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100 Year Old House

For the last several months, I've been selling old coins on eBay from Mike Hamilton's collection and learning a bit about numismatics. I've really only dabbled very lightly in the subject as there is so much to know about mint marks and engravers and metals. So far everything is fascinating.  

The oldest coin I've sold is an 1804 half cent. That was only 28 years after America declared its independence. William Wordsworth wrote I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud that year. Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself emperor. Thomas Jefferson was president. Ladies' dresses had empire waist lines in England. And the land that was to one day become the city of Whittier was owned by Manual Nieto of Mexico.

Lewis & Emma Shreve with son Arnold
In 1910, Edmond Otis Dickinson and Annie Elizabeth (Hayes) Dickenson, my great-great-grandparents moved into a house on Whittier Boulevard to begin their citrus ranch. 

Not long after that, Lewis and Emma Shreve, Philip's great-great-grandparents, moved from Ohio to California and lived at 543 Comstock. They ranched citrus groves near what is now Greenleaf and Mulberry where a small street still bears the name Shreve. 

I'd like to imagine the two citrus ranchers spoke to one another about leaf miner and grafting and irrigation. 

Fast forward a few years to November 28, 1917 when the Reverend and Mrs. Ernest E. Day moved in to the little bungalow house they'd built for themselves at 519 Comstock Avenue, Whittier, California. 

At that time, Whittier was a city of about 8,000 people, and the move of the Reverend of Plymouth Congregational Church was news. The newspaper clipping detailed the house warming party. Piano solos were given into the evening. The Plymouth Chorus gave a large cluster of carnations. Someone wrote a poem. And so-and-so was the guest book attendant.

The house was likely built from a Sears-Roebuck kit that cost Rev. Ernest E. Day between $800-$1,000. The kit included about 20,000 thousand pieces and included a 75 page instruction manual on how any modern man could assemble the house in 90 days.

I don't know if Ernest finished his house in 90 days or not, but I do know that the walls were still awaiting lath and plaster in October, and in November he moved in. I also know from the old Whittier newspapers that while he and his wife lived there, they hosted various church prayer meetings and events in their home. In 1925, they held a small wedding within those walls.

After 20 years, the Days listed their house for sale in the newspaper, and by 1940, Mr. and Mrs. James E. Campbell were living there. The newspapers tell of the bridal shower held there for one of their daughters. Also that year, the Campbells prevented a robber from stealing items from their garage. 

From what I gather, the house had about 3-5 more owners before we purchased it. In the 60's its address changed to conform to the county's numbering system. Among the residents were Mrs. F. W. Forbes, a member of the Sew and So Club, and Peter and Pamela Von Rasson who added a bathroom to the house, expanded the master bedroom, and added a two-storied back house that included a wood shop. Their children Eben and Meredith pressed their handprint into the cement in the backyard in several places.

96 years after the house was built, Philip and I prepared to move in. But first, a complete kitchen remodel, which included tearing up years of linoleum and knocking a hole in the wall for a pass-through. During demolition, Phil and my dad discovered a wall stud with a name and date: Ernest E. Day October 3, 1917.

Ernest E. Day
"October 3, 1917"
We saved the beam, and four years later, Phil set it in the center of our kitchen table along with the old lath encased in a layer of resin.
Today we, the great-great-grandchildren of several Whittier residences, celebrate the 100 year birthday of our house. Much of the home is still the same as when Ernest E. Day first built it: the worn and creaky wooden floors, the foundation support pillars, some old nob and tube wiring, the wavy glass, the large front door, the craftsmen-style molding around the windows and doors. 

A whole heap of living has passed within these walls: births, deaths, prayer meetings, socials, peace and turmoil. 

We have made it our home with our paint and furniture and our children's heights marked on the wall, but we too are just passers through. And maybe one day a hundred years from now, a new owner will decide to move that re-built kitchen wall, and during his demolition, he will find written on a wooden stud: "Philip L. Stevens, June 18, 2013."

Home by Edgar A. Guest

It takes a heap o' livin' in a house t' make it home,
A heap o' sun an' shadder, an' ye sometimes have t' roam
Afore ye really 'preciate the things ye lef' behind,
An' hunger fet 'em somehow, with 'em allus on yer mind.
It don't make any differunce how rich ye get t' be,
How much yer chairs an' tables cost, how great yer luxury;
It ain't home t' ye, though it be the palace of a king,
Until somehow yer soul is sort o' wrapped round everything.

Home ain’t a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute; 
Afore it’s home there’s got t’ be a heap o’ livin’ in it; 
Within the walls there’s got t’ be some babies born, and then 
Right there ye’ve got t’ bring ‘em up t’ women good, an’ men; 
And gradjerly, as time goes on, ye find ye wouldn’t part 
With anything they ever used—they’ve grown into yer heart: 
The old high chairs, the playthings, too, the little shoes they wore 
Ye hoard; an’ if ye could ye’d keep the thumbmarks on the door.

Ye’ve got t’ weep t’ make it home, ye’ve got t’ sit an’ sigh 
An’ watch beside a loved one’s bed, an’ know that Death is nigh; 
An’ in the stillness o’ the night t’ see Death’s angel come, 
An’ close the eyes o’ her that smiled, an’ leave her sweet voice dumb. 
Fer these are scenes that grip the heart, an’ when yer tears are dried, 
Ye find the home is dearer than it was, an’ sanctified; 
An’ tuggin’ at ye always are the pleasant memories 
O’ her that was an’ is no more—ye can’t escape from these.

Ye’ve got t’ sing an’ dance fer years, ye’ve got t’ romp an’ play, 
An’ learn t’ love the things ye have by usin’ ’em each day; 
Even the roses ’round the porch must blossom year by year 
Afore they ’come a part o’ ye, suggestin’ someone dear 
Who used t’ love ’em long ago, an’ trained ’em jes’ t’ run 
The way they do, so’s they would get the early mornin’ sun; 
Ye’ve got t’ love each brick an’ stone from cellar up t’ dome: 
It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home.


Erin Barnes said…
I love this post! What a rare and special thing to live in a city where both your family and your husband's family has lived for generations. How neat that Phil made the table with that beam in it. What a sweet poem. Happy birthday, Whittier house! :)
I love it, Abby! What a wonderful history to your warm & cozy home. I'tmglad there's been "a heap of livin'" there! Well done!!
jgd said…
Abby, This is wonderful. I didn't know your house was also a catalog house. Each day, I too marvel that I am so fortunate to live in a "magic" house. At least that's what I call mine. And so fortunate to have neighbors like you and Phil and your children, and on either side of me. It's comforting to be a part of a neighborhood of r real families. I always wondered if Shreve Road was named for the family.
Unknown said…
I like imagining the hymns that have echoed in your home’s walls. I think it’s wonderful to have the creak of boards that have stood the test of time under your feet. What an honor to steward this house for this season.

Will you share more about what “lead minor” is?

"Leaf miner", my typo. It's a common bug that mines squiggly tunnels through the soft tissue of new foliage on citrus trees. We get them here on our citrus quite frequently.
Unknown said…
Good to know! Thanks.

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