It is a place of magic and mundane, of tech and history, of stone and of feeling. It is, soon to be was, my house. I am not sure if I can call it my Home, but it will be a part of me for as long as I live.
Some places are special because of who has lived there. This place makes those who live there special.
Unfortunately my family grows to big for this place, and it is too far from where I work, to long the commute, not for me but for my family. Necessity demands that I leave this place. Before I go, I wish you to know it a bit as I have known it.
Where do I begin?
i think, with the tree.
Over 100 years ago there lived a tree. It was a white Oak I believe, not the largest in the woods, nor the tallest, but one special. It stood tall, not 100 yards from the country road, and not two hundred from the one room school house, with its loud bell waking these Ozark hills to the call to learn.
As the tree grew tall the road was paved. Cars began to follow it, as it connected the towns of Sullivan and St. Clair. It was a secondary road, for Rte 66 was a straighter way between these two small towns. Highway K, as the road was named, took a more leisurely coarse, following the not-so-mighty Meramec river, that flowed but a half mile down the hill from our tree.
St. Clair was a crossroads. Rte. 66, and Highway 30, two different routes into the Metropolis of St. Louis, met there, along with Hwy 47. Hwy 47 headed through Union, past Washington and Augusta to St. Charles Missouri, four old towns full of beer making Germans and wine making Italians.
Alas, this was the time of Prohibition. Wine and Beer were outlawed. Some of there workers turned to land speculation. The families trapped in St. Louis during its notorious hot and humid summers were looking for cool places to run to. Summer homes along the cool Meramec, just off main highways, would be perfect.
A group of craftsmen, architects, engineers, and others met beside our tree and began to plan. They would create a subdivision, a whole mini-town, along the steep hill leading from Highwy K down to the river.
First they needed a showcase house, something special and perfect. While tractors and earth movers began forming a road in the side of the hill to connect the houses to come, the builders began gathering rocks for their inspired creation.
They cleared some of the trees from around the main one, but did not touch it yet. Then they found stones, large stones, and began creating a square surrounding the tree.
The stones they used were huge. All over 6 inches thick, some of them several feet long. With precision they stacked them, insuring the home would be well insulated from the heat of summer.
Two large windows, over 6 feet wide, were put in the front of the house, on each side of the door. On the south side, another row of windows.
Above the door, where the roof angled down from a point another 12 feet high, another set of windows were installed to insure plenty of light.
On the north side, a large stone fireplace was built, a four foot wide three foot tall opening in the front, with a large mantle and a protruding stone floor framing it. The stone masons were expert craftsmen. Every extra was placed into the stone, from stone shelves built into the walls in front and back, to sconces embedded in the wall to hold torches, flowers, or whatever needed to be held.
Hard wood floors were crafted and laid along the whole of the house. Sanded and varnished they were ready to be used.
But the real craft came with the tree. With its roots still buried in the deep soil, they trimmed off its tops, many of its branches, and its bark. On top of this skeleton of a tree they began to build the staircase.
For stairs, they took some of the other arrow straight cedar trees that they had cut down. The cut logs about 18 inches long, then split them in half. The new flat surface would be the step. Then they nailed these half-logs between two five or 10 foot long logs to create a cedar staircase.
The connected this staircase, three steps to a small landing, then a sharp right up twelve more steps to the loft. The stairs on the landing were connected to the stone wall. The stairs up to the loft were connected to a partition wall that divided the house in half. All of this was connected and supported by the remains of the tree.
Just the natural woods, cobbled together with rustic precision. Pure line and form and yet purely natural.
It is why I call this place, "The Either Haus". It is both things, and neither.
It is when one delves between definitions, between one or the other, that definitions lose meaning and magic begins.
So I've read, but don't quite believe.
I must go now, but there is so much more to tell of this house, its growth and its beauty. I will be back, probably not until tomorrow.
Posted by Synesthesia (Member # 4774) on :
You win at writing. But for a moment I thought you were leaving HERE. That would make me sad, as you are cool.
Posted by Artemisia Tridentata (Member # 8746) on :
Are we talking a Mid-America Swiss Family Robinson cottage? That would be awsome.
Posted by rivka (Member # 4859) on :
This is a great landmark, and I'm guessing the main reason it hasn't gotten more responses is that most of us have no idea what to say!
It sounds like an awesome house. But you're moving for a good reason. A bittersweet move.
Here's hoping the new place has cool stories of its own!
Posted by vonk (Member # 9027) on :
Wow, that sounds like an awesome house! The staircase and fireplace especially. Is the tree still alive?
Posted by Tante Shvester (Member # 8202) on :
I wish I could see pictures to go with your descriptions. It sounds wonderful.
Posted by Dan_raven (Member # 3383) on :
Tante, I'll put some pictures up on the Hatrack Picture thread.
What is the current Hatrack Picture thread?
Arte, yes, that describes it well, but with modern conveniences like high-speed internet access.
Vonk, you ain't seen nothin yet.
Posted by Earendil18 (Member # 3180) on :
I want to know about the tree!
Posted by BandoCommando (Member # 7746) on :
Nice work! Excellent, vivid writing! And a great teaser to boot!
Posted by Dan_raven (Member # 3383) on :
The loft covers the back (west) half of the oldest section of the house. It is about 12 feet deep and as wide as the house is, but the sharp angle of the roof makes most of it good for only storage. The floors are the same wood as the ceiling in the rooms below. The original heating system was two grate covered holes in the floor that allowed the heated air from below to rise above.
The main focal point of the loft was the window.
This was the only window to the back of the house. I believe there was originally a porch built back there. There are some stone supports for one still there. But the rock wall below does not open to the back. But upstairs, the view was impressive. A half a mile below the river ran clear and clean. Hills covered in trees and farms, pastures and cliffs, were all visible. Occasionally eagles and hawks would fly over the river, looking for a quick dinner of fish or rabbit. The house was up such a steep hill, safe from all flooding, that you could actually be eye to eye with the soaring birds, or even look down upon them as they flew.
Below the loft, the house was divided into two rooms of 10 x 12 and a hallway. Each divided room held one window. The north room held a small wood stove or fireplace.
However, it was the roof that showed the artist. It was the roof that was the topped the beautiful stone construction with an icing of delicate pine and geometry.
The roof was a sharp pitched affair. It ran the length of the home East to West, front to back. They took boards, 2 x 8's in lumber terms or two inch thick boards that were eight inches across, and covered them with shingles to make the roof.
EACH BOARD RAN THE ENTIRE LENGTH OF THE HOUSE, and continued to stretch another ten feet out the front to cover the porch they built.
These boards were 30 to 35 feet long each. The only breaks in the boards were on ones replaced due to damage when the roof was repaired.
To support those long boards required braces, struts, trusses of a different sort.
They began with long cedar poles, freshly cut from the tree, with the bark still attached. How do I describe the spiderweb of pine they created as support for the roof? Back to basic high school Geometry.
Begin at Point A and draw a line at about 45 Degrees upward to Point B. This is Line Z.
From Point B draw a line, again about 45 Degrees, but downward to point C. This is line X.
This inverted V is the basic roof support.
Again, starting at point A draw a line to Point D which is 1/3 of the way from Point B to Point C on Line Z. This is Line Y.
Do likewise from Point C to point E which is 1/3 of the way from Point B to Point A on Line X. This is Line W.
What you have is a mixture of a triangle and an X.
Now hanging from Point D on Line Z go straight down until you hit Line Y. This is Line O.
Do the same from Point E on Line X till you hit Line W. This is Line P.
Well this precise geometric pattern if produced, in pine poles about 3 inches thick to form the trusses for the roof. They are repeated every 2 to 3 feet across the length of the roof, and once out the door, across the ten feet of roof that covers the front porch. The light colored thin pine poles leave plenty of space for air, light, and height to be viewed in the room. (And running Christmas lights on two or three of the trusses outside, gives a fun three dimension effect for passing traffic.). It is basically like raising a ceiling on a cross between living trees and spider webs and, well, high school geometry.
Everyone who enters the house looks up and goes, "Wow."
The down side of the roof, was that it consisted of board covered with shingles. Insulation? No. Insulation wasn't a concept in 1927.
In the winter the heat that didn't escape up the fireplace flue escaped out of the roof. In the summer the coolness of the stone walls could not last upstairs where the roof lifted it away.
There were two more things needed for a well functioning 1920's home. Water and getting rid of water. Plumbing and sewers had not reached this rural haven. So the builders used more stones to build a grand gazebo, with ling stone benches between the supporting pillars. In the middle of this stone gazebo was the cistern.
For the second problem, well and even grander building was put out back. A full stone outhouse. A two seater at that.
Progress, 1920's style.
The doors were the final thing added to the house. They were thick oak boards held together by a black Iron Z. In the center of the front door was a peephole. It was not a small hole to see out of. There was no fancy fish-eye optic to see through. It was just a big round, iron-covered hole, just about the right size for a shot-gun barrel.
Now, when the builders had finished this first house, and offered it for sale, it sold fast. They built a second house two lots away, bigger and fancier with more outbuildings. When one of the local oligarchs toured it, he said "I'll buy it all."
"You mean you want the big house?" asked the realtor.
"No. I want all the lots. I don't like close neighbors."
"Well, sir, we already sold the first lot. But the rest are available."
"Hmmm. Theres a good set of woods between us and them. Done."
So our neighbors bought the surrounding lots, some on each side of the house we started talking about, and all the lots that led down to the river. The road they were building to connect the houses went unfinished, nothing more than a long odd dent in the hillside. The stone pathways they were building to connect the neighbors with friendly walkways with enchanted stone bridges went half finished. The first owners moved in.
Now I know nothing about the first owners of the house, but I do have my suspicions. Imagine yourself at the height of prohibition. There is a piece of property for sale at the very crossroads of three main highways into town. The area is filled with beer-makers and wine-makers, while that town is filled with thirsty people.
On that piece of property is a house, set back from the road, surrounded by trees, with thick, bullet proof thick, stone walls and a fortress of a door with a shot-gun sized peep hole used for greeting strangers who come a calling.
I don't know that there was ever any bootlegging going on in that house, but if so, I would not be surprised.
Tomorrow--the house grows bigger and better.
Posted by Flaming Toad on a Stick (Member # 9302) on :
Posted by Dragon (Member # 3670) on :
That house sounds amazing! The new owners are very lucky, as is your family for having lived there.
Posted by ketchupqueen (Member # 6877) on :
What a cool house.
My dad grew up in a house with an actual secret room used during Prohibition. Secret doors into it and a tunnel out to the back yard and everything.
Posted by Dan_raven (Member # 3383) on :
Sorry for the delay in continuing. They people putting bids on the house all fell through. My job got more strenuous and other problems keep turning up.
But for tonight, I will bask in the beauty that is my house.
The first major change that happened to the house was the addition of the kitchen. The back porch was replaced, or built up, into a real inside room, extending the house by about 10 feet. Sure, the built in stone shelf was kept, and the back door became the kitchen door by the simple expedient of removing the lock. Hey, the wife refused to be locked into the kitchen.
The ceiling was not vaulted, for the addition was not the two stories of the rest of the house (or is that story and a half?) Instead of slanting North and South, it slanted due west. Where the first builders used pine poles as roof supports, this builder used railroad ties and wooden poles just for decoration, to give it that rugged look.
He was a great craftsman. He built sturdy, beautiful built in cabinets, and a counter that is the envy of my family.
The addition was two rooms, a kitchen and a dining room. They had a very nice hanging light for the dining room, and then some ugly green tile for the kitchen.
They also took the stove out of one of the back rooms of the old house, and rerouted the flue so it came into the kitchen. Then they added a nice stove.
The house is on a hill, so the crawl space under this new addition was large enough to stand up in. It became a storage area, with mud and rock floors.
Sometime later, they took the northern third of this crawl space, walled it in, cemented the floor with a nice drain, and ran electricity to it. From here the added the well and pump, and eventually a heater, then a water heater.
However the only way to access this room was to go outside, down the steps. The southern part of this crawlspace was accessible by a half/door on the southern side of the house. These doors were thick wood, well insulated later, as the walls were thick. The wooden floors were not thick, or well insulated, so by heating the crawlspace, well, we keep our toesies warm.
They added a heavy dog door to the souther entrance. Apparently the earlier tenants also had dogs. There is nothing so fun as being awoken in the middle of the night by a dog howling under your floor, because he walked through the heavy doggie door and couldn't get himself out.
With the well and storage tank added to the house, the cistern was no longer needed. It was covered by a large loose slab of concrete. To this day stepping on the concrete cap causes it to shake.
Electricity was run through the house, again someone very good did about half of it. Someone not so good ran the rest. It came in via a closet built into the dining room. I believe that this closet is the remnant of an old chimney from the back porch fireplace, for there is a good sized chimney sticking above it on the outside roof.
Telephone service was run into the house, coming inside from under the floors, right by the big central tree. Later splices of this main line allowed a phone to go in the kitchen and upstairs.
Next time--the ultimate addition. The house gets an indoor bathroom. Can you contain the excitement?
Posted by rivka (Member # 4859) on :
Hopefully, at least until the installation is complete.