Sunday, December 28, 2008

The House Doctor Moves to Hannibal

Ever have a favorite uncle, one you adored because he was cool and wasn’t like your other uncles who just talked about work all the time and wouldn’t let you make noises at his place? Or worse, didn’t talk to you at all and relegated you and your siblings to the “kid’s table” during holiday feasts? It made you aware of your 2nd class kid status and you thought this other uncle was WAY boring.

Likely, the favorite uncle was creative and lived a different lifestyle than your other uncles. His house was always full of cool stuff and cool projects he worked on. He threw fun parties and was full of tales.

This is how we’ve come to view our newest neighbor, BobYapp aka the House Doctor. He bought one of the coolest houses in Hannibal and is restoring everything in it the way they used to back in the “olden days” – with care and the intention of making it last a lifetime.

The Doctor makes a house call.

Bob’s even made a school out of his house and is teaching other people how to restore things the right way. The school is called the Belvedere School for Historic Restoration.

The Belvedere School for Historic Restoration,
just around the block from us.

Bob’s wife Pat is cool too and displays nice artwork on the walls of the house. I wish I could see her entire art collection and not just the pieces she shows.

Even their dogs are nice and want to play. They aren’t like other uncles’ dogs who are old and growl and might even bite you.

Gee, am I sounding like a kid gushing about her favorite uncle? I guess I am.

Bob and Pat Yapp and their dogs arrived in Hannibal the earlier part of 2007. Bob is an expert on home restoration, a master carpenter, and a furniture maker. He even had a radio show and a PBS show called “House Doctor” in the late 1990’s, hence his moniker forever after.

Bob and Pat chose Hannibal out of the many towns they scoured looking for a place to settle. Here are some of their reasons:

- Hannibal, with its numerous historic districts is a town that has a good preservation ethic and track record to go with it.

- Their love of the Mississippi River and the culture that surrounds it. Hannibal with its long river history & Mark Twain connection is the quintessential Mississippi river town. The town is also within a couple of car hours within a major city, Saint Louis.

- An affordable lifestyle with reasonable property taxes, low cost of living and affordable historic housing.

- Quality economic development with low unemployment and expanding factories.

- A city manager form of government with a part-time mayor as opposed to the strictly “good ole boy” type of government.

These sound like very good reasons to us for moving to and living in Hannibal.

Next Posts: The “Barn Raising” Plan and Getting Down to Business.

Meanwhile, treat yourself to Bob's book, About Your House published in 1997. This is not just a do-it-yourself book. You'll also be introduced Bob's pioneering philosophy behind restoring older houses and how this is an essential part of the green movement today.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Isn't downtown Hannibal beautiful when it snows?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Scaling a Big Green Monster

When I look at our green-scaled behemoth, I Imagine this chat taking place during the late 1940’s when those scales were installed…

“Holy mackerel, Mr. Spencer, I see that your house got itself torched. That charred area on the turret – lucky that got put out in time. Did your insurance rate go up?”

Evidence of a fire, as seen from the interior of the attic.

Mr. Spencer looks at his house and cringes at the unsightly scorch marring the once-gorgeous turret.

“Have you thought about using this new fire-proof siding everyone’s putting on their houses? It looks pretty spiffy."

Mr. Spencer ponders for a moment and admits to having noticed newer siding being installed on houses about town.

“Your neighbors are putting these asbestos-cement tiles on the sides of their houses and it makes them look brand new,” continued the hawker. “It’s fire-proof, termite-proof AND they even look like wood shingles! Dan up the street installed it on his house and the Simmons a block over did, too. They told me it’s real easy to install.”

Mr. Spencer studied his house as his young neighbor traipsed away. A few steps later, the neighbor stopped and turned to have his final say, "To tell you the truth Mr. Spencer, just knowing another fire could knock off a house just up the street from us gives me the heebie-geebies!”

The late 1940's and 1950's was a time of a huge construction boom, and this one spurred a big demand for asbestos-cement as siding and roofing material.

Typical installation for asbestos-cement siding on a house.
From McCawley's, 1940

Asbestos. The word itself makes me nervous. It’s a hazardous material that can kill and who wants it on their home now?

The EPA banned this material in 1973 after it was determined it caused mesothelioma, lung-cancer, and pnemoconiosi when breathed in. Today, the production and use of the naturally-occuring, silicate fibers have been totally halted.

So what does someone do about a house that’s covered with the stuff?

One alternative voiced by a contractor was to leave it on. The reasoning being, the cement binds the asbestos which, if allowed to remain undisturbed, will not be released into the air where it can be breathed in. According to one misguided piece of contractor advice, aluminum siding can be installed directly onto it. Was he serious?

The other alternative was to take the siding off with precautions not to severely break or pulverize the material, and then dispose of it (tiles and felt lining) in a special lined dumpster. A contractor’s cost for the job? Easily upwards to $10,000 for the whole house.

So the house sat for awhile – a dinosaur with its ominous green scales lying in the yard next to our Chateau...

A big green dinosaur, for now.

Sometimes things happen – almost divine things – when you are searching for an answer to your current dilemmas. As usual, a call to the local preservation society yielded the best results.

Next Post – The House Doctor comes to Hannibal and makes a house call.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What’s the Matter With Illinois?

Since we haven’t lived in Hannibal for very long and admit to being totally ignorant about Illinois politics, we yearned to understand the politics of this state next door, particularly in light of Blagojevich’s cataclysmic exposure.

From this vintage postcard (1950's), one can see the Illinois state border
on the other side of
the Mississippi from Lover's Leap,
a familiar Hannibal landmark.

So we had a former classmate who now lives in Chicago (and has for nearly 30 years) explain it to us. Here’s his put:

“I have always thought Blago as being a slimey person. The Republicans weren't any better as we have George Ryan currently in prison. It's all about greed. Isn't it always?"

"Blago married into the political machine with his wife Patty. Her father, Richard Mell, was a influential Chicago alderman with powerful connections. It's funny that being a Democratic state Illinois has had mostly Republican governors.When the Ryan scandal came to light, it wasn't hard for a Democrat to win."

"When it comes to governors in this state, I have always voted third party. Rich Whitney who is a Green Party member and Cal Skinner who is a moderate Libertarian.We always seem to be able to vote for decent senators here but never good governors. There are always jokes floating around about the corruption that takes place in Illinois politics. I guess Blago was arrogant and stupid enough to think he could overtly flaunt his corruption without any repercussions."

"Our Lt Governor, Patrick Quinn seems like a decent person. He might be stepping in to replace Blago soon. There are all kinds of scenarios of what could happen. Balgo could be impeached, he could resign, he could be forcibally removed as being impaired to carry out his duties as governor or nothing could happen until a trial which could take some time. I personally see him out of office shortly as we have to get a new senator one way or another. If Quinn steps in he could nominate the senator or else we will have a primary election, and then a general election in the next couple of months."

"They estimate this would cost the state anywhere from 50 million to 90 million. Our state is already broke so this wouldn't help. Illinois is pathetic when it comes to spending. It is top heavy with government workers and pension plans. A lot of that has to do with being a political machine. What that means is the power people have friends or family (for whom they make up unnecessary positions) employed by either the counties or the state. Many of these people have six figure jobs with six figure pension plans. It adds up.”

This calls to mind the 2005 book by Thomas Frank, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Frank has become a well-known author and Wall Street Journal columnist, and is a Kansas-bred populist. In this book, Thomas examines in depth how Kansas, once home to farmers who marched against "money power," is now solidly Republican and hence have ignored their economic interests. It’s fascinating reading for those who not only care about what’s the matter with Kansas, but what’s the matter with America, too. Frank now has a new book out titled, “The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule”. In this book, Frank explores how the cult of market privatization ruined decades of government progress in this country.

All this has us wondering if politics in this country have always contained the seed of corruption, and if this seed has now come to full fruition.

What were things like in Laura’s day?

Lover's Leap in earlier days of Mark Twain's beloved Hannibal.

Photo credits, Mentor Magazine 1924

I delved into my copy of “Mirror of Hannibal” for clues on what was expected of our politicians and how they may have governed. Written by Thomas Bacon, a local Hannibal lawyer, this book was a history and review of the commercial, business and industrial activities in Hannibal around 1905.

My findings could fill several blog posts. In reading the biographical abstracts given of the town’s civic and business leaders, one theme repeated itself over and over again – that of the personal character. Each biography was filled with assessments such as:

“He is a man of integrity, faithful to the trust imposed in him…”

“His business life has been one in which honor and integrity have long been manifest…”

“He has gained the esteem, respect and implicit confidence of the entire community…”

“He… has ever been known for his uprightness and sterling principles of character.”

The eulogies go on and on.

Obviously, our ancestors placed high premium on character, making it as important (if not more) as the businesses or professions they engaged in.

With character assassinations replacing character eulogies these days, it’s very difficult to gauge anyone’s character unless one has dealt with that person personally.

Has mass media actually made this task harder? Even to the point of contorting facts? It does seem that with all of the information we have at our feet, we are in no better position to select our politicians than were our ancestors who received their information through personal contact or word of mouth.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Final Glimpse of Laura’s Bonnet

Readers, Here are final closeup views of our roofing job on the Laura Hawkins house.

Here is Laura's new crown.

Here's what it looked like before the roofing job:

Didn't this look like the cone roof of an abode occupied by trolls or fairies as illustrated in children's storybooks? We hated to see this go (NOT!), but we feel the new roofing looks much more professional. The very tip of the cone has been sealed and will eventually be fitted for a cupola...

Moving eastward...

And looking toward the Mississippi...

Remember what it looked like before the job?

Here's the drop that would befall a less-than-watchful roofer:

Here's a closeup shot...

Here's a closeup of the original roof...

Even Laura's garage got the treatment:

Watch for my upcoming post on the “unveiling” of the Laura Hawkins house. This was a community effort that shed the home exterior’s green scales right down to its original clapboard, as built in 1897.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A New Bonnet for the Old Lady – Part II

The roofing job for the Laura Hawkins house continued on and off weather permitting. Here was the work in progress:

The worksite ...

A few final touches, and ...

Laura's crowing glory in now in place ...

A tourist's view of the job.

The rest of the roof is now in place.

Luckily, no one fell or suffered an injury. The only mishap was the loss of a $400 ladder taken from the worksite overnight. A few months earlier, another contractor had lost an entire slat of shingles on an area job, also in the dead of night. So, it pays to have insurance and it doubly pays to hire only insured contractors for expensive jobs like this. "This was one of the toughest roofing jobs we've had because of the pitch" said Mike. " Glad to have had you on the job, Mike.

Despite the incidents of property theft, help is on the way for our emerging and growing neighborhood. With more folks discovering Hannibal, neighborhood networks that look out for each other have expanded. In only one year alone, our neighborhood saw some forced evictions by the bank and new owners.

Property mishaps (which are generally par for the business) aside, we lucked out in a major way by dodging a freak hailstorm which hit Hannibal the month before our roofing job commenced. The storm created many claims for dented autos and damaged rooves in Hannibal. Our own roofing contractor, Mike turned down roughly 70 roofing jobs in this bonanza for roofing contractors in the area.

Here’s a U-Tube video showing the torrent. This was taken just west of the downtown area:

In our neighborhood, a small river of these globules made its way down our street.

With the installation of a new roof, we reached another milestone in the reconstruction of this Victorian home back to its original state and purpose. Like most Victorian homes, it was there to protect a family from the harshness of the world. Strict rules were laid down for this, meaning the house was to be kept neat and clean and to be a place where peace was preserved and order and comfort kept up.

Afternoon tea was a popular pastime in the homes
of proper Victorian women.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

19th Century Facebook Foto – Uncanny Resemblance

Dave Thomson, our Mark Twain expert sent me a daguerreotype image of a little girl who possesses a number of Laura Hawkins' features and hence bears a surprising resemblance to her, were she a child:

This photo was taken around 1850 which would have marked Laura's 13th birthday. Although this girl appears to have been between 9 and 12 years old, it’s easy enough to envision her as being Laura’s sister, maybe even a twin sister.

To see this and other such dagguereotypes, CDV's and early films, click on this blogsite:

For all of you Mark Twain enthusiasts out there, here is a dagguereotype of the young 15-year old Samuel Clemens taken about the same time as the little "Laura" girl:

Dagguereotype, compliments of Dave Thomson.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

19th Century Facebook Foto


I'm postponing Part II of our roofing adventure to show you this photo regression I had done of Laura Hawkins.

Thanks to our Mark Twain expert, Dave Thomson, I learned (embarrassingly enough) that the little girl photo I posted several posts back was not Laura Hawkins, but Olivia Langdon, Mark Twain's wife!

Sooo.... with the derth of photos out there on Laura Hawkins in her younger days, I tapped into the services of an age regression artist. This is the photo I submitted...

Laura Hawkins at age 19

Here's the regressed photo created from the above:

Laura Hawkins at age 12-13

I was surprised with the final product and questioned the skill level of the person who did this regression.

For instance, is the chin shown here really the chin of a child? Shouldn't this have been smoothed out or tightened somewhat? Also, does it appear that the bone structure is a bit overdeveloped?

And the eyes... I believe the eyes should be spaced wider apart. Typically, the eyes of infants and young children appear wider apart due to the ratio of the length of their faces (top of forehead to bottom of chin) to the spacing between eyes. With age, eyes will appear closer together, if only due to increased face height. In my opinion, the close spacing between the eyes appears a bit premature.

The suppleness of the facial flesh in the regression also bothers me. I believe the child Laura should have been treated to a slight facelift around the mouth and jowls. The lips too should look softer and less chiseled. Despite the difficult lives of your typical pre-Victorian child, I wouldn't expect a child to purse her lips so tightly. To me, it's eerily Charlton Heston-like.

The more I look at the photo, the more I wonder if anything was done other than to house Laura's face at age 19 with a new hairdo and clothing. Even the hairdo makes Laura's young face appear overly cropped at the sides. With hair pulled back this tight and plastered against the skull, I'd expect that her eyes not only would be spaced wider apart, but she would have a slightly Asian look as well.

I'm inviting your opinions and then I will engage the expertise of American artist Nick Kosciuk (of whom I'm a great fan and collector). Nick paints heavenly faces of children and teens. Here's a blog post and article about his fairy-like children paintings:

I also intend to search out a second opinion from another age-regression artist.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A New Bonnet for the Old Lady – Part I

Loyal readers, I’m finally back blogging after weeks of screaming deadlines and the unveiling of the Laura Hawkins house. Unveiling? Watch for future posts on this exciting event. I’m also slowly coming down from this country’s seismic shift in electing Barack Obama; I'm still overwhelmed by this promising gift to our country and the world.

The artifact in question from my last post was an original cupola that capped the cone roof of the Laura Hawkins house. Cupolas are dome structures covering a circular or polygonal roof. These can either be architecturally significant to the house (as lookout perches with windows) or merely ornamental like this metal one, which is more appropriately termed a turret finial.

The cupola, resting on our Chateau floor,
next to our blocked fireplace.

So how original is this cupola or finial? I’m not sure, but I’ll assume it was installed when the house was first built and miraculously saved and installed for subsequent re-roofings. This Victorian cupola is now a decrepit, rusted structure and possibly won’t survive another attempt to install it. It will be relegated to our future museum. Museum, you ask? Museum.

Here's a close up of the Cupola which I hadn't even noticed until the roofing commenced. Wouldn't an architecturally interesting copper cupola with a lightning rod be a nice replacement?

Upon examining the cupola, I wondered why this otherwise mundane artifact would have been installed as a decorative element. Sure it was shiny when new and I suppose its ceramic nodules offered a modicum of decoration. Nevertheless, Victorians did not do decorative elements in a small way. Perhaps the norm of Victorian architecture dictated this to be a standard feature, even if it did not really fulfill its original purpose as an ostentatious showpiece.

It’s Roofing Time…

I poked a couple of members of our local historical preservation society for roofing referrals and received two. Surverying the house later, my spouse was approached by a crew who’d come into the neighborhood to look over a possible demolition job. Our good friends from the Garden House B&B wanted to demolish a later addition to the Munger house they owned. The Munger house (originally owned by William A. Munger) housed the former LaBinnah Social Club for the social elite in Hannibal's heyday around 1900.

The LaBinnah Social Club (Munger House) sits almost directly across the street from the Laura Hawkins house. Note the later addition on the right of the house. This was added during the 1970's to house the then-owner's business, George's Beauty Shop.

Here is a visitor's register from when Mark Twain visited the Club in 1902...

A 1902 newsclip from the Saint Louis Globe-Democrat is attached to this register. It describes Mark Twain's visit to Hannibal and Laura Hawkins, his childhood sweetheart. Kudos and thanks to Dave Thomson for sharing this with me.

The Munger house is currently a restaurant, which after some trials and errors went from being LaBinnah to LaBinnah Bistro. This bistro specializes in grass-fed beefsteaks and cosmopolitan menu fare. More on this later.

“Hey, you looking at a new roof?” cried someone who appeared to be the foreman. My spouse looked at him quizzically, pointed to the roof and replied, “Yes?’ “Well, we’ll come over later to look at it and give you an estimate.” the foreman retorted.

Normally, an interaction like this would bring to mind those unscrupulous fly-by-nights who trick guileless souls into buying a shoddy asphalt job at a hiked-up price. In a small town like Hannibal, this folksy approach is the norm. To protect ourselves, all we had to do was ask a few locals about the person. From this we’d expect to receive a no-holds barred, full-blown report in return. How I wish I’d done this with an earlier contractor.

As it turned out, the foreman was someone I'd gone to high school with back in the 1970’s. Mike Treastor in those days was a seriously hard worker whom teachers hired for summer work. The creation of his business, Mike's Construction, LLC is a local success story, as Mike often has to turn down bids for his services in Hannibal and the Midwest region.

We agreed to a contract for both the house and the garage. Since asphalt shingles had always been used for the house, we opted for this choice again. The architectural shingles we selected (except for the cone section) are expected to last 40-50 years. The contracted work was a bit more pricey than the norm, but this was to be expected considering the dangerous pitch of the roof. "If someone falls from this roof,” explained Mike, “he’ll die!” The work commenced a few months later.

During the hot days of early summer, the workers arrived faithfully around 6am each day and carried out the awesome task…

The roofing commences on this balmy June day.
Photo compliments of the hosts of Garden House B&B and LaBinnah.

Note the awesomely steep roof pitches on this Queen Anne.
Same credits as above.

The roof cone work commenced almost right away.
Photo compliments of Pat Kerns,
our neighbor and area art teacher.

This dumpster became a coffin for rooves past.
Ditto, Garden House credit.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shocking Revelations


Laura’s house couldn’t have been less ready to accept the challenges of supporting 21st century electrical demands. This is an understatement considering this house should have suffered serious damage due to overloaded circuits and a badly placed service box long ago.

Bad Stuff…

One service box was mounted out on the exterior porch wall adjacent to the kitchen.

The fuse panel in the basement gave service of a mere 60 amps – not nearly enough to provide power to three working bathrooms, a full service kitchen, heat and light a 2500+ square foot interior and support computer hardware.

We still had all the knob and tube wiring from the basement to the attic and not enough ground fault interrupters (GFI) to cut power in the case of overloaded circuits. If ever there would be an electrical failure that caused a fire and no GFI was in the circuit, an insurance company would not cover the loss.

So, we decided on these major alterations...

Remove and replace all non-insulated knob & tube wiring in the basement up to the attic.

Add GFI’s in the basement and bathrooms.

Upgrade the fuse panel to 400 amp service.

Move the service panel from the porch to the basement.

In the freezing dead of winter, we approached our good friends, the Talleys and Rick Rose of Rockcliffe Mansion. Both recommended we use John of JM & S Electric. For over 30 years, John had been a popular contractor of choice among locals, businesses and out-of-towners in Hannibal and its surrounding area (all the way down to Saint Louis).

Here were some of the electrical changes John and his crew made. Some of it might look like overkill, but it really wasn't, considering what we had in mind for the house.

The new circuit breaker box in the basement.

Scads of electrical cables in the basement...

John and his crew had to drill through the basement rock wall and other walls, and remove asbestos-cement tiles to install these conduits on the exterior of the house...

Here's a close-up of the conduits. As you can see, we have another restoration project down the road with the original clapboards.

The rewiring job reached all the way up to the attic.

The uppermost room in the attic has a nice view of the
Mississippi River.

Our next project will be the roof. Meanwhile, can you guess what this is?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Dead Dinosaur in The Yard

Here's the sugar-coated expectation: We've tasked ourselves with resurrecting a wonderfully historic abode that embodies our fantasies of the Gilded Age.

Here's the reality: We were living with a dead and decaying dinosaur in our yard right next to our Chateau, and it was becoming more decrepit with time.

We were self-congratulatory in buying the house as we prevented the possibility of an undesirable making camp there. The carcass would have been finished off in a matter of a few years. Now a mammoth project awaits.

We hired an inspector to give us a detailed prognosis. Here were some of his findings. Starting with the obvious, here's the roof…

Not only was this roof long neglected, whoever installed it was an amateur at best, a clueless do-it-yourselfer at worst...

Missing flashing!

Granted this was a difficult area to access, the installation of these shingles nevertheless was ghastly.

And of course, the gutters sagged painfully...

Note all the gravel that had accumulated in the already "expired" gutter. The masons at the right were tuckpointing our Chateau at the time of this photo.

One of the most alarming things our inspector found was the state of the electrical wiring. “I wouldn’t spend a night in this house!”, he proclaimed.

Indeed, the electrical wiring was a relic from the Victorian era and it wasn’t about to handle today’s modern electrical demands. Heating, lighting, appliances and computer hardware all going at once would overload the circuits and very possibly cause a fire. Here were the electrical findings...

Overloaded and undersized circuits.

Deteriorated service entrance at the meter.

Unsafe service entrance to the garage in back.

Additional splices in knob and tube wiring.

Electrical cord extension used as permanent wiring.
No comment on the idiot who did this.

Scorched extension cord also used as permanent wiring.
Another idiot undoing of the house.

Other evidence of burns which miraculously did not do the house in...

Burn marks at the furnace.

A charred beam in the attic. Hmmm, it would be interesting to browse the archives of the Courier-Post to find any newsworthy reportings on this.

A leaking roof exacerbates the consequences of electrical load problems...

Water puddle in the attic.

Cracks in the 2nd floor ceiling plaster - very likely the result of water leakage.

Moisture damage at one of the main floor windows.

Leakage below the tub. You are looking at a wooden "doghouse" built to contain the plumbing adjacent to the tub. You can see the edge of this tub in the photo's left - a nightmarish pepto-bismal pink tub born of a bad 1950's designer's dream.

There were water leaks all the way down to the basement.

Piping along one of the walls of the basement.

Dried water stains on floor framing,
in the basement ceiling.

Termite trails in the basement. Evidently, the moist basement created a hospitable environment for the buggers. With a ready meal of barnwood that covered the walls,
this was termite heaven.

Open and filled well in the basement floor.

So, first thing’s first – prevent the house from self-destructing. We had the roof covered in plastic to prevent further leaks...

To get to the roof, a makeshift bridge was created from a beam which spanned the 2nd floor windows of the Chateau
and the house.

The entire roof gets the treatment.

As does the garage roof.

We then employed the services of one of Hannibal’s most respected and long-standing electricians – JM&S Electric. This will be the subject of our next post.