My old house (PART ONE)

Published January 16, 2012 by housecrazy

Now that I have a few posts under my belt, I would like to introduce you to my own lovely house.

I officially named her Anna Maria, but she is more commonly known as “Ye Olde Money Pit“.

Here she is with her Christmas decorations:

photo by Sarah Felix Burns

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

My house is so old we don’t even know how old it is. It pre-dates real estate records in this county so it shows up automatically on county assessor’s records as being built in 1898. However, we know it is actually older than that because it starts showing up on the historical record in 1882.

Re-print of an article featuring a photo of my house from the west side (Canon City Daily Record)

It may have been built as early as 1874 – which is pretty darn old by western United States standards. (Remember western/euro – non-indigenous – history is much newer in the west as compared to the eastern United States).

Anyway, it is old. It is one of the oldest surviving structures in this region. It is located right in a historic district in Canon City, Colorado.

Canon City is infamous for being home to one of the largest concentrations of prisons in the world. There’s about 15 of them in or near here. (I say “about” because I can never keep track of the new ones or which ones are shutting down due to budget cuts). You can read more about the prison history of Canon City and Fremont County here and here and also here at the Museum of Colorado Prisons. Gory stuff.

My house has a historical connection to the oldest and most notorious prison in Canon City (the Colorado State Penitentiary). This house was formerly home to one of the surviving prison guards of the grizzly 1929 prison riot in which 13 people were killed, including 8 prison guards.

Here is a history of previous owners and tenants that a – previous owner – was able to compile:

Author unknown - this document is passed down to current owners along with the title records

We acquired my house in 2010 when it suddenly came up for sale. Here’s what it looked like when we bought it:

photo courtesy of Joann Grenard

A view from the backyard:

photo courtesy of Joann Grenard

Here are some exterior shots since we have owned the house:

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

(Darn weeds ruined the picture!) That’s my two-year-old daughter sitting on the back porch.

This is the back part of my house in the heat of the summer – look at all that greenery:

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

The house is somewhat of a local landmark – as evidenced by people’s’ reaction when I tell them what house I live in: “Oh! You bought that house? I know that house! I’ve always loved that house!” Me too. In fact, I remember walking by this house when I first moved to Canon City and taking a good long look at it and remarking how amazing it would be to own it. My husband (Lupe) loved it too, but he thought it was too close to a mortuary (one block over).

The mortuary is a non-issue. The bigger issue with my house’s location is the bar around the corner on Main Street. The second night we were in this house, Lupe’s truck was hit by a drunk driver when it was parked out front. We now park in the back.

Apart from that memorable house-warming present, there have also been wild brawls out front, crime scenes on the block, and creepy cretans crawling around in the back alley.

The up-side is that we also get tourists taking pictures of our house (sometimes even looking in the windows!) In fact, the first day after we moved into our house a large Amish family knocked on the front door and asked if they could take family pictures with our house as a backdrop. (Heck yeah!)

One of the things that makes this house so unique is the washed-paint treatment on the brick part of the exterior:

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

The story on the paint is one of those happenstance things. A neighbor told us that a previous owner painted the house all white.

House painted solid white - circa 1980 (from historic home files of the Royal Gorge Museum and History Center)

Another previous owner did not like the white paint so she hired a paint contractor to sand-blast the paint off. Halfway through the process, the owner decided that she liked the look of the chipping paint (part red brick, part white paint) so she told the contractor to stop where he was at. I’m very glad she did that for aesthetic reasons, however, chipping paint is an issue from HELL when you are trying to get a mortgage loan!

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

Yes, those are the original windows. We freeze our asses off in the winter.

Old houses are drafty, yes, but the entire back section of our house is wood frame and in 130-plus years of its existence, had not been insulated.

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

We suspected this right away (common in old houses). But it was confirmed when our six-year-old son punched a hole through the interior plaster wall when he was in the “time-out corner”. You could see day-light through the hole.

We then decided that we needed to be the ones where the buck would stop, so we paid to have the whole back of the house insulated. (The front section is all brick – about three feet thick, four in some areas!)

The process was rather painful – for the house and me – because holes had to be bored into the old clapboard and insulation pumped into the space between the lath boards and the exterior wood.

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

This not only left bore holes all over the back of my house, it also kicked up a hell-storm of disintegrating plaster dust INSIDE the house! What a mess.

But that was only one of the many, many projects we have tackled in the year that we have owned the place.

Other completed projects include:

Remodel of the master bedroom, new hot water heater, updated electrical, some plumbing updates, new exterior paint, front & back porches painted, new interior paint in some rooms, remodeled kids’ bedroom, carpeted the staircase, new flooring on upper level, sub-floor in the cellar, water-proofing basement, gutter repair, duct work professionally cleaned, new roof on garage, and a million other little things.

I won’t even bother to list the ‘to-do list’ (it is incredibly long).

We actually decided last summer that we couldn’t afford to spend any more money on the place so we put it up for sale. We figured that another owner might be able to give her the monetary attention that she deserved and that we could not adequately provide. There were a lot of interested parties and the house even went under contract at one point, but it all fell through. In the end we figured that the house did not want to be sold, so we decided to keep her. And put more money into her.

If you own an old house you know what I am talking about. We love her but she is a royal pain-in-the-rear.

It is the little things about her that captured my heart. The whimsical one-of-a-kind details like the wooden flowers someone made for the window-sill:

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

Or the “pig-cow-bell” that is fastened to a pillar on the back porch:

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

And the bird house on a vertical beam in the side yard (recently repainted by my mom – including her signature mini-maple leaf):

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

These were all little presents left behind by previous owners. Obviously, this house was loved.

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

As you can tell, I enjoy taking pictures of my house. It just sits there – never moves, never complains. And I can do-so as much as my little heart desires because I own the dang place (well, me and the bank).

Since this post is becoming exceedingly long, I am going to break it up into two parts. Tomorrow I will post interior pictures.

Stay tuned!


7 comments on “My old house (PART ONE)

  • I love how you have put it all together Sarah! Your amazing with words! I love your house, I love the fact that it has history. Something to research and stuff to learn. 😉

  • Hi Sarah, I’m just wondering if you have an information on when the chimneys were removed from the brick portion of the house? I noticed in the newspaper article from 1882 they were there, but in none of the more recent pics.
    I was also wondering (since construction of buildings and me go way back) if there is a basement under the house (or any part of it) or if it’s a crawl space, or what? I find it interesting as to what different parts of the world/country use for building foundations. In England they dig down a couple feet max. and lay a footing… no need to dig down 5′ like we do here to beat the frost!
    I’m enjoying your posts, and looking forward to the interior pics.

    • Hi Marie,
      No idea when the chimneys were removed in the past… we do know that there were wood stoves in every room though! There is a “cellar” under part of the house – bascially a really rough basment with access from the outside. The foundation walls were made from local sandstone quarried and delivered by inmates from the nearby prison. Yes – it is likely my house was built from prison labor!

  • I too live in an old Victorian house Circa 1872 in Ontario Canada.. I love your white washed
    walls, you are right the whitewashing adds so much character to the house. My house
    has smokey brick from an old chimney and is dirty but I love it that way.
    Fran…Oh and keep up the good work!

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