Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists

Preparing pictures for the Hall of History has been challenging, but I am reveling in a recent triumph.

The Hall of History, you regular readers might recall, is the hallway between the great room and the master suite. We left the flooring rustic and installed original milk lights from elsewhere in the church for lighting. The walls will, one day, be covered with historical photos of the church and our families. I’ve been gathering bits and pieces from my own collection to frame, but it’s slow work. I spent an entire afternoon recently visiting local libraries and museums looking for historical photos of the church and came up with nothing.

However, a former member of the church gifted us with a pile of photos of the church from her archive, and one of them was an image of the last pastor teaching a lesson for vacation Bible school from the front of the church. It was a great representation of the altar area when it was in use.

I paired the photo with a brass plate given to me by an interested party who salvaged it when she saw the altar on the curb as the congregation was preparing our church to be vacated. She was a little sad to see the altar disposed of in this manner but she couldn’t save the altar, so she saved the dedication plate. She made me promise to do something respectful with it.

HOH image closeup
The brass plate here was once attached to the altar in our church.

August F. Esch was presumably a pillar of the old Methodist church in the early 20th century, I’m guessing. The story I’ve made up in my mind is that his family chose to subsidize a new altar that was installed in the church when the orientation of the front of the worship area was moved from the east side to the north side in the 1940s.

I brought the photo, the brass plate and a brief explanation of the pieces to Michaels framing department to have it professionally displayed. I chose a simple black frame to match the other frames I have planned for the Hall of History. The resulting whole was definitely greater than a sum of the parts.

Hall of History image
The final result. How civilized.

My next step is to visit the county courthouse and spend some time in the abstract office to see what the official record says about the construction of the church and the property on which it sits. Wish me luck!

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Today’s headline is a quote from Joseph de Maistre, a philosopher during the French Revolution.

 

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Good times

Remember this?

TNT box

We found this sturdy wooden box when we were excavating under the extremely dusty eaves on the second floor of this 127-year-old Methodist church. Demolition yielded a lot of interesting artifacts we let go of (read: sold, donated or trashed), but Tyler took a liking to this old box that once held dynamite.

Back when our little church was coming together, the village was also home to the junction for two major rail lines. I imagine dynamite was used to dislodge bedrock in some locations to keep level the train tracks under construction. The bedrock where our village is located is probably made of shale or possibly dolomite, which in any case cannot be shoveled. It must be blasted.

Tyler cleaned up the box, sanded it and applied a couple coats of polyurethane. Then I added a few issues from my vast collection of magazines, and ta, da! A magazine rack for the great room in the church we now call home.

magazine rack

It looks dy-n-o-mite, don’t you think?

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Alert readers may realize today’s headline is a not-so-veiled reference to the 1970s television sitcom “Good Times,” which starred Jimmie Walker whose character was known for the catchphrase “Dy-no-mite!” There’s a look into how my mind works, folks: History, geology, arcane TV references and home decor all come together in one place.

Balcony doors fit for a castle

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that we reused, rejuvenated and recycled the things left behind in the church that deserved another life: The sanctuary windows, a number of light fixtures, the tin ceiling in the basement, the rest room sign from the bathroom and all the original wood floors built back in the 1890s are a few of the items that continue to be useful here at Church Sweet Home.

Add to the list an old picnic table that itself was made of reclaimed wood.

More than a year ago, we began dismantling the old back entryway to the basement, and we found a bunch of old pew pieces, a chunk we think may have been part of an altar and a huge hunk of painted wood planks we identified as an old picnic table by the fixtures designed for legs and a “HI” carved into the face.

HI
A common greeting. Or possible the initials of Henry Icabod. 

I imagined generations of families in their Sunday best passing big bowls of mashed potatoes and platters of sliced ham from one person to another along this enormous tabletop. Even in its battered condition, some parishioners thought the piece was meaningful or functional enough to store away with other wooden treasures in the back entryway.

We thought so, too.

We squirreled this hunk of wood away as we did with hundreds of other pieces of wood we salvaged from the old Methodist church during demolition. We knew we could do something interesting with it at some point.

balcony doors before
To give you an idea of how big hunk of wood was, you can see it in the back there in our rental unit. No, not the doors in the front. No, not that brown thing in the middle that looks like some sort of altar piece. I’m talking about the greenish piece with knot holes in the back, clearly wider and longer than the doors. This is the best before shot I have, I’m sorry.

At some point, Tyler determined that hunk of wood would make a great set of doors for our balcony landing, necessary to provide a bit of privacy to our guests staying in the bedroom on the second floor. He put You-Can-Call-Me-Al, our enterprising master carpenter, on the project. Tyler directed You-Can-Call-Me-Al to build the door entirely from that hunk of wood and scrap lumber found in the church.

Meanwhile, Tyler got to shopping, and he found the a set of hinges to secure the door to the walls. Where? From Europe on eBay, of course. Here’s how the auction was written:

Salvaged Heavy Old Strap Hinges & Cups for Large Gate Garage

We live in a very small ancient hamlet with a church that is 12th century, and we spent seven years (or more) from 2001-2008 renovating the house but we have recently downsized to a much smaller cottage next door. The house was built in 1878, and though we can’t be sure, we think the hinges came from the old Coach House that housed the Coachman/Carriage and Stable for the horses. We were unable to reuse them at the time and kept many salvaged items to refurbish our next house which was built in 1450 and where we will eventually retire to in our old age! We are still going through sheds and outhouses sorting and disposing of items we know we won’t use — largely because they are not old enough!

Imagine that! Pieces of metal from 1878 weren’t old enough for this seller! Their trash was our treasure. One-hundred-and-forty years old was perfect for our project.

door hinges
Cost: About $70 including shipping.

You-Can-Call-Me-Al constructed the doors, Tyler applied multiple coats of polyurethane, and mounted decorative metal pieces and handles from Restoration Hardware, and together they hung the doors on either side of the balcony landing doorway.

balcony doors closed
Here’s how the doors look closed, when guests are visiting and sleeping in the bedroom behind.
balcony doors after
And here’s how they look most of the time when we leave the doors open. If you squint, you can see the “HI” on the right edge of the left door. 

Our rebuilt doors made of salvage wood add an interesting rustic flair to our otherwise formal balcony, which is exactly the feel for which we were going. Another great example of giving new life to old junk. Yay!

 

The comfort of an old wooden pew

When we purchased the old Methodist church we intended to turn into our home, absent were many of the furnishings one finds in other churches. The altar had been left on the curb to be scavenged. There was no baptismal font. And the pews were gone.

sanctuary before
If you squint, you can see the indentations left in the carpet where the pews used to stand. This is the sanctuary when we took ownership of the church.

Oh, we found a few banquet chairs in the basement, and the congregants left behind some 1950s Sunday school chairs, but the only thing left in the sanctuary was the communion rail. Late in demolition, we found a few pew parts stashed in the cubby above the back door, though they were nothing we could reassemble into seating of any sort.

But a church isn’t complete without pews, right?

Perhaps ironically. Tyler had been carrying around a former church pew for the better part of his life. Who knew it would find its way back into a church?

Back in the 1970s, Tyler’s dad bought a number of pews when the old St. James Catholic Church in Belvidere, Illinois, was torn down to be rebuilt. Tyler’s family owned a number of shoe stores, and what shoe salesman can’t use more customer seating?

entry-way-after
The front entryway of our former home.

Eventually, the shoe stores closed, and Tyler acquired one of the pews. By the time I came into the picture, the pew had been shortened to about four feet long and was finished in golden oak. It sat just inside the front door of our first home together, and many guests removed or put on their shoes while sitting in it. When we left that home and sold most of our furnishing to live in an RV, the distinctive and meaningful pew was one of the few pieces we kept in storage.

As we designed the layout of Church Sweet Home, we both had in mind to reinstall the old pew in a place of honor and function near the back door. Many other projects were in line before rejuvenating the old pew, but finally after Christmas, Tyler gave the pew some attention because it was falling apart. It needed to be glued back together and the golden oak finish had to go. St. Johnny, Tyler’s hired man, spent many hours sanding the pew, and Tyler chose and nice brown stain.

pew closeup
The pew is a classic Gothic style with many details any woodworker would admire, including Lancet window impressions on the side.

How many people sat in this pew to pray or sing or listen to a sermon or witness a baptism or a funeral? Now it performs a functional purpose again, providing a place to set groceries or seating when I put on my boots. These are not sacred acts, perhaps, but it’s nice to have this piece of history in our home.

pew straight on
The pew in our new back entryway.

Keys to the kingdom

Among the meaningful and useful gifts I received for Christmas (or possibly my birthday—they’re two days apart so sometimes I forget) was this hanging key holder made for me by my dad. It’s a one-of-a-kind piece with a backstory, and I just love it.

The piano keys come from the piano once played by my grandmother, my mother’s mom. The upright grand piano, a magnificent musical instrument, was the centerpiece of the living room in my grandparent’s house in northwestern North Dakota. On days like today, when the wind is whipping subzero air across the Plains, you can imagine how folks back in the era before television might gather around the piano for indoor entertainment.

When my grandmother died, my mother got the piano. Dad built a trailer out of junk on my grandfather’s farm in order to transport the unbelievably heavy instrument from North Dakota to southern Minnesota, where we lived at the time. (The sound board of an upright grand hangs the piano strings vertically instead of horizontally like a grand piano does so the upright grand piano takes up a lot less space, but it’s still very heavy.) The piano survived the trip, and then another trip when my parents moved to Central Minnesota.

I, my sister and my little brother all learned to play piano on that instrument of my grandmother’s. Even now, I can imagine how the strips of ivory covering the white keys felt beneath my fingertips when I played Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre or piano arrangements of Beatles tunes.

We grew up and moved out, and Mom and Dad no longer needed nor wanted a piano. I was married to a musician at the time, so I took it. My ex and I moved it twice, and when we parted ways, I kept the piano. Being a little, shall we say, unmoored at the time, I asked my sister to keep it for me at her house, which she obliged for a decade. My nephews played it a bit, but it stood mostly as a testiment to my grandmother and an enormous artifact of the childhoods of my sister and me.

Eventually, my sister decided she could no longer store it for me. Tyler and I were living in a camper at the time, so we couldn’t take it. During one of its moves, the sound board cracked so piano tuners could no longer find a true A, or whatever note the tune to. Browsing Craig’s List, it was apparent pianos like Grandma’s couldn’t be given away.

So we demolished it.

We kept the good parts and threw the rest away (kind of like we would later do with the church).

We retrieved some of the parts at some point last year, but my sister squirreled away some of the piano keys, which she turned over to Dad who made them into a beautiful and functional display. I was thrilled when I opened it at Christmas.

Tyler mounted it on the wall by the back door in the church. I smile inside every time I hang my keys there (and every time I know where to find my keys on the way out the door). It’s a great gift, and it found the perfect place in Church Sweet Home.

By the way, my keys? My keychain, the one I carry around everywhere I go, is the one that came with the church. It’s a cheap plastic one that says “Loaves and Fishes,” the name of the food pantry that was housed in the church before we purchased it. All the keys that came with it are obsolete because we changed the locks. But the fob has history. It belongs to the church. Just like the piano keys have history. And now they belong to the church, too.

Merchant Wednesday: Accent with Braided Rugs and More

The first rug we purchased for the Hall of History was too good; it fit so perfectly, it covered every inch of the original wood character we’d so carefully revealed and  protected with polyurethane. So we put that rug in the master bedroom and renewed the search online. This time, I found the winner, instead of Tyler who normally has more online shopping perseverance.

I found our inordinately long rug runner on Accent with Braided Rugs and More, where they offer more than 250 colors and styles of rugs and also entertain custom color requests. They even sell two-sided rugs; just flip is over for a change of scene or season.

And they’re made in the United States! Our rug (one sided) arrived about three weeks after it was ordered, so I suspect it was braided just for me.

braided rug
An historically accurate modern braided rug.

Braided Rugs offers classic ovals, round rugs, half circles, heart-shaped rugs, dog-bone-shaped rugs, mice-shaped rugs and runners up to 13 feet long. That’s what we got: a 2-by-13-foot runner. It’s exactly what we needed to protect the walking space yet show off the rustic nature of our historic building. We were very happy with the look and the price.

You can shop for your perfect braided rug at Accent with Braided Rugs and More.

While we’re touring the Hall of History, where we have yet to hang all the historic photos of the old Methodist church we’ve collected over the past year, let’s look at the threshold, a small construction project for which I am grateful.

threshhold before
Ugly threshold BEFORE.

The threshold is essentially the four-inch wide piece of wood hiding the ugly place where the Hall of History meets the great room (formerly the church sanctuary). This line marks the spot where the original 1891 church sanctuary meets the two-story Sunday School and office space built three years later in 1894. The back wall of our kitchen hides most of this connective tissue, but this doorway and the one from the mudroom into the great room had wide gaps before Tyler covered them up. The gap between the mudroom and the great room was nearly an inch wide!

threshhold after
The threshold AFTER.

A threshold is a simple thing, but its quiet work is mighty:

  • It covers the ugly floor stain drips.
  • It’s the smooth and flat surface in the doorway, preventing me from tripping when I’m half awake and headed for coffee.
  • It required extra attention from my handy husband who figured out how to construct the piece so it would smoothly bridge the gap. I have no clue how to perform such carpentry magic.
  • It coordinated with the wide pine in the Hall of History and looks nice against the acorn-stained pine in the great room. It’s perfect!

Next project for the Hall of History is framing and hanging all the historical images we have collected. That is turning out to be a big project, but we are moving in the right direction.

A sweet day for Church Sweet Home

Guess what today is.

Church Sweet Home turns 127 years old today.

Imagine life 127 years ago!

A Republican from Indiana was president of the United States (yes, that would be Benjamin Harrison, an attorney perhaps best known for the McKinley Tariff and the Sherman Antitrust Act).

Horsepower had real meaning then because horses were a common form of transportation for most people; some also had the privilege of traveling by rail.

News came by word of mouth, Western Union telegrams and newspapers. No radio. No TV. No internet.

Author Laura Ingalls Wilder was 24 and had been married to Almanzo Wilder for six years in 1891.

The Wrigley Company had been founded earlier in the year and was about to launch a new product: Chewing gum.

The U.S. flag had only 44 stars. Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states.

Functional airplanes hadn’t yet been invented, in-home refrigerators were decades away and American women did not yet have the right to vote.

That was the year our church, now residence, was built. After many years of meeting in people’s homes, the Methodists secured a piece of property in September 1891. Here’s what happened next, according to one newspaper account:

On Nov. 29, 1891, the first church was dedicated by Rev. Smith, who planned the building and worked with his son for nine weeks to complete it. On the day of dedications, the following was received: cash $39; two stoves; one pulpit; two chairs and some lamps donated by the J.M. Carey family.

Library 1
This image of the church, taken I’m guessing between 1894 and 1920 (I can’t figure out that number: 19917), hangs in the local library.

For more than a dozen decades, parishioners celebrated Christmas and Easter, baptized babies, married couples, buried the dead, sang, learned, prayed, cried and dined in this little church.

As a reader of this blog, you know the status of this building today: It’s our home, born of the structure left by the Methodist congregation when they vacated in 2016.

Happy birthday, Church Sweet Home. May you still be standing in 127 years.

sepia tone
2018