One big concern about the house was the moisture in the basement. There was mold about 3" deep on a couple of areas and all the sheetrock ceiling had to be removed. Moisture is fairly easy to detect, but the source takes a bit more study. We checked the sump pump, walls, and drainage around the house. The sump was at the west end of the basement and it was determined that a more central location would help. There is a long, narrow room in the center of the basement that parrallels the upstairs halls as they are the central support walls of a very heavy house. Moisture in this area could enhance (in addition to mold), so we took action, more action, and really tough action. The unused room (like most damp areas) had become a storage room filled with cans of paint, lumber, benches, insulation, and all on a floor of plastic and indoor/outdoor carpet. There was one bare light bulb, so it was tough to see well in the long narrow room. Your shadow would grow and project onto the walls. Any movement by a person or object was broadcast on two or three walls. This was tough, since everyone I had met asked about tunnels, slaves, and ghosts. Get real! You spend time in a dark basement of an old home after having read most of Steven Kings's books and I bet that you have apprehensions too. I carried out everything and was so pumped by listening for noises and watching shadows move that I could go all the way to daylight with a very heavy load. Man, it was nice when that room was cleared and we could get DCF electric to add lighting the length of the room.
With light, I could see much better and the walls were very stable. The floor; however, was a mess of wet clay type soil. It was difficult to tell where the source of water started. Our first idea was to dig a trench down the middle of the room and have Snyider plumbing install a sump pumb to get the water out of the house. The pump worked fine, but the clay soil would not pass water from the edges to the center of the room, so the drain tile did not carry enough water to the pump. Next, I talked with Kieth Baker. The Spurgeon brothers came to help me excavate the long room by hand to detect the inflow of water. What a mess. Each shovelfull of dirt stuck to the shovel like one of those swifter commercials. You had to bang the blade of the shovel on a board to get 80% of the mud off and just accept the 20% that weighed down the shovel for the next load. This 28 foot long room had no windows, so we had to carry the mud into the large wonderful room that Bob Crist and Paul Todd had so loved. Load after load of the sticky stuff went onto the cement floor of their meeting room. A wheelbarrow of mud on a slick floor is a tough job. Darren and Aron are strong as well as good natured. We stumble all over the place in boots that kept getting stuck, but no one fell into the muck. Finally, about 18" of mud floor was evacuated. Water flowed from the east wall and out from under the cement floors to the north and south. The benefit of the clay was that we could scrape a trough toward the sump and the water dutifully flowed that direction. The room began to dry and the source of the water flows was identified for further action.
The mud in the meeting room was another adventure. Once again, Kieth and the Spurgeon brothers found a solution. They manufactured a small elevator much like might be used on a farm to take hay to the second floor of a barn. We stuck it out a window and plugged in the motor. Zoom, it took off at a high rate of speed throwing mud and rocks out the window and against the inside wall. We scooped'm up and threw them back on the rolling belt for another shot at the open window. Since we let the mud dry a bit on the concrete floor, it was not as sticky this time. If you read the next episode (blog), I will tell you some of the discoveries that we unearthed.
It sounds simple enough, but I must confess to my lack of skill in this area. We were working on restoring the east bath upstairs and Dennis of Snyder Plumbing was helping. In fact, I was helping and Dennis was the brains of the operation. You must understand that we found many water lines that had broken due to freeze up during some previous winter. Dennis found all the breaks that we could possibly see and did a great job of repair. It came to "test time" and he turned on the water to the house and watched on the first floor while I watched the second floor. All went well until I heard running water and someone yelled on the first floor. Water was pouring out of the chandelier in the parlor and the chandelier in the main entrance hall. It takes considerable time for water pressure to relax and all we could do was watch and hope until the flow stopped. We looked at each other and went upstairs to search out the break. Well, the breaks were well hidden under the flooring and under a bathroom vanity built in the 1950's. The first break we found by looking in an old electrical access panel over the parlor chandelier. The second was found by eliminating all the other possibilities and taking a guess, which was confirmed when we tore out the bathroom vanity. Bingo, spit copper tubing was found and repaired. Since we had started the bathroom restoration, I asked
Dennis how to remove the tub. My suggestion was to use a saw's all. The tub was blue and I assumed that it was made of fiberglass. Dennis is a very understated person and he sounded like the actor Jimmy Stewart. "Well, if it were me, I would close this bathroom door, see? " I nodded. "Then, I would put on some safety classes." He paused to see if I grasp the concept, and I nodded. He asked if I had a big hammer and, like a bobble head, I just kept nodding. Then with a sly, but gentle smile he said, "hit that bathtub with the hammer until she breaks into a lot of little pieces"! I told him that it would be almost a sin to destroy a tub in such good condition. Couldn't we just remove it and slide it out the door to the porch and give it away? Dennis went back into his Jimmy Stewart, "Well, yes we could, but that tub probably weighs over 400lbs"! A vision of it chasing me down the stairs and crashing through a wall lead me to accepting the advise of Dennis. So, I called Kyler (Big Hammer) Rash and we did some sinnin' on that tub and threw 400+ lbs of cast iron out the window, and over the porch roof to the ground. Man, Kyler can swing a hammer!!!!
We have all watched children grow up overnight. Time seems to crawl during certain moments, but the years can fly. Betty Lou Crist recently visited the mansion for the first time in 16 years. Can you imagine the questions she had as she watched other people adjust the building that she had called home with her husband, Robert, for 35 years. It must have been similar to hearing a sound upstairs when you are home alone. Should I look or stay where I safely stand? It was also a question for Marilyn and I, as we have always hoped that our taste and ideas meet with the approval of the Christ family. Things seemed to be going in the right direction when Robert made his weekly inspection and Betty Lou related the story of her mother's first visit. Mother walked through the doors for the first time and said, "Betty Lou, this house needs color!". That story made us feel a little better, because color and lighting were our main goal for the house. Well, Mrs LaGrand and Betty Lou, we have color! It was great to see Betty Lou and Robert, along with Robin, Dan, and Camron Buckman walk up the front porch stairs and into the house. From room to room we roamed the house up and down discussing the design, colors, and furnishings.
It was pleasant to finish the tour in the parlor and relax on the Victorian furniture. Betty Lou enjoyed the fainting couch while she related stories of her adventures in the house. Robin's sister Camilla called just as we entered the bedroom that she and Robin had shared so many years ago. It was a psychic experience to hear her voice and Robin laughed as she described the room to her sister. They were both very happy that the closets now had lighting! They had moved into the house as very young girls and the other kids had often told them ghost stories about the house. For years Robin and Camilla had a ritual of checking under the bed each night and in the closets to insure that there were no extra forms of energy lurking in the dark areas. Whooooooooooooooooooooooo!
Just as in life, what you expect is not always what happens. As the Spurgeon brothers and myself were digging up the floor under the center of the house, I made them an offer. I would let them keep all the ghosts we disturbed if they let me keep the "Gold". As luck would have it, there were no ghosts or gold. Also, I expected to find lost tools, bottles (whiskey), or a coin or two. Maybe, just maybe, the old bones of a hidden body, but the only bones looked a lot like a couple of chicken bones from some worker's lunch. Finally, in all that mud, I spotted something with a shine. I bent down and felt around the object. As I cleaned it off, my heart began to race with recognition of a jewel that someone had lost long ago. It was exciting to find the shining diamond shaped stone and I will admit to thinking of the money before the historical significance. Then, I realized that the stone must belong to the longtime owner, Betty Lou Crist. How, you may ask, did I know so quickly? Betty Lou has many remarkable characteristics, but one trait above all others, told me that it was hers. You see, Betty Lou loves the feminine color "Pink" and this cut stone was "pink". There was no choice but to return it to the rightful owner, and she enjoys the diamond even now. I think that her husband is having a solid gold mount designed for the diamond with matching 18 Ct gold necklace. What a guy?
Just an update on the stone. Though it matches Betty Lou's taste perfectly and it wasn't actually found t in the basement, but still is was during the excavation of the basement. It was actually discovered in a big box store in Quincy. Marilyn wondered what I was doing when she saw the diamond in my shopping basket. The gold mount and chain you ask? Well, Robert is about as likely to spring for that much gold as the Cubs are to win the World Series!
My first "regular job" was washing dishes for 65 cents an hour at a local restaurant when I was 14 years old. There were many experiences on the job that were "firsts" in my young, sheltered life. Things such as eating my first shrimp, working until the job was done, and saving a dropped dish by quickly putting my foot under the item just before it landed on the tile floor. Several times I caught or redirected a falling glass, cup, or dish and saved an embarrassing situation. Throughout the years this old habit proved helpful, but never more so than at the Shelbina Mansion.
The restoration required moving everything in the house from room to room while working in the various areas. The fact that many items are 140 years old, and so precious to the entire community, raised the risk factor with each move. When moving Mr & Mrs Benjamin's bed (not to mention Carmichael's, Crist's, Long's, & Shepherd) from one room to another, we carefully supported the tall and elaborate head board when removing the side boards. Then I held one side while a friend held the other. As we approached the doorway, the headboard needed to be tilted to clear the top of the door. At this moment the walnut carving of Lady Columbia that adorned the top of the headboard broke free and fell toward the floor. In that moment, the technique that I learned 50 years ago came to the rescue and I was able to put my foot under the falling artifact. It landed on the inside of my ankle and foot which changed the direction from vertical to the oak flooring to a gentle slide across the floor. Yes, my ankle really hurt, but Lady Columbia was saved! Recently I was able to disassemble the headboard and repair the old crack that had not been properly repaired sometime in the past. The old crack had been glued, but was not clamped at that time; therefore, the gap was too large for the glue to hold. This time we cleaned off the old glue, clamped the two parts tightly together and allowed several days for the glue to cure. A couple of discretely located screws completed the repair. It was interesting to see that someone from the past had placed the pieces on an old Shelbina Democrat when trying to make the glue repair. If there were a date, it could tell us when the repair was tried.
The bed once again adorns Shelbina's Mansion. It once left the house for many years , but returned home during the Crist's tenure thanks to Helen Nicely (Carmichael). Friends of the Mansion aided in return of the bed and matching dresser as they have in many ways throughout the years. We never met Helen Nicely, but we will never forget her either.