August 24, 2015

Architectural Archaeology

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how things were in the past. That's my job when I'm working in my field (archaeology/architectural history) and I can't shut it off. Ever.
Likewise, I'm always thinking ahead, visualizing what I'd like to do with a space, be it a room or a garden bed. 
And sometimes all the time I spend standing, staring, spacing out pays off and I observe something meaningful. Sometimes it's that the light is just right and the knew bit of knowledge pops out where it was invisible before. Most of the time it comes by way of something I've seen time and again, just never given consideration too. This time I think it had to do with moisture content. 
I was working outside on Friday and I think it had rained Thursday night. I was taking a break near the front porch when a I noticed a little rust stain on the porch had a match a couple feet away. They are the two "L" shaped marks in the foreground and they mark the doorway.
As soon as I saw them, I saw the line extending away in both directions and then around on the side as well, just outside the posts.
Our porch was enclosed at one time.
The next question was whether or not this had been an original feature or something someone added later on. So I looked up, and saw the little overhang there extending out past the posts, and concluded that the soffit must have been constructed with that little overhang to accommodate the upper framing of the enclosure. So when it was built, the porch was most likely screened in. Side note: It makes me sad that at some point someone added these massive gutters that hide those sweet little corbels, though I do concede there is a lot of roof up there for the rain to hit.
This is our back porch sans that overhang and any indications on the floor that it was enclosed.
Starting in the 1930s and continuing into the 1960s the Works Progress Administration issued grants to municipalities to fund the photography of properties for tax assessment purposes. Back in Seattle, the Puget Sound Regional Archives held the collection for King County and many King County Assessor's property records, available here, contained the image(s). In Toledo, the Toledo-Lucas County Public Libraries holds the collection for Lucas County and they have digitized many, if not all images in their collection which are searchable by address here. Unfortunately our house is not to be found among those properties online, so I am really hoping that they are still in the process of making images available, and that I will be able to find a hard copy in the archive. And I hope that whenever our photograph was taken, the enclosure was still there as who knows when it came down. 
Because I can't stop wondering what that enclosure looked like exactly and how it would have impacted the overall look of the house. The living room takes up the entire front gable end of the house and the dining room the entire side gable with it's window (with the stained glass carnations above) facing out onto the porch. Though you can't see it in the photos, as you step onto the porch, the front door is there on the right, leading into a foyer that links the living and dining rooms. So surrounded by formal spaces, I would have to think the enclosure would have been designed to be in keeping. Nowadays front porches have fallen into disuse/nonexistance in our air-conditioned, non-face-to-face communication age. And screened porches are found at the back of homes in the private realm. But in thinking back in time, it makes perfect sense that here the front was screened in. Besides being larger than the back porch, the front porch faces east, while the back faces west, and I can attest that as the summer sun sets, it gets pretty hot and bright. The front porch would have been the relatively cooler place to be, so why not make it bug-free as well? (I might add reconstructing the enclosure sounds like a pretty good idea after some of the mosquito attacks endured this summer.) So there you would be sitting, sipping your Canadian whiskey, waiting for your friends or associates and hopefully not your enemies or the G-Men to call on any given summer evening. At least if you were one of the previous owners of our house. We just met a neighbor this past week who knew the next family to who live in the house, during the 1960s and 70s and she mentioned that the father (who was superintendent of the state mental hospital) was a man of few words who spent the majority of his time sitting on the front porch smoking his pipe or upstairs in the attic weaving on his loom. So maybe the pipe smoke kept the bugs at bay for him, or maybe it was still the screens. Hopefully the archives and oral histories will tell. :)    

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