Research Thoughts

Living in Limbo

I love house histories. I love to teach people how to research them, I love to tell my own family stories through the history of our homes. There is so much to learn when looking at a place that shelters and protects your ancestors. 

Today, we are sheltering in our homes due to the COVID19 virus. We are grateful that our home will assist us in protecting our family from this deadly virus, now turning into a pandemic as everything closes around us. Our lives changing and morphing into something new and unknown. 

Oddly, I was in this same place of limbo a year ago today as I left my home of 26 years for a new home, where I knew my life would change forever and would morph into something new and unknown. 

We closed on our home in Appleton, Outagamie, Wisconsin on 15 Mar 2019. We started the two-day drive to Rhode Island the next day, and a year ago today we arrived here, and settled in with our son for the night. We closed on our new home on the 18th, and quickly headed to the house to meet the moving van. 

The home we left behind was the fulfillment of a dream that started five years before the building process began. We designed every inch of the house, and we have a 20+ page list of design direction to prove it. Our son was nine months old when the weather finally allowed us to break ground. Our daughter had just celebrated her fourth birthday. I have not yet put to paper the story of this house, but I have the photographic journey well documented. The decision to downsize was a hard one to make, but there were many personal reasons more important than the love of a house to push us to make the move. We will always have our memories. 

Our Home as it was

As we drove through upstate New York, down into Massachusetts and finally into Rhode Island, the sense of being in limbo was weighing heavily on my heart. 

A year later, the sense of limbo is again weighing heavily on my heart, but like the move, I have confidence that our country, and our world will get through this, and we can again have Hope[1] and move Forward[2].

House Histories. The purpose of this post. When we purchased this house on a double corner lot in Rumford, Providence, Rhode Island, it had what the neighborhood called: The Wood Room. It seems it was a bit infamous, and it definitely was ugly. It certainly didn’t deter us from purchasing this home, but it did present a challenge. The couple from whom we purchased the home had lived here for 25 years, raising their three daughters, and by their own admission, not doing much to the home. The Wood Room was created by the previous owner, Dr. Frederic Ripley and his wife Miriam and their three children who purchased the home in about 1959. 

The night we moved in 18 Mar 2019

When the home was designed in 1935, the garage was built about 17 feet from the house. This space later hosted a patio, and also a screen porch (according to neighborhood information). Sometime in the late 1960s Dr. Ripley came up with the idea to create a true addition to the house, connecting the house to the garage. He had access to 200-year-old barn wood from an old barn in Massachusetts, and English hand-made brick, also 100s of years old. He would panel the walls with the barn wood, and build a fireplace using the brick. 

Because the home would be losing the service door into the garage, a window in the powder room, the kitchen window over the sink, and access to the outside from the kitchen, as the exterior doorway became an interior doorway, the Ripley’s installed a large, double sliding door on one end of the room, providing access to the back yard. An entryway with closet was designed for the opposite side of the room to provide access to the driveway, and garage.

The footings were laid, and clear pine was used as flooring material. The paneling was hung first, then the ceiling was boarded and plastered. The paneling was left rough, and much as it must have been when it was salvaged. The Ripley’s dream for a fireplace became a large, rounded, raised hearth fireplace. The room was heated with its own steam heat system, utilizing large, floor mounted radiators placed all around the room. 

The Ripley’s lived in the home until 1993. Miriam Ripley passing away in January, and Frederic in June. The house was sold the following May. Fast forward to 2018, and the current owners wish to move on. The room looked much as it did when the Ripley’s had a dream, albeit now a bit dusty and covered with cat hair. 

Today in 2020, the room has a new life. We, as the new owners also had a dream for the room. Twelve years spent as remodelers in Appleton as Distinctive Renovations helped us to hone our own vision, and work to make it a reality. 

The fireplace was rebuilt by a very talented mason who knew just what to do to transform it into a Rumford fireplace. Yes, I live in the community named for Count Rumford who was the inventor of this efficient fireplace design. The demolition produced 8 mice nests that needed to be removed, evidence that fire had been licking its way through cracks in the original mortar, and could possibly have created a house fire, along with a very strange way of building a fireplace. 

Fire

The brick was salvaged, and some of it was used to create a beautiful hearth. We next hired another talented man to custom build a wall of shelves and a mantel to grace our new soapstone surround fireplace. Work still needs to be done as we need to install the finish molding, but that will come in time. 

What about the barn board you may ask? Well, we demoed it ourselves, pulled all of the nails, stacked, measured, and then sold it. We did keep one piece that measures 16 ½ W X 60 ½ L X 1” thick. That was not the longest, nor the widest board, but it was one of the best looking. What we will do with it, time will tell. 

Still working on details

This house, a colonial revival built in 1935 is getting a fresh look on life. Our fixer-upper is starting to come back to life. Just as the spring crocus outside my window, it is looking forward to the hope of a new spring…and not being stuck in limbo any longer. Just as I wish and pray for a new spring for our country, that the virus will soon be contained, and we will all be out enjoying the freshness of a new life. 


[1] The motto of Rhode Island.

[2] The motto of Wisconsin. 

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