Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Victorian Kitchen Revival – Part 2

Totally restoring Laura’s kitchen is such a deliciously satisfying challenge. One can tell a lot about a household from its kitchen. Nesters will often hang their pots and pans on a pot rack, “feminize” the décor, and cook with a crockpot while a freer spirit might experiment with the latest gadgets, install ultramodern décor elements, and cook meals using recipes from exotic cookbooks.

In Laura’s day during the late 19th century into early 20th century, this area was always busy and as expected, almost always in the back part of the house away from the grander rooms. Preparing food and cleaning up afterwards made a mess, was hot, had odors and were to be shielded from public view; families would often congregate around the kitchen stove on cold nights. In addition to its main purposes of cooking, eating, cleaning, and food storage, the kitchen might also be a sleeping room for a servant or double as a place to do laundry.

Upon inspection of Laura’s house, the laundry would have been done in the basement or on the back porch adjacent to the kitchen. Use of the back porch in this way would likely have caused the household to protect it from prying eyes with wooden lattice panels, as shown in the photo below.

Not all porches were for lounging and watching the world go by.
"Victorian Style: Classical Homes of North America"
by Cheri Y. Gay.

In all, the crowded Victorian kitchen was as a testament to all of its various functions.

In our last kitchen post, we gutted the kitchen walls. Since then, those open and newly insulated walls have been covered with drywall and plaster.

Remember this?

Here’s what this area looks like now…

Here’s a view of the corner directly diagonal from this one, before and after…


And after

Remember that extended pantry?

It is now almost ready to store containers of canned foods, food tins, etc., as was its intent.

Put in some shelves and a set of moldings and a door,
and we’ll have this nailed.

We are now down to painting the walls, plastering and painting the ceiling, and refinishing the moldings and the wooden floor. Here’s Nick painting the walls adjacent to that pantry.

Not a bad first coat by someone who’s never painted a kitchen wall before…

This color might be a tad too dark. The second coat will be
more like the
original wall color which was a chalkboard green.
Nevertheless, we liked
the contrast between this color
and the brick wall so much, we intend to keep the brick exposed.

That bathroom adjacent to the kitchen gets the same treatment, only in a rich curry yellow…

Actually, we felt this color was a tad too intense.
Being in this room
felt claustrophobic, like being in a
cell purposely painted with
crusty mustard in order
to overwhelm its occupant.
The next go round will see
this room a lighter, cheerier lemon or butter color.

So the question still begs – what was Nick Kosciuk doing painting our kitchen? We invited Nick to be our artist for two portraits of Laura, one of her as Becky Thatcher and one of her in her mature years when she occupied this house until her death in 1928. We’ve been collecting Nick’s paintings over the years and felt he was the best artist for “Becky Thatcher” which now hangs in the Mark Twain Museum (much more on this in a later post).

Nick and his model Paige Cummins in front of “Becky Thatcher”.

When we invited Nick over for the unveiling of his Becky Thatcher painting last month, we (us two resurrectors, Ron our guy, his son and his nephew) were well into restoring the exterior and interior of the house. The atmosphere was feverish and infectious with enthusiasm, so naturally anyone would want to pitch in, Nick included.

In our next post, we will discuss how we intend to furnish the kitchen. We will show you sample kitchens we're using as our base and we'll even share some old family recipes dating from late 19th century to early 20th century Hannibal.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

“You Need to Post to Your Blog!”

You are correct dear reader. I could tell you about how I am buried in work up to my eyeballs, etc., but I do need to luxuriate in a little downtime and pursue one of our most favorite things to do – work on, document and promote the Laura Hawkins House.

So much has happened to “Laura” since we last posted. Among them are dry-walling all rooms needing it, stripping ineptly chosen wallpaper, painting a few rooms in luscious Victorian colors, scraping and painting the house exterior, launching a Laura look-alike model search, commissioning paintings by Nick Kosciuk (our Becky Thatcher and Laura Hawkins artist), engaging in adventurers with fellow Twain enthusiasts Dave Thomson and Cindy Lovell, donating a painting to the Mark Twain Museum, and being attacked by a huge swarm of wasps. Whew!

These things will unfold in future blogs. First, I want to first tell you about a couple of readers who showed up on our doorsteps asking us to post…

As we worked on Laura’s exterior last month (with our team of Ron et al), Jim and Renee paid a visit to our worksite. Having traveled the country, they greeted us with “You need to post to your blog!” Imagine our surprise as we listened to their story of their travel from Maine and eventually to California, and having decided to veer 100 miles off-course to make a stop in Hannibal.

Jim Buehner, traveler, restorer and boat shop owner.

Renee Dawson, on Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada
(across the Lubec Narrows in Maine),
varnishing her and Jim’s boat this month.

We were so happy to learn of having loyal followers, I proceeded to give Jim and Renee the grand tour on the progress on “Laura” as well as the progress on our other house next door.

Being a fellow blogger and restoration enthusiast, Jim directed me to his website showing the restoration of the McCurdy Smokehouse complex in Lubec, Maine...
For more information, access:
Notice the lovely landscaping? The complex was at one time a herring smoking center in an industry that employed hundreds of men, women and children in its factories back in the 1800’s, with business tapering off as the 20th century matured. In the McCurdy buildings (named for Arthur McCurdy who bought the complex in 1950’s), herring was hung high in the rafters and slowly smoked for 6-7 weeks. The time and care given to these delicacies (once a staple of 18th to19th century plantation culture) boggles one’s mind considering that modern fish processors allot only 1-5 days to cold-smoking herring.

Today, McCurdy’s Herring Smokehouse is an historic site, sharing its heritage of a now-lost traditional fishery industry. Kudos to you Jim and Renee for taking on such an enormous project.

We will highlight the latest developments on Laura’s kitchen in our next post coming your way within a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, check out Laura’s exterior thus far…

No longer the ugly green thing, doesn’t Laura look like a doll’s house
plopped down in the middle of the neighborhood?

Here’s another view looking on the south side…

Using ivory and white colors makes Laura
look as if she's grown in size.
Who’s this guy painting our kitchen????
It’s none other than nationally known artist Nick Kosciuk.
Read our next blog post to find out why he’s painting our kitchen.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Victorian Kitchen Revival – Part 1

Have you ever walked into a room and felt transported into something untouched by the erasure of time, imagining the smells and activities that might have taken place there (Déjà vu, if you will)? Sure you have, that is if you have any intuitive sense at all. And if you are involved in restoring an old house, you have a sense of intuition that grows keener with each new, creative activity you employ in your projects.

A few places in Hannibal have done this to me. They include:
  • The grounds of the Garth Mansion. The entire spread with its virtually undisturbed acreage and an old Victorian mansion painted grey made me feel as if I had walked into a 100-year old postcard. That is, until I accessed the restaurant in the back of the house. The newness of this area will jolt you back to the present.
  • An attic of an old house on Olive Street where I once lived. All the smells, tools for living, and cast-off literature made this space a virtual 100+ years time capsule.
  • An old general store at the corner of Center and Main. The dark, smelly and closed-in room with heavily stocked shelves, old stains (blood?) and faint remnants of sawdust on an ancient wooden floor was not for the claustrophobic. The store was converted to something else during the 1970’s.

In all of these properties, I (seamlessly) transcended the present into an alien time staged by props from another era. This sense of transcendence is our goal for a restored Laura Hawkins house, and nowhere am I more excited about staging than in the kitchen. So, back to the restoration of this room…

During the Victorian era, the kitchen was the least regarded room of the house, as far as interior decoration and furnishings go. Preparing food and cleaning up afterwards made a mess. In some of the wealthier homes, extra measures in the architecture were used to separate this room from the more presentable areas of the house. In the case of the Laura Hawkins house, a small hall with an adjacent washroom separated the kitchen from the dining room.
  You are looking at the small hallway that leads from the kitchen to the
dining area. A heavy curtain hanging from a doorway likely shielded
the dining area from
both the kitchen and the washroom (to your left).

Note the half-hearted attempts at updating the walls and the moldings in the photo above. The plastic bag on the floor of the washroom covers a hole where a toilet once stood - not an original toilet, mind you, but one that would have been installed during the late 1940’s to 1960’s.

Why do I often refer back to the late 1940’s when discussing previous renovations? Based on the extensive (and horrid) remuddling of the house exterior circa 1947 and the look of some of the existing bath fixtures, this was when the house underwent much renovation in an effort to “update” and “be like the neighbors”.

As with most restoration projects, the kitchen is often the most extensive and Laura’s house was no exception. So, we stripped through the layers of additions, bad paint jobs, and mismatched amenities to reveal its bones. Remember this wall?
 The North Wall of the kitchen. The doorway on the left leads to the basement,
while the doorway on the right leads to the 2nd floor of the house.

Here is that wall, gutted…

Here is a view showing the ceiling that has now been insulated…

Note the exposed brick on the west wall and the stove pipe portal in it. Here’s another look at it…
 If you look closely, you will see that a brick inserted into the stove pipe portal.
The family likely converted over to a “cleaner” method of
food cooking via a gas or electric stove.

Here is what that wall looked like before its gutting…
 Note the plastered circle where the stove pipe portal existed.

Remember the east wall that overlooks the backyard?
  This 1960’s style sink cabinet is long gone.

Here is that wall now…

Moving to your left, here is the northeast corner of the kitchen…
  At one time this room was a pantry stocked with canned and dry kitchen goods.
A door which had long been removed enclosed this small room.

 Here is a glimpse of the extended pantry that was in place before the gutting…
Moving to your right past the sink cabinet, here is the southeast corner of the kitchen with its sole source of heat (other than the stove)…
Here is another view showing some of the insulation installed…

Here’s a closer look at the heat register…
Finally, moving further to your right, here we are in the southwest corner of the kitchen, right back to the small hallway that leads to the washroom and dining room…

In my next post, we will delve into the many activities of a Victorian kitchen with all of its ugly implements and furnishings. We’ll also look at some sample kitchens of the time and I will share with you our plans to take this kitchen back to Laura’s day.

I’ll even share a recipe or two enjoyed by my own Hannibal relatives during the late 1800’s. Yes readers, I have roots in these hills and like the Hawkins family, they were part of the Scotch-Irish set that migrated from Kentucky during the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Hmm, pork, rabbit, fish… and snapping turtle!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Full Circle (A Thirst for Connectiveness - Part II)

Our friend Don sporting the last of the Becky Thatcher House T-shirts.

In our last post where we attended an open house for the Becky Thatcher house, everyone in attendance was told of what would be in store for the restored structure. Here’s the high-level plan as we understood it:

Restore each room to reflect Becky era activities in accordance to times of the day. The ground floor rooms will be dioramas, each one accentuating morning, midday, and evening activities. The 2nd floor will be used for classes and other learning activities held or sponsored by the Mark Twain Museum.

 These figurines that once belonged to the
Becky Thatcher House went on auction in August 2008.
Here is the link to the auction post:

I’m relieved that the Becky Thatcher House will not be doing exactly the same thing as the Laura Hawkins House. Originally, the first floor of the Becky Thatcher House was a bookstore and the 2nd floor was a period room for viewing only. The latter is our vision of the Laura Hawkins house with all rooms exhibiting the décor and furnishings related to the Victorian era of Laura’s later years. Included will be the parlor, dining room, bedrooms, kitchen, bathrooms, and even the attic. Eventually, we want to expand use of the house to include Victorian themed art shows. After this, who knows?

 This old postcard shows the 2nd floor period room before it was gutted.


After expressing dismay at the lack of photos (published or otherwise) that exist of Laura Hawkins, Henry Sweets, curator of the Mark Twain Museum and emcee of the open house invited us to visit him in his office in the Mark Twain Museum. Eager to see his cache of photos, we accepted and a week later, found ourselves wandering the upper floor office area.

For anyone who hasn’t been to the museum (and I can’t imagine a local not visiting at least once), it is a must see. The original Norman Rockwell paintings illustrating Twain’s book Tom Sawyer are alone worth the price of admission, which is $9.00 for adults, $7.50 for seniors, and $4.00 for children 6-12 years old. A child under 6 years of age gets in free. Admission includes access to 8 different buildings including the childhood homes of Mark Twain and Laura Hawkins (aka Becky Thatcher).

Norman Rockwell paintings in the Mark Twain Museum
(Photographed by Dr. Cindy Lovell, Mark Twain Museum Director)

We were shown the direction to Henry’s office – a corner suite overlooking Main Street. He opened his cache for us and indeed we recognized some of the better known photocopies that exist of Laura. There were a few we were not that familiar with. Here are some of the photos...

 This photo has been published in countless publications when it came out in 1925. In this photo, Laura is shown commemorating Mark Twain’s 90th birthday in 1925 at the Mark Twain Museum. The museum back then and for many years afterwards was housed in Mark Twain’s boyhood home.

Here is the same event, with Mrs. George Mahan. George Mahan was a prominent Hannibal attorney who bought Mark Twain’s boyhood home as a gift to Hannibal...

Here is Laura standing on the porch of a house I believe she occupied for many years on the 500 block of steep Rock Street. More research is needed to confirm this.

Here’s another photo showing Laura standing at a fence, possibly on a farm she lived on in Palmyra. Again, more research is needed.

I recall as a teen seeing a photo once showing Laura tending an antique store in downtown Hannibal. So this is one photo I intend to search out.

As we come closer to our goal to preserve and display the Laura Hawkins House, it is our wish to join hands with the Becky Thatcher House in displaying Laura’s life full circle.

Our next post will show the kitchen of the Laura Hawkins house in its various stages of work. Here are a couple of teaser photos:

This was the sink cabinet - very 1960's - that has since been removed.

EEYEOW! What were they thinking with this color scheme?