to the diligent research of a modern-day relative of theirs who compiled a family history in 1996. I'll share the Kellys' story with you next time. I am proud to say that I live in the Kelly house, and so, in honor of the Kelly family, I have changed the name of this blog to The Kelly House.
December 11, 2008
So I put up the Christmas tree. Wow. Worse than I remembered. Last year Marie (the mean cat) claimed the tree as her exclusive territory and wouldn't let anyone near it. She slept in its branches like a panther so as to protect it from anyone who might want to decorate it or put presents under it. Awww...look at little Louie watching for Santa Claus!
This year I was determined to have a nice-looking tree. With ornaments. And maybe even presents underneath. So determined that I seriously considered stapling chicken wire across the alcove opening in front of the tree. Then I realized I didn't really want my Christmas tree making people think of the band in "Roadhouse", so I came up with a different plan. Bribery. Behold the Cat Safari Jungle Gym. Behold the rare photo of all three of the cats playing nicely together. All three of them are there. Really. That gray-and-white blob the two other cats are examining is Christopher.
And while they played together so nicely, I decorated the tree with real ornaments. Real plastic ornaments. A whole box of 82 of 'em for just twenty bucks at Target. It says SHATTERPROOF right on the front of the box. We'll see.
So here goes:
1. Facebook. A friend from high school told me about it a couple of months ago, and I've been hooked ever since. I've reconnected with some long-lost high school friends and we have so much fun on Facebook catching up with each others' lives.
2. Chocolate. In any form--candy, cookies, hot cocoa, chocolate chip pancakes--I have to eat chocolate every day. It's a very bad day if I don't get to have some chocolate at least once during the day.
3. CNN. I am a news junkie and I have to watch CNN every day. If I'm not watching it, I'm checking their website for news updates. One of my friends tried to explain away my CNN-mania by saying, "Oh, you just watch it cause there's nothing else on in the middle of the night." Nope. I watched it for hours when I worked day shift, too.
4. Chai tea latte. Love that stuff. My mom gave me a Tassimo coffeemaker as an early Christmas present and I ordered a box of chai tea latte to try. I am hooked. At the moment I'm rationing myself because I have only three servings left and the other boxes I ordered haven't arrived yet. (I can't find it in any store.)
5. Research. As you might've noticed from my deed history posts, I really get into research. I love looking things up to learn more about them, and one thing invariably leads to another and another. Before you know it, I've spent hours at the library or online and am usually far afield of what I was originally researching.
And there you have it. As always, I don't tag people because I don't know who likes to play along and who doesn't, so if you're reading this and want to share your addictions, too, please do!
December 9, 2008
In Part I of the deed history, I went backwards--most recent sale to the one before that, and the one before that, and so on--but for this bit of history, because it's fairly detailed, I'll stick to chronological order.
On October 13, 1884 a deed was recorded by Marquis W. Withers and Mary A. Withers, husband and wife, granting "for and in consideration of the love and affection and the sum of One Dollar" Lots 1, 2, 3, 7 and 8 of Block 18 to Oletha P. Rathell, the niece of Mary Withers. A generous gift, yes, but it came with a condition:
"that Oleatha P. Rathell and her husband Samuel T. Rathell shall and willThat's a heckuva condition--uproot your family, move clear across the state, take care of your aunt and uncle for the rest of their lives, and when the last of the two of them dies you get the property--but I suppose not all that uncommon. And the deed came with a bit of a warning: "In case said Oleatha P. Rathell [or] Samuel T. Rathell...shall neglect, decline or refuse to act upon and perform, in good faith, the conditions aforesaid, then...the deed is to become...null and void." You might guess what happened next. I had a bad feeling about it because the deed granting it is in Book 61 page 154 and the next transaction is in the same book, page 295. Uh-oh.
remove from St. Louis to the City of Lexington, Missouri and reside with and
take care of said Marquis W. Withers and Mary A. Withers...in said residence and
on said property, and will furnish them and the survivor of them with
comfortable rooms, board, lodging, and all necessary and proper comforts,
conveniences and attentions, forbearance and kindness, for and during the joint
lives of said Marquis W. and Mary A. Withers and the life of the survivor of
That next entry is a Revocation of Deed. It's dated January 9, 1885, not quite three months later. It begins sadly, "Marquis W. Withers...being in a low state of bodily health and apprehensive that he would either soon die, or continue a helpless invalid, needing much nursing and attention and that in case of his death that his wife, Mary A. Withers, would need protection, care, attention and assistance in and about her home..." The Revocation goes on to detail what property was granted to Mrs. Rathell, and under what conditions, and then states, "Whereas after near three months' trial it has become manifest that said Oleatha P. Rathell and her said husband, Samuel T. Rathell, cannot comply with and perform the conditions of said deed...and both parties to such deed...hav[e] become dissatisfied, discontented and so far alienated as to render it disagreeable and impossible for them to reside together..." Things must have been quite disagreeable indeed, because Mr. and Mrs. Withers paid $550 to the Rathells "as full compensation...for their inconvenience, trouble and expense in removing from St. Louis to Lexington, Missouri and for losses and loss of time in business of said Samuel T. Rathell..." Can you imagine the anger, resentment and sadness that must have existed in that house?
That house is not my house, as I soon discovered. And we haven't heard the last of the Rathells. I'll save that for a later telling, though.
December 5, 2008
First, let me explain just what it is I'm doing and why. This past summer my neighbor David was keeping me company while I filled thousands of nail holes by telling me about the history of his house and the land it sits on, a history that goes back to 1821. He knew all sorts of things about who had lived there and I interrupted him once to ask, fascinated, "How did you learn all this?" He told me he started by obtaining the deed history from the Recorder of Deeds office in the County Courthouse.
Note that I'm using the word "property" rather than "house": the deed history will tell you each time the land you own was involved in a transaction of some sort (sale, transfer of property, used as security for a loan, etc.) but won't necessarily tell you anything about your house. You can make inferences or educated guesses sometimes--for instance, if one deed shows a fairly modest sum of money and the next deed shows a substantially larger sum, it's a good bet a house or some other structure was built on that land in the meantime--but generally, unless the house itself was part of some unusual transaction, it won't be mentioned at all. What the deed history gives you is names. You can then use those names as a jumping-off point for all sorts of other research about your house. Uncover recent history: Call up the people who owned the place ten years ago and ask them what color the house was then, ask the folks who owned the house in the 1970s what the front porch looked like before it was closed in, or in my case find out who ruined the looks of a Folk Victorian by encasing it in cedar shingles. Do some historical research: use old phonebooks, census records, old newspapers or local histories to dig up information about the house's prior occupants.
So that brings us to what I uncovered in Thursday's research. The house changed hands six times between 1982 and 1971. That backs up my belief, based on the cheap "improvements" done to the house, that it had several owners who thought of the house as temporary lodging and didn't give it the care it deserved. The 1971 sale is Charline Wyper, better known as The Shingler, moving on after committing that egregious crime against the house. Then there's a gap back to 1933, which needs some more research to close.
That 1933 record, amazingly, has some connection to me. It's the Last Will & Testament of a woman named Martha Robison, who willed the property to her niece. She also directed that her gravesite receive "perpetual care" in the form of flowers being placed there on Memorial Day by the executor of her estate and his successors. The executor of her estate was a local lawyer, William Aull, whose son, William Aull III, followed his father into the law business. My mother worked for William Aull III for years and I remember, as a child, going to Machpelah Cemetery to place flowers on Mrs. Robison's grave. (On a personal note, William Aull III was also a very close family friend who my son Dylan called "Grandpa Bill" after Mr. Aull told him wryly that he thought it was "terrible, just terrible" that he had only one grandfather. Grandpa Bill and Dylan celebrated Halloween together every year in high style with elaborate costumes until Grandpa Bill's death a few years ago.) I have no idea if Mrs. Robison's grave still receives flowers.
Then there's another gap I need to close between 1933 and 1888. To me, that's a sizable gap, but the Recorder of Deeds was unfazed. "Oh, honey," she said, "That's nothing compared to some of them. You'll be able to find that." At first I thought, "Meh....I'll just leave it alone." But after what I found next, I'm eager to get back to the Courthouse.
In 1888 James C. Kelly and Maria L. Kelly, husband and wife, bought the property from a woman by the name of Mary A. Withers, the widow of Marquis W. Withers. (The Withers family has the part of the history that's a bit sad, and I'll tell you all about that next time.) Prior to this 1888 sale, the property had always been sold in a chunk of three lots, the legal description of which is "Lots 5, 6, and 7 of Block 18 in the First Addition to the Town, now City, of Lexington." My legal description, however, is "The west 50 feet [italics mine] of Lot 7, Block 18 in the First Addition..." That west 50 feet is exactly what Mrs. Withers sold to the Kellys. In a separate sale, she also sold them the east 25 feet of Lot 7 and the west 25 feet of Lot 8.
Eureka! My beloved neighbor Floyd is almost certainly right! He's always held that our two properties were once part of a bigger property, that our two houses were built about the same time by the same person, and that they are a few years younger than the National Register's estimate. (The National Register of Historic Places did a survey of Lexington in the mid 1980s and guessed our houses as being built about 1885.) Looking at our block, this partition of the lots is obvious--the two houses to the west of mine and the one house to the east of Floyd's are all two-story houses with much wider lots. Our houses are both single-story and, as I've mentioned before, very similar in construction. (Unfortunately, I can't get a good picture of our two houses together because the huge pine tree in Floyd's front yard hides most of his house.) Our houses are not exactly alike; sisters rather than twins, as we like to say.
What this means is that the Kellys or someone who owned the property shortly thereafter must be the people who built my house. Very exciting! The next chance I have to go to the Courthouse is Tuesday afternoon, and it can't get here quick enough for me. I'll let you know what I find.
If it's possible to love a building (and I know you folks reading this believe it is) then I have a declaration to make: I love the Lafayette County Courthouse. Isn't it beautiful? The courthouse was built in 1847 at a cost of $14,382.46 and is the oldest courthouse in continuous use west of the Mississippi. I don't think you can see it in this photo, but the column to the far left was hit by a cannonball during the Civil War Battle of Lexington in September of 1861. (For any Trans-Mississippi Civil War buffs who might be reading, there was also a second, less famous, battle here in 1864 during Gen. Sterling Price's final charge through the state.) The damage was never repaired, and supposedly the cannonball still remains embedded in the pillar. I'm not so sure about that, but if you visit the courthouse today you'll see something that indeed looks to be a cannonball stuck in there. What appears to be a separate building to the left of the courthouse is a wing of the courthouse now, although originally it was separate and housed the Sheriff's Department. And yes, that is a smaller version of the Statue of Liberty in the right of the photo. Between 1949 and 1952 the Boy Scouts bought and installed about 200 of these statues in 39 states all over America. About a hundred or so still remain. Just behind Little Lady Liberty you can see a brick building. That was constructed in 1906 as Lexington's City Hall and is now (after an amazing restoration) in use as an annex to the courthouse. Renamed Lafayette Hall, it gets a post of its own soon. The courthouse itself is on the National Register of Historic Places and it, as well as the rest of the downtown area, comprise the Commercial Community Historic District, one of four National Register Historic Districts in Lexington. (The others are the Highland Avenue Historic District, the Old Neighborhoods Historic District, and Wentworth Military Academy.) Not bad for a town of only 3.7 square miles in total area, huh?
So what has me singing the praises of my little town's historic courthouse? Just that I spent about three hours today in the Recorder of Deeds office there doing some research on the history of my property and realized that every deed, Sheriff's sale, Probate transaction, judgment, and foreclosure involving the land my house sits on (except for the first five years of those records) was recorded in the very same building I was standing in today, possibly even in the same room. That's astonishing and marvelous and definitely worth sharing. Tomorrow I'll share the results of my research, and some of it is very interesting and even a little sad.
December 4, 2008
Understand that I have virtually no understanding of electricity. Pretty much my entire knowledge of electricity is this: I flip a switch or push a button and stuff comes on, it costs a lot of money if I leave it on, and electricity can hurt or kill me. Based on the last six words of the previous sentence, I don't mess with electricity. Various people have tried to explain to me how electricity works. And then stuff happens. Like the ball of blue flame that raced along the ceiling in my friend Bryce's machinery shed and disappeared into the phone during a thunderstorm. Or two firefighters getting zapped when they leaned against the copper-edged kitchen countertops at a house fire. Or the flaming squirrel that streaked across the sky and landed, still smoldering, in the parking lot. That stuff just leaves me whomper-jawed, to use a favorite expression of the late great Molly Ivins. So I don't mess with electricity.
In keeping with that, I'm not using the ceiling fixtures in the living room, the dining room or the kitchen, or the outlets in the dining room. That's all the stuff on the troublesome circuit. Well...maybe just two outlets in the dining room for my modem and wireless router. But that's a necessity. I have no idea if this is actually helpful or not. Whomper-jawed, remember?