Treasures in old houses

Over the years I have had the opportunity to get inside many houses and I find treasures like original woodwork, hardware, stained glass windows, and antique light fixtures. I kind of nerd out over them because I grew up in a historic house and I own one today.

Here is a light fixture I found in an arts and crafts style house built in the 1920s and located in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood.  There were several vintage light fixtures and light switches.

Brass light fixture
Light fixture from the 1920s

I have a collection of photographs I have taken over the years of ancient heating plants, a cistern or two, a washing machine-type device from the early 1900s, and lots of stained glass windows and antique light fixtures.

I guess it is an electronic museum of sorts. I can’t resist taking pictures of ancient heating plants. Just when I think I have seen them all I see something I have never seen before.

Torn down to be rebuilt – throwback Thursday

I wrote about the Justice Ramsey house a few weeks ago. The small limestone building was slated for demolition but has been saved.

Limestone house
Justus Ramsey house

Built from limestone in 1852 by Justus Ramsey, brother of Alexander Ramsey, who had been appointed Minnesota’s first territorial governor. There is no evidence that Justus ever lived in the house himself, opting instead to rent it out to fellow pioneers.

The house will be stored and then reconstructed on a vacant lot on West 7th street West of Randolph Ave.

Justice Ramsey house

The last time I walked by the site over the weekend the limestone was being loaded up and hauled away. Can this really be reconstructed?  It would have been nice if it could have remained on the original site.

History is an interesting topic. A lot of times the value and importance of a historic home is based on who currently owns it now or who owned it when it was new.  In most cases, limestone houses are preserved if at all possible.

Justus Ramsey house to be moved

The Justus house located on the patio of Burger Moes on West 7th street may be the oldest dwelling in St. Paul. It is made of limestone and is one of the few remaining limestone dwellings.

It has been in the news because it was slated for demolition. The building has been allowed to fall into disrepair or maybe it was helped along the way, we don’t really know.

The building will be saved. According to an article in the Pioneer Press, “St. Paul City Council approves $84,000 to disassemble, store historic Justus Ramsey House. An attorney said he plans to move the house elsewhere on West Seventh Street and open a home office.”

I watched a stone house being moved 20 years ago or so. They are very heavy with two-foot thick walls.

Who was Justus Ramsey? he was the brother of Alexander Ramsey was the governor of Minnesota when it was a territory and he was the second governor of Minnesota.

I have been inside the structure but not for many years. It was simple inside and very small for a house.

Some of the oldest buildings in the city of St. Paul are located in the West 7th area close to downtown. The first settlers in St. Paul settled near what is now Irvine Park and the city grew from there.

My own house, also located in the West 7th neighborhood was built in about 1858. It is defiantly unique but not large and ornate like the nearby Victorian-era houses built in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Limestone house
Justus Ramsey house

My memories of the house go way back. At one point it was a small shop. Many thanks to Historic Saint Paul for fighting to save the little stone house. We have lost many historic houses and buildings. Some were bulldozed for business expansions, and road expansions and some were replaced with parking lots.

You are going to own a home with mold in it

It is true. Mold is everywhere and anyone who owns a home owns one with mold inside and out.

I drew this myself

There is a 100% chance that the home you live in and the one that you buy in the future has mold in it.

This is what the Minnesota Department of Health has to say about mold testing:

Poor reason for testing #1 “To find out if there is mold”

A complex mixture of mold particles normally exists in all occupied indoor environments. If appropriate testing is done, it is expected that molds will be found.

There is, however, an important distinction between the normal presence of mold particles, versus mold growth and accumulation indoors.

Unfortunately, even when it is done well, testing may not be able to distinguish between “normal” and “problem” conditions and it may even give misleading results.”

To lessen mold growth in your home, seal up any leaks, dry everything out. Clean or remove moldy surfaces. The Minnesota Department of Health website has information about how to clean up mold using bleach and water. 

wood, coal, oil, gas or propane?

I try to keep up with technology as it relates to housing. We are going to see a shift in how housing is heated and cooled. Here in the Twin Cities, natural gas is by

far the most common fuel used to heat our homes.

Before natural gas, there was fuel oil. In some homes, we can see where the tank is that held the oil. A truck would come by with the oil and hook up to the fuel tank from outside the house and fill it. In the mid-1970s during the oil crisis, many homes were converted from oil to natural gas. Natural gas is cleaner the oil and at the time it was less expensive.

Before fuel oil, many homes in the area were heated with coal and before that wood. There are properties that use propane heat too and some are heated with electricity. Central heating may become a thing of the past.

We won’t always be heating our houses with natural gas.  Electric heat will likely replace natural gas and eventually solar and wind power will replace electricity. Our houses will need to be greener too. Our survival as a species depends on it.

Gas appliances will also become less and less common. If I were to replace my stove today I would opt for a conduction cooktop and a convection oven. I have used both for cooking and they are nothing short of amazing. We know now that having an open gas flame in a house probably isn’t the best practice for safety or for clean air.

Houses can be retrofitted for different types of heating and appliances. Emergy use in Minnesota in the winter is particularly high and this year it is going to be more expensive than ever to heat our homes.

Old boiler

The houses are old and this isn’t California

So many of the “how to sell a house” articles come straight from California. Probably because California has more real estate agents per capita than any other state. Many of the tips apply to most markets but there are a lot of differences too especially for the closing and inspection processes.

Real estate is local and that does complicate things a bit. The process of selling a house differs by state and somewhat by the city as far as what kind of inspections are required and sometimes even where the for sale sign can be placed.

Selling an old house in say St. Paul Minnesota isn’t the same as selling a house that was built in the last 50 years in the suburbs. In fact, if you go check out some of those websites where homeowners can get instant offers they often stipulate that the house has to be built after 1970 or sometimes 1940.

In St. Paul, the median age of our houses is about 99 years old. Older homes offer a little more complexity to the buying and selling process. We don’t know what kind of repairs an old house might need. and it probably has lead-based paint. Older homes are more likely to have asbestos too.

Pricing and old St. Paul house takes experience. There won’t be a house that was built the same year that is the same size just down the street that recently sold that we can use as data to estimate the value. We have to look at sales prices in the area and make adjustments. To be honest some of it is at least partly a hunch based on experience.

age of houses
Age of housing stock

Personally, I believe that the best houses were built before 1960.  I like to think of St. Paul as the city of historic housing.