I write a lot about house histories, and I love to speak about how much fun they are to research and to write about. What is not to like? Learning the origin story of a house that you live in, or lived in, and love? Nothing. Until it becomes painful to write about. If you had asked me a few months ago if I thought this feeling would be possible, I would have said no. That is until we discovered that almost exactly to the day, two years after we left, 15 Pinewild Court was back on the market, and had sold.
We chose to leave a house that we designed, improved, maintained and loved, because we felt it was the right time. Time to retire, time to downsize, and time to move closer to our children. We also decided it would be a great opportunity to purchase a fixer-upper and bring another home back to life. But the story of our current home has not yet been fully written, time will tell how this house will speak to my heart and soul. But I have learned that not a day goes by that I don’t miss, and yes, sometimes mourn having left our old house behind.
The house that holds my heart entered our lives as Lot 68 in the Evergreen Meadows subdivision of Appleton, Outagamie, Wisconsin. Located at the top of Pinewild Court, we learned that it would be number 15. If I were to sit down to write its full story, it could be novel length, rather than blog post length. With that in mind, I have decided to approach our homes story through the eyes of its latest real estate listing.
“Located on a quiet cul de sac is where you will find this Federal Style Home. Exceptional finishing both inside and out. Impressive all brick exterior. Side loading garage. Private yard w/beautiful garden. Stunning entrance w/turned staircase. Formal & informal spaces. Prized kitchen w/commercial appliances. Fabulous 3 Seasons Rm w/1 of 6 fireplaces thru out. Cozy hearth Rm, Piano space, 1st Fl. Office, Grand Master Suite w/private patio. Finished LL for family fun. Garage can accommodate 3 cars.”
How do I unpack the above description, as there is so much going through my mind. I stop on one sentence then another. Let’s start with “Prized kitchen w/commercial appliances.”
In 1993 when we were in the design process for our new home, we were very hands on with opinions on may of the design details. But as I recall, the kitchen was not one of those details we spent a lot of time with. We saw it as a workable space, and we chose finishes that fit our budget at that time. Corian was not in the budget, so we chose a neutral, but pleasant formica top (this was many years before granite and stainless steel appliances became the desired design finish), we chose what we thought would be long lasting appliances – heck, they were in all the magazines that year, and moved on to other decisions.
Fast forward through many family night dinners, holidays with 20+ people, the hosting on non-profit holiday parties of 50+, and Mac & Cheese dinners when dad had to work late, and the appliances were starting to fail. The worst offender were the double ovens. In order for them to turn on, you had to first hit the control panel, then say a quick prayer. I wanted these double ovens, and loved them for most of their lives, but at this moment in 2012, I began to wonder if I should not have taken the appliance company up on their offer way back in 1993. We had ordered Jenn Air ovens, and they arrived with a Kitchen Aid double oven combo, that was an oven on the bottom, and a microwave on the top. They tried to convince me to keep them. I said no. I wanted the obscene luxury of two ovens. But Easter of 2012 when I opened the lower oven to find what looked like metal honeycomb nestled in the potatoes, we knew it was time to do something.
We could have just made the decision to replace the appliances, upgrade the countertop, sink, faucets and call it a day. It could have been a nice looking kitchen. But, we learned when the long awaited double ovens were finally installed and working that the cabinet maker had used an experimental paint on our job. A defective finish. The panel that enclosed the ovens, and was the first thing you saw as you came down the stairs blistered from the heat of the ovens. It looked horrible. This was a factor, but the real push to create a new kitchen was that we were in the remodel business, and looked forward to the challenge of designing a kitchen for ourselves.
We had already made a few changes to the original design as we settled into life at Pinewild Court. We like to cook together, so in 1997 a small sink had been installed on the “C Island” for Gary to do his prep work. He had his own set of knives in the drawer on the island, and the odds and ends tools for cleaning the fruits and vegetables that he was prepping.
All that we loved, wishes for changes, and the question of “Does this work for us?” were considered as we tweaked the layout for the new kitchen. We knew that we would stay within in the original footprint, but with a few changes. A 30” Wolf range would be installed were the cooktop had been, on the oven wall, we created a wall of Wolf ovens, at the top was a convection microwave, below that a wall oven, and below that a warming drawer. A Sub Zero refrigerator replaced the old side by side Kitchen Aid, and we swapped the dishwasher from the right side of the sink to the left. We are not fans of granite, but we loved the Cambria quartz that we chose for the countertops.
When we were through, we knew we had something special. As members of NARI (National Association of the Remodel Industry) we put together a project binder and entered the COtY Award process, (COtY is Contractor of the Year) at the National Level. The first step is to win at the Regional level, and those winners are placed into competition at the National level. We won at the Regional level. So this kitchen is not just prized, but prize winning!
I will let my binder tell the story of our new kitchen.
DESCRIPTION OF PROJECT
The time had come for the homeowners to remodel their 19-year-old kitchen. They had been babying the failing appliances for over two years as they discussed the pros and cons of their original kitchen design, determining what worked for them and what didn’t. What was working for them was the basic floor plan and the white cabinetry which was in keeping with their Federal style home. What wasn’t working for them was a much longer list.
What was not working:
The appliances. It was hit or miss as to whether the ovens would even turn on, or stay on for the duration of the cooking time required.
The location of the dishwasher. Although located next to the sink, it was not easy for one person to empty the dishwasher while another was cooking.
The location of the garbage pullout was not conveniently accessed from all angles.
The existing prep sink was too small.
Although conveniently located the planning desk was never used as the homeowner felt as though she was sitting in a dark hole.
The Butler’s Pantry upper cabinet had been installed at 16″ which was too low for effectively using the space. More height was needed.
The open space between the cabinets and the ceiling. It was just a catch-all for dirt and was clearly visible when walking down the stairs to the kitchen.
Designing the kitchen to exactly fit the existing floor plan of the cabinets.
The homeowner wished to retain the existing oak hardwood flooring.
The homeowners wished to keep the existing wallpaper. All cabinets needed to fit within the existing lines, and the custom crown molding needed to be saved and re-used.
Create easier access to the prep sink plumbing.
Change from an interior wall, down draft vent, to an updraft range hood.
Center the range within the visual space and actual space.
To follow through with the Federal architectural detail found elsewhere in the home, and create a space that blends into the existing open floor plan without screaming “New!”
The Homeowners Desires:
Professional grade appliances. The homeowners are avid cooks, and they desired professional grade appliances to enhance the enjoyment of preparing meals for family and friends.
A quartz countertop
More lighting, both recessed and under cabinet lighting.
A new hot water dispenser, with filtered water drinking option.
A kitchen that really fit the style of the home.
The homeowner was a fan of Pinterest so we took advantage of this and she created a Board just for pinning ideas she had for the kitchen. By linking to this board, we were able to see exactly what she was interested in, and to read her thoughts about how and where she envisioned using the idea. From sinks to knobs and drawer pulls, to tile, the homeowner shared all of her ideas with us through Pinterest.
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.
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 and move Forward.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The oldest maps, August 1884 and September 1887, do not include the block that the home which was reportedly built in 1875,  was built upon, but I find it in 1891, 1895, 1900, 1906, and 1913. The Key  tells me that it is a Dwelling, Frame construction, two stories, with a shingle roof. There is a “stable” on the property, although it is not very large in relation to the house. The 1906 and 1913 map tell us that the stable is approximately 30’ from the Fox River. Residing with S. A. and his family in the 1900 Federal Census  is John Pahlman, a servant, age 26, occupation: care of yard and barn. By the 1905 Wisconsin State Census , Enoy Chenett, age 24, had taken John’s place as the “coachman.” In 1910  Enoy had moved on, and John Demandt, age 22, occupation: servant, industry: private home, was residing with the family. So we now know there was a “stable” on the property. S.A. was an early adopter of the automobile, owning one by the August 1906 family reunion, as it was reported by his nephew, L. H. Cook, editor of the Marathon County Register that “Saturday morning S.A. Cook with his touring car and three other like machines that he had chartered left Neenah with the party for a trip around Lake Winnebago.” 
Taking a look at the change between the 1900 map and the 1906 map, you can see where they closed in part of the original open porch. Moving to the second image of the home from the Neenah Public Library, I have marked in red this part of the home that was enclosed sometime between 1900 and 1906.
I am very curious as to what the plain small (as shown in the photograph) one story building (as indicated by the number 1 on the maps) at the back of the much more ornate 2 story section, was actually used for – could this have been the kitchen?
Oh to actually see interior images of this home, plus more detailed exterior shots. For now we have the Sanborn maps combined with the few images we have. I guess I should count myself lucky.
Neenah Citizen, News Item, Neenah Citizen (Neenah, Wisconsin), 1998 Calendar produced by the Neenah Citizen, “Lost Neenah ~ Neenah’s architectural heritage, lost but not forgotten.” Cit. Date: 10 Nov 2005.
1900 U.S. census, Winnebago County, Wisconsin, population schedule, City of Neenah, 3rd Ward, enumeration district (ED) 127, sheet 1, p. 141A, dwelling 12, family 13, S. A. Cook household; digital images, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 Apr 2001); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T623, roll 1824.
1905 State Census, Winnebago County, Wisconsin, population schedule, Neenah, 3rd Ward, p. 10, family 1, line 1-6, S. A. Cook household; digital images, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 Feb 2007).
1910 U.S. census, Winnebago County, Wisconsin, population schedule, Town of Neenah, City of Neenah, Third Ward, enumeration district (ED) 126, sheet 5, p. 279A, dwelling 52, family 53, Samuel A Cook household; digital images, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 31 Aug 2004); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T624, roll 1744.
“From The Chilton Times,” (Unity)Marathon County Register, 17 Aug 1906, Friday, p. 2, col. 3. Cit. Date: 18 Nov 2003.
A year ago at this time we were reviewing and accepting an offer on our home of 25 years. A home that we dreamt about for five years, designed, and built in 1993. It was time to downsize. It was also the time that we made the decision to move from Wisconsin to Rhode Island to be closer to our children.
With the move no longer at some point in the distance, but with a definite date of 15 March 2019, on January 27th Gary and our daughter Kate left for Rhode Island to start the search for a home. I stayed in Wisconsin and started the long goodbye of sorting and packing for a home that would most likely be 1/2 the size of our current one.
They left me at the coldest point of the month. I have a screen shot of my weather app for January 30th at 6:33 a.m. At that time of the day, it was -24 degrees, feeling like -59. The high that day was expected to be -9, the low -22. I kept packing, my puppy at my side.
I packed for almost two months, seven days a week, from morning to evening. Kate stopped counting after ten trips to St. Vincent De Paul, Goodwill and the ReStore. While I had been fairly diligent about keeping on top of weeding out things we no longer needed over the years, there were many places in our home for small things to hide. Too many places. Too much stuff.
After we closed on our new home in Rhode Island, Gary and I headed back to Wisconsin to finish up some loose ends. Finishing a kitchen remodel project for him, and for me, the planning committee for the Wisconsin State Genealogical Societies Gene-A-Rama. Amy Johnson Crow was our main speaker, and I was also slated to speak. Then back to Appleton to start working through things at my mother’s home as she was going to join us in Rhode Island. While her home was smaller than ours had been, she had lived there for 39 years, and she had a basement full of memories.
Fast forward to a couple of months ago which found me sobbing in my basement, surrounded by boxes of “stuff” that I had brought with me. Looking for “stuff” that I seemed to have gotten rid of.
Ironically I was also catching up on Amy Johnson Crow’s podcast dated 17 Oct 2019: “3 Unexpected Things I Learned in Downsizing.” https://www.amyjohnsoncrow.com/3-unexpected-things-i-learned-in-downsizing/. In the podcast, and on the transcript she states: “It was mentally exhausting. Decision fatigue is a real thing. There comes a point where you simply cannot make any more coherent decisions. For my mom, my sisters, and I, that point usually came around the two-hour mark.”
I call this two-hour mark the “F#(*U@K it” mark. It was the point for me where I could no longer care if an item gave me “joy” ala Marie Kondo, I could only think that I could not fathom adding it to a box that I would have to then unpack miles from where I was at that moment. It was the point where I thought, “I don’t need this, I won’t miss this. YEAH! I don’t have to pack it.” Let’s just say that I made lots of mistakes. I DO miss some of the things I donated. I just did not have the luxury of time to take a break, and come back to the problem. You may ask why I did not start packing sooner. Well, it is hard to sell a home full of boxes. And I wanted my home to be viewed in its best light.
The reality is that I got rid of a lot of things I now regret, and I brought with me a lot of things I will now be donating.
Time is the enemy here. Once a house is sold the clock starts ticking. Every second brings you nearer to that moment when you will shut the door for the last time. While you may have gotten rid of too many physical things, you will always have the memories of time spent with family and friends in the house that you are leaving. You need to look forward to the opportunity of making new memories, and let’s face it, the fun of adding a few new tchotchkes purchased specifically for your new home.
Or to paraphrase Donkey: Cake! Cake has layers. Everybody likes cake!
Growing up I really only thought of the Cooks as my paternal grandmother’s family. This meant attending the Cook Family Reunion in the summer, it meant that I was included in the Cook Book, the genealogical story of the family. It was grandma pointing to the Cook monument in Oak Hill Cemetery as we drove past. Funny, I can vividly recall being able to spot the stone from the road, but do not recall ever entering the cemetery to actually look at it. And of course, it meant that we thought it was kind of cool to have the family name on the S. A. Cook Armory in Neenah, Winnebago County. And of course it was the story of the Lady Elgin tragedy and the loss of the matriarch, Jane McGarvy Cook and her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, but the survival of son, Jacob Harrison.
As I grew older, and my father delved into the life of Samuel Andrew Cook, S. A. for short, I realized that the Cook family was more than this. Much more. Layers upon layers of “more.”
As dad studied S. A., I took a look at the Civil War pension papers that my mother had ordered, and received. I became fascinated by S. A.’s older brother, Jacob Harrison. His passionate plea asking for leaves of absence to head back to Stockbridge, Calumet County, to check on his younger brother’s and sister (one of the brothers being my great-great grandfather), made me want to know more about him. This beginning study was chronicled in my 2006 self published snapshot. A Snapshot: Jacob Harrison Cook .
What I have learned since finishing this snapshot, is that the Cooks are pushy people. They jump into my research as I work on other projects. They won’t be ignored. Case in point are the two items that I will lay out below – but need to finish other things before delving back into what this means.
Jacob H. Cook moved to Appleton, Outagamie, Wisconsin in May 1883. As he had in all of the communities he had lived in previously, he jumped right in and became more than just the newest pharmacist in town. Among other things he served for many years as a Justice of the Peace, his name appearing on many marriage licenses. Maybe this explains the two land “stories” I will share below. I still have to noodle through the legalese and meaning.
Telling the tale in reverse order of discovery, is a piece of land now known as 923 North Richmond Street.
According to the city of Appleton, the house that sits on this lot dates to 1900. The deeds that I am looking at, are dated six years prior to 1900, so I am assuming that they refer to the land only.
On September 15, 1892, Herman and Julia A. Erb, sold a parcel of land located in the 5th Ward to J. H. Cook. This piece of property is known as Lot 13, in Block Two of the Hyde & Harriman Addition,  and the property description remains the same today in 2016, and you can see the location of the land on the above Google Map.
What I find fascinating about this purchase, is that the deed for this property is a Quit Claim Deed, and goes on to state: “…he being the assignee of a certain land contract dated Feby 12′ 1886 between Welcome Hyde and Alfred K. Brainerd Jr.” Meaning that Hyde and Brainerd had relinquished their rights to a piece of property, giving all rights to Jacob. The sum of the purchase was $147.00.
Just shy of two years later, on August 3, 1894, Jacob sold the land BACK to a Brainerd, in this case, A. K. Brainerd Sr., for $400.00. “Part of the above consideration is $160 to A. J. Reid on his mortgage, and $100 to Nancy Mason.” So what was this all about?
The next find is even more puzzling, and is really more about the people than the land. This was the first land record that Jacob pushed into my face. As I worked to satisfy my curiosity about the Fassbender property on State Street, which I talked about in the post A Closer Look at the Map, I was scanning the index in the letter “C,” and the phrase “J. H. Cook, guardian” popped out at me. Curious, I opened the volume and looked at the record, which was dated May 1, 1888, I read: “To all to whom these Presents shall Come, I Jacob H. Cook of Appleton in the County of Outagamie State of Wisconsin Guardian of Maria Brown Insane…” 
Who was this woman, and why would Jacob have been appointed her guardian? I did a quick search, and learned that her husband had been in the Civil War, and was a charter member of the local GAR Post along with Jacob. He passed away from paralysis in the Veteran’s Home in Waupaca, Waupaca County, in 1893. The couple had grown children living here in Appleton at the time, yet in 1888 poor Maria had already been declared insane, and Jacob her guardian. The census confirms that Maria spent the remaining years of her life first in the Appleton Insane Asylum, and later in the Outagamie County Asylum. She passed away in 1904, cause, old age.
Layers. Whether we are talking about onions or cake, there is always another layer, another unexpected facet of the Cook family to learn about and to explore.
Next stop. The Outagamie County Courthouse to see if I can learn more about guardianship for the insane in the late 1880s, and why would Jacob have been an assignee for the property on Richmond Street. But first, sorry Jacob, I have another project to finish.
“Wisconsin, Outagamie County Records, 1825-1980,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-22094-22094-70?cc=1463639 : accessed 29 March 2016), Land and Property; Deed record, 1890-1893, vol. 72; image 556 of 666; Outagamie County Courthouse, Appleton.
“Wisconsin, Outagamie County Records, 1825-1980,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1942-22094-33742-85?cc=1463639 : accessed 6 April 2016), Land and Property; Deed record, 1894-1895, vol. 86; image 200 of 646; Outagamie County Courthouse, Appleton.
“Wisconsin, Outagamie County Records, 1825-1980,” images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-22094-8461-98?cc=1463639 : accessed 6 April 2016), Land and Property; Deed record, 1882-1913, vol. 59; image 34 of 485; Outagamie County Courthouse, Appleton.
My family lived in Owatonna, Steele Co., Minnesota from 1973 until 1980 – late summer moves both times. We lived in a house built by my parents; it had a view of Maple Creek, and sat above the fairway of what is now called Brooktree Golf Course. Our property had a small wooded section at the west end, which overlooked the fairway.
Some time in the mid 1970s, my parents purchased a park bench to place under the trees next to the birdbath. It was a real park bench, the kind that had holes in the feet so that it could be bolted into place. My mom thinks they may have paid $4.00 for the bench, one of two that were for sale.
When they moved to Appleton, the bench naturally moved with them, and sat for many years, first on the front stoop, and later in the corner of the back yard. Eventually the wood rotted away.
I took the pieces and the legs to our shop, hoping to use the remaining wood as a pattern. Unfortunately the wood was thrown out during a shop clean out, so the project sat. Until now. My son is hoping to take his hobby to the next level, and is having fun adding “toys” to his basement workshop. The bench became one of his first projects completed in this new space.
This weekend he brought the park bench home, and presented it to my mother. A piece picked up in an antique store in the late 1970s, is now fresh and beautiful with newly painted legs, and a cedar seat and back. Now the only decision is, where to place it, and when will it be warm enough to enjoy it. To be honest the bench looks so nice on his deck in this photo that I wasn’t sure that he would willing to give it away.