Renovating Our Old House

A Little History

House[Note: We also have a detailed history and description of the house.]

The house we decided to buy in West Virginia was built around 1835 by Captain David Pugh, although this detail was not known to us when we bought it.

Capt. Pugh (who was not in any military but rather “won his captaincy solely by virtue of his commanding presence”) died in this house in 1899, as reported by the Hampshire Review, February 1899:

In the death of Mr. Pugh, this county loses perhaps her oldest and one her most distinguished citizens …

After holding many offices of trust [including the signing of Virginia’s secession from the U.S. during the Civil War] he has spent his declining years in the sacred precincts of his home, where he delighted to relate his checkered career and discuss the early history of this country.

There he waited for the evening of life, and the closing of his days, with perfect composure and equanimity.

A few years later, just past the turn of the century, Smith Brill purchased the house and property. Around this time a smaller four-room addition was completed, complementing the original four large rooms each with a fireplace. The Brill family lived here for most of the rest of the century. Smith’s son Walton and his wife Marie lived in the house starting some time after WW I. Walton died in the mid-Seventies, and Marie finally moved into a home in the late Eighties (Marie made it to the next millennium to the ripe old age of 101)

In late 1991 her son sold the house at auction to an urbanite with visions of a weekend hideaway. At this time the house had little indoor plumbing (just a kitchen sink we believe) since Marie had always used the two-holer out back In order to help sell the place a septic system had just been installed. The buyer proceeded to do quite a “remuddling” job on the house over the next few years. We spent the better part of our first years here undoing and/or redoing most everything he did, not to mention doing all the things that he didn’t do but should have.

In any event, the buyer lost interest in completing his grand renovation, and he put the house on the market for way too high a price. We had been looking to move to West Virginia for awhile, and looking at a map we thought that Capon Bridge would be a good place to look since it was in the country but not very far from Winchester, Virginia, where employment and shopping could be had. We picked a real estate agent at random, and it just so happened that she was the listing agent for this house so that’s what she showed us first. We loved it. It needed lots of work but we loved it. Did I mention that it needed a lot of work? Anyway, after many trials and tribulations, our lowball offer was eventually accepted and we settled on July 31, 1998, the day before my 40th birthday. We knew it needed lots of work (have I mentioned that yet?) so our master plan was to settle in May and spend the summer renovating it before we moved. But the banks and appraisers and other vermin in the system prevented that (not that I’m at all bitter about it) and we unfortunately ended up having to live in it while we fixed it up.

The Work

Here are the major renovation projects that we, along with various contractors, have endured to preserve and update our old house (in roughly the order that we did them over the years):

  • Repaired burst pipes (over twenty!); replaced broken water heater; replaced broken toilets. (Our first day in the house I got the cold water at the kitchen sink plus one toilet working — it improved from there!)
  • Cleared out untold truckloads of debris and junk from the house and surroundings (including, most bizarrely, an old dentist’s chair in the front boxwoods!)
  • Minor interior plaster repair, painted several rooms (one, our bedroom, had been painted entirely — ceiling, too — with dark purple semigloss)
  • WoodstoveChimneys lined with SupaFlu® concrete (two chimneys with 5 flues!); purchased and installed two Hearthstone® brand woodstoves. We heat exclusively with wood, with electric baseboard for backup — which we’ve only needed once in three years when we had a major problem with one of our woodstoves.
  • Completed pantry closet.
  • Removed disintegrating front porch.
  • Replaced sections of rotted wood siding.
  • House exterior and roof caulked and painted.
  • Completed and repaired electrical wiring, adding outlets as needed.
  • Stone foundation repointed.
  • Moved outhouse further from the main house; added skylight(!)
  • Regraded around house to improve drainage.
  • Two-story, full-width rear verandas completely torn off and rebuilt.
  • Children’s bathroom: tore out inappropriate glass brick and modern tub; installed antique claw foot tub.
  • Built new front porch, inclucing stone surface.
  • Installed stone steps down from driveway.
  • Gutted ugly, cheap, not-yet-completed master bath: installed beadboard wainscotting, new double-ended cast iron tub (relocated toilet to make room!), mirror-front medicine cabinet made from old window frame we found in the cellar, recycled old door from kitchen, crafted door molding to match existing.
  • Closeted-in electrical and plumbling in front hallway.
  • Gutted kitchen: Removed all built-in cabinets (they are simply havens for mice), installed a new sink and stove (with custom-built cabinetry made from old attic floorboards).
    iceboxWe also replaced the low-end refrigerator with an antique ice box — this just might be our craziest idea. [Update: We eventually came to our senses!] We have a chest freezer and we swap out two 2-1/2 gallon plastic water/ice jugs from the freezer to the ice box, once a day in winter, twice in summer. Believe it or not, it works fine! In early 2002 we replaced our first icebox with another one we found at a local antique store. It is a three-door model with the exterior done completely in white ceramic tile. icebox patent tagicebox nameplateA brass plate on the front says “WICKES REFRIGERATOR sold by The Brunswick Balke Collender Co.”, and a smaller brass plate inside the upper right door says “PATENTED July 2, 1901.” The dealer we bought this from says he got it in Chicago. We knew of Brunswick’s billiard and bowling businesses, and a little web surfing turned up some info on the history of the Brunswick Balke Collender Company and it’s foray into phonograph records and players in the 1920’s, but nothing on refrigerators. We have been unable to find out anything more about it.
  • Replaced three exterior doors with new nine-light doors. [We recycled the old doors in our new barn/garage/workshop]
  • Replaced roof on 30 by 30 addition and side porch with new standing-seam metal roof.
  • Renovated downstairs bath to include a shower
  • Added a frech drain system inside both cellars and along the rear veranda dripline.
  • Replaced kitchen brick hearth with a larger flagstone hearth.
  • Replaced living room brick hearth with a larger granite hearth.
  • Installed Foil/Foil Double Bubble radiant insulation in the cellar under the main house first floors.
  • We are currently (Summer 2014) replacing the c. 1910 addition.

Note that this list does not include our work on the farm portion of our place — we’ve fenced in over 6 acres of pasture for our animals, built two portable “quack houses” for our poultry, built a bank-barn garage/dairy, and built an expansive goat shed.