Friday, September 3, 2010

Saying Good-Bye to a Piece of History

Southerly 50’ of lots 114 & 116 Block 23 Duluth Proper Third Division St. Louis County

our house, framed in lilacs For twelve years I have been the owner and caretaker of a very small piece of Duluth history, a three-story brick house that sits tucked away just off of 7th Avenue West. The house was built between 1885 and 1887 by George W. and Louisa J. Goldsmith, after which the value of the property increased from $675 to $4000. They didn’t own it very long, less than two years, as the next item logged in the abstract was the sale to Henry G. Noble in March of 1887. One can only wonder what caused their hasty departure. Their original stained glass window complete with two star of David motifs still resides above the dining room window, casting rainbows on the dining room walls whenever the sun shines through it. original stained glass window The view from the front of our house has changed many times over the last century. Visitors to our house often comment on the steepness of the short piece of avenue that runs from Second Street down to our house. We laugh and explain that at one point in history 7th Avenue West was actually a part of the Incline Railray, which shuttled passengers between Superior Street and Skyline Parkway between 1891 and 1939. The abstract for my house shows the owners of the property, Josiah B. & Naomi E. Scovell, deeded access to the Duluth Street Railway Co. for $1.00 on 6/12/1889. You can see our house, before its white-wash paint job, outlined in red in the picture below.

Incline Railway, Duluth, MN

I have to wonder if the residents of the house were watching on May 28, 1901, when a fire started in the engine room of the powerhouse and was swept to the pavilion at the top of the railway, completely destroying the pavilion and sending an (empty) 27 ton burning car careening a half mile down the hill, crashing into the Superior Street station. Amazingly, nobody was injured, but a great centerpiece of Duluth civic pride and entertainment, the pavilion, was gone, never to be rebuilt. In 1939, with ridership dropping and maintenance costs increasing, the Duluth Transit Company discovered the main cable would have to be replaced to the tune of $4,000, an exhorbitant cost and one they could not justify. This, in the end, would mark the final demise of the railway. With scrap metal prices being high the railway was scrapped and the pieces sold to West End Scrap Company. Another piece of Duluth history vanished into memories and history books.

new front porch Along with a changing view, our house has changed owners many times over the last century, as most 125-year old houses would have, and sadly I know very little about most of its history. A neighbor once told me it had been a boys’ home at one point in time. I suppose that could explain the shadow of the numbers still showing on the bedroom doors on the second level. I am not even sure at what point in time it was turned into a duplex. The back third of the second floor plus the top level and itty-bitty servant’s staircase which accesses the upper floors from the first floor kitchen was turned into a separate apartment before I ever purchased the building.

Refurbished upper unit kitchen I do know that when I walked into the meeting room to close on the purchase of my new house back on Dec. 31, 1998, I was startled to see a familiar face – Lisa (Lukken) Bruer, a gal I had gone to high school with! We swapped stories, she told me how they had begun to refurbish the house little by little, including refinishing some of the hardwood floors in the bedrooms and painting the kids room blue with Care Bears wallpaper in the closet. That wallpaper remains in that closet to this day – when we moved in my then 8-year-old wanted to keep it, and it has remained there ever since. I always get a chuckle out of showing that room to a group of prospective tenants when they are college-age males! Care Bears closet Along with the changing views and changing owners over the years, the rooms inside the house have also gone through many transitions. When Pappa Bear and I remodeled the upper unit bathroom, I was using a "safe" stripper to remove layers of paint off the beadboard trim. This non-caustic stripper could only remove about 1-2 layers of paint per coat. I counted over 17 different colors of paint I removed from some of this trim! We removed wallpaper from hallways that was sometimes three layers thick. The walls and ceilings were all plaster-lathe, many of which had cracked and had to be replaced with drywall. There isn’t a room in this house we haven’t touched in one way or another in the twelve years I’ve owned it, ten of those years with Pappa Bear by my side playing a major part in every update and repair. From refinishing floors to brand new floors to rebuilding walls and ceilings, reroofing to redecking to un-wallpapering to painting to trim-work, we have touched every room in one way or another. The entire upper unit was completely remodeled from 2005-2006 as we shuttled back and forth from Mpls to Duluth every weekend for an entire year. We never did live in the unit once it was refurbished. But we did get to enjoy many a 4th of July celebration, watching the fireworks over the harbor from our perch on the the 3rd floor deck of this hillside house. View on the 4th Our blood, sweat and tears (not to mention a pile of money) has gone into this home. My first home. Our first home together. The only one of many homes C-baby has lived that has ever felt like a “real" home to her. It is not without some emotion and sorrow that I face turning her over to a new owner this month. (The house, not C-baby). Will the new owner love it as much as I have? Will she continue to remodel it, leaving it in better shape than she found it, as we have tried to do? Will she tend my carefully planted perennial beds? Will she snip some lilac blooms in June and place them on her windowsills? Will she admire the forget-me-nots that take over the backyard in the spring? Will she leave the Bluejay nest on the back porch and witness the miracle of babies taking flight? Will she feed the chickadees and laugh at the antics of the bushy-tailed grey squirrels that call her backyard their home? self-sown forget-me-nots Will she stand by the kitchen sink with the back porch door open, breezes playing joyfully through her hair, watching sunlight filter through the lush green canopy of vines draping elegantly over the neighbor’s wall, and hold her breath as the light hits the day lilies like fire? Sunlit daylilies Will she put down her dish cloth and towel and walk out onto the new boards on the old deck, being held up with a piece of our history, and pause in her day just to admire the beauty contained in her hidden, tiny back yard, offering up a prayer of gratitude to the universe for this good, solid house that is now her very own? I pray that she does, and when she does, she feels my spirit there beside her, and the spirit of all those who have enjoyed this backyard before her, breathing in the beauty and the stillness. Blessings - Victoria


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