Haunted House?

When I was a child in Lebanon, Oregon, this house was known as the “haunted house” in the neighborhood.   It was surrounded by hugely overgrown hedges and the front porch was wrapped in dark, discolored plastic.   It really did have a spooky aspect to it.

In the fall of 1964 my parents bought the old house, (The photo was taken around 1900, the house was built in 1890) and we moved into the ground floor.   At the time, the house was being used as a rooming house: (as it had been since the end of WW2, and it was more than a little worse for wear) there were three tenants upstairs, and one who lived out back in the former carriage house that was now attached to the rear of the house.

My parents bought the house with the understanding that the tenants would be allowed to continue to live there for six months, but all of them were gone within about 90 days.   The entire infrastructure of the house was overburdened.  The main source of heat in the main part of the house was an oil stove in the living room.  The stove pipe passed through the center of  a circular cast iron register set in the ceiling up to the second floor.  In the second floor apartment there was an additional radiator like device with a small built in fan to extract  the remaining heat from the stove pipe before it took a 90 degree turn into the brick chimney leading to the roof.

The wiring was all in the old knob and post fashion with the lighting fixtures having cloth insulated wires running from the switches (which were either rotary devices or two push button types) up the wall and across the ceiling:  the house was built in the 1890’s prior to electrification.   The plumbing fixtures were all from the 20’s, with two claw footed cast iron bathtubs.   The two bathrooms were added at some point after the initial construction where the two halves of the house came together, (the house being shaped like a “T”) off to the side of the kitchen, so as to minimize the additional plumbing needed to add indoor plumbing.

The house lacked a perimeter foundation with beams supported by posts sitting on large rocks set in to the earth.   It was sagging in places and the east end was a couple inches lower than the west.   During the next 15 years my stepdad  (a sheet metal guy: he also grew up on a farm) upgraded virtually all the systems in the house, installing central heating, rewiring most of it, adding insulation where possible, re roofing it, remodeling the bathrooms and kitchen, and leveling the house by pouring some concrete pads and adding supports.  We had to raise the entire house with jacks to do this.

I received a real education in construction during all of this.   My step dad explained everything he was doing to me, and took the time to show me interesting details.  How the house originally was put together with square nails and how and where the additions had been added.   I wanted a more “modern” room and so we remodeled it and it was the only room with sheet rock,  wall to wall carpet, and a modern closet in the whole house.  We converted the upstairs apartment that had a kitchen into her art studio, and she worked in the garden to convert a virtual jungle (blackberry thickets, etc) into something that that was nice to look at out of the 16 panel window that faced the morning sun.

My step dad passed on in 1979 and never had the chance to “finish” the house the way they’d planned.   I moved to California in 1980.  My mom was going to sell the house and move to California to move in with her sister who was also recently widowed.   She never could get herself to sellthe place, however.  She’d lived in Lebanon for over 30 years at that point and she just loved that house.    She lived there by herself for the next 20 years.   I spent my summer vacations for the next decade visiting her and trying to do whatever repairs were needed.  Many of my friends also helped her when she needed things done or they’d show up with a cord of wood or fix her garage door.

In 1990 she fell down the stairs and I ended up returning to Oregon.   I spent a lot of the next decade getting reaquainted with virtually every aspect of that house.  I replaced all the toilets, much of the rest of the plumbing, painted the entire house twice and replaced the floor in her bathroom, it always seemed to be something.  I got to know the guy at the hardware store real well.   I tried to get her to sell the place and get something smaller, cheaper and a lot newer, but she wasn’t buying into it.  Those of you who knew my mother understand fully that getting her to change her mind was out of the question.

My mom passed away in November of 1999 at the age of 89.   She’d lived the last 34 years of her life (she was only hospitalized for 2 weeks) in that house, and her ashes are scattered in her garden in the back yard.   I think she probably lived in the house longer than any other occupant.

It’s changed hands twice since then, and If you wish to read a little more about it, here’s a link to a historical house website: http://www.ci.lebanon.or.us/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=2145

Many people told me I should have kept it.   It was my mother’s dream, not mine, and I was tired of worrying about it.  I didn’t love it and after my mom the house was used to having someone who loved it take care of it and preserve it.    People often send me photos of it, and here’s the latest one:

I think my mom would be happy with this.      I should probably send the current owners a copy of this post, after all, I know the address.  They might find this interesting.

My mom also collected antiques: she was also an oil painter and the house was full of her paintings.   It was a little like growing up in a museum.  That probably explains a lot.