Building Autumn Hill: Getting to Know the House

EN guest blogger Katie Murphy and her husband, Roger, are building their dream farm in New Hampshire, and we’ve invited her to blog about the adventure. This first post detailed their year-long quest to buy the right property, the second post is all about putting in the ring and today’s post is about getting to know their 250-year-old home. Ask Katie questions about the process at [email protected]. Visit her website at www.murphyeventing.com.

A rib one of the dogs unearthed.

From Katie:

We are getting to know our house. Our house is getting to know us. Day by day, Roger and I work to transform this antique Colonial house into our home. The house seems to appreciate our efforts, and we have been fortunate to find few problems we had not discovered during our home inspection.

Over the past 250+ years, many generations have worked to make this house their home, leaving subtle nods to their period of stewardship to be discovered by future owners. I love old homes. I grew up in a 1700’s cape. Though he grew up in an older Victorian, Roger was not familiar with “old” homes, their quirks and occasional tricks. Over the past few months, Roger and I have discovered many things about our home — some of which we still can’t figure out!

  • Toilets — The first thing we did was replace our toilet seats.
  • Indian Shutters — We have two types: raised panels and horizontal slats. Contrary to popular myth that these were used for protection against Indians, the shutters were used to block drafts, provide privacy and protect belongings from sun damage. Roger was eagerly making plans to replace all the windows and remove the Indian shutters. We discussed this, the truth that we could not afford the endeavor, and the historic importance of the shutters. It turns out that our windows, combined with storm shutters, are some of the best for insulation. He now loves and appreciates them!
  • Our first day at the farm, we found an infant mouse on the floor of our second level. Blind, hairless and weak, we tried to keep it warm and offered it water. The poor thing passed away shortly after.
  • Hidden Messages — The inside of one of our closet doors is covered in old writing.
  • Plaster — The previous owners had a plaster restoration specialist from Pennsylvania restore much of the plaster throughout the home. There are areas, however, where it is cracked, split or simply missing (one of our closets). Roger was terrified, thinking the walls were falling apart. The home had settled; these areas had not been restored. At 250 years old, I’d have a few wrinkles too!
  • Waterfalls — During a fall rain storm, we discovered a waterfall in our basement squirting out the base of our fieldstone foundation. Roger and I watched it in disbelief, and then laughed. We have since installed a gutter.
  • The Antique Chill — Aside from one exterior wall, our home has no insulation. Brr! Roger single-handedly installed the vapor barrier and insulation in our attic. Here’s hoping for a warm winter.
  • Firearms — The previous owners had a gun collection. They took their firearms with them, but left behind a few stray bullets. One of our dogs discovered one between the floor boards. We grabbed it before they could chew on it.
  • Making New Friends — Roger was greeted by a 2.5-foot-long snake in the basement. He screamed, the snake lifted its head and hissed. We haven’t seen it since.
  • Early Winter — None of our chimneys were lined, which means the furnace was not properly vented. In other words, we had no heat in the house for a long time. Pair that with a seemingly chilly start to winter and you’ve got one cold house. Temperatures dropped to 45 degrees. We now have a pellet stove and chimney liners — toasty!
  • One of our circuit breakers is labeled “Strawberry Monkey.” We still don’t know what that means. I’m hoping it’s a hidden blender for fruity concoctions!
  • Magic number 8 — We discovered another cellar, which included another brick archway. In the room above behind an old coal stove, we found an eighth fireplace covered with plaster and boards.
  • Burials — There are two large, raised beds deliberately covered with large rocks. My guess is that there are carcasses beneath. We won’t be digging them up.
  • Skeletons — While showing the riding ring, Sophie excitedly came running up the hill and greeted our guest with a rib.  A big one. Neither of the raised beds were disturbed, so there must be another one!
  • Surprise Visitor — We found a large toad in our kitchen. We still don’t know where it came from or how it got in the house. We put it outside and wished it well.
  • Lumberjack — We had to remove a beautiful pine tree that was causing roof damage. It was nearly four stories high!
  • Bugs — Once we moved in, we noticed a lot of insects in the house. They were constantly appearing. Roger was right; they were everywhere. They have since moved out.
  • Hidden Jewels — We found a very petite child’s ring tucked in the back of one of the closets. We have decided it will stay with the house.

Within only a few months, we have learned a lot about this house. We are eager to uncover more mysteries, stories and history! I am excited for spring; Roger’s aunt, a Master Gardener, says we have more then seven kinds of roses on the property. Imagine what else lays dormant!

It may sound silly, but I think this home chose us. Or, was waiting for us. After the four other properties, offers and contracts that fell through, time and time again Roger and I were certain we would never find anything better then the last. Then came Autumn Hill Farm. Every time we enter our driveway and look up the hill to our property, we are amazed that we call this place home. I am astounded to think of the changes this house has experienced, and viewed, from atop the hill; a lot has happened in nearly 250 years. We are excited for our future, but we are humbled to be a part of the life, history and future of this lovely property.

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