Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Buckeye

When I checked in to The Vintage Inn B&B, I heard a few noises coming from the parlor or living room.  Lori, the owner, said that her husband was repairing the fireplace in the parlor (or living room, or den).  The 1906 fireplace still had a vintage, unique cast iron insert with two adjustable dampers, that had needed some work.

"We've never used this fireplace before," Lori told me.  "We don't think the fireplace has been used in a long time -- we're not even sure it works!" 

"Well, it worked in about 1970," I replied, as casually as I could, "because we made popcorn in it, in the winter."

That's when I told her: My grandmother owned this house in the late 1960s through mid-1970s.

I gave Lori a set of pictures of the Crowell House, now The Vintage Inn, including a print of that same fireplace with that very same lining.  The quality of the picture is not great, but if you look carefully you can see the fireplace lining and the old blue tile surrounding it.  The tile has since been replaced, but not the insert.  Apparently it was originally designed to hold coal.  The back of the insert is stamped THE BUCKEYE.

Fireplace in 1970.

Fireplace insert in 2013, nicely cleaned up.
The inside of the fireplace insert says "The Buckeye."
Online records show that the patent for the design of the fireplace insert was held by William E. Fitch of Louisville, Kentucky in the late 1800s.  He had risen through the ranks of the Peerless Manufacturing Company.  An 1890 Louisville City Directory shows Fitch as a clerk in the organization; by 1893, he was general manager.  And by 1920, the year he died, Fitch was listed as president of the company.   Fitch described this creation as providing "two dampers for perfectly controlling and regulating the draft.

"The uses of the two dampers may be stated thus: When the fire is to be started, the [first] damper is opened, and when the fire has got under way this damper may be closed and [the second] damper opened, and it being smaller than the first and nearer the fire will carry off the smoke and gas and keep alive the fire. The top of the lining being closed from this damper to its outer edge presents a large radiating or reflecting surface, and thus materially saves the heat."

Fitch's notes also show he intended this fireplace insert to be easily installed and serviced.  Whether Fitch named his creation The Buckeye, or whether another company cast the piece and stamped the name on it, is difficult to determine since the name "The Buckeye" doesn't appear on any of Fitch's patent illustrations.  One website for a Chicago "building artifacts" seller reports The Buckeye was indeed manufactured by Peerless in Louisville, KY.  

The bottom line is, The Buckeye still worked well.

We put more wood in the fire; it crackled and blazed into life. Once the fire got going, Lori's husband closed the first damper, the second damper drew the smoke up perfectly, and the parlor began to grow warm.

The next evening the teenagers of the house settled in front of the fire with some friends to watch a movie.  Lori gave me a bag of popcorn.  The Buckeye was at work again, warming the family and guests in the old house against the chill of the autumn night.

To be continued...

William Fitch's many patents for fireplace innovations are listed here:

This story is one in a series on the historic red brick house at 801 Flynn in Alva, Oklahoma.  This Prairie-style mansion was built in 1906 by local businessman George W. Crowell. 

My grandmother bought it from his heirs in 1968, and lived there for several years. 

The house changed hands again several times since then; it’s now The Vintage Inn, a bed-and-breakfast.  

I went back to visit in October 2013.   All the blog posts I wrote on the visit are collected here:

"Like" The Estate Sale Chronicles on Facebook!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Coffeyville Brick Walkway

They say "the devil is in the details," but I think God is in the details.  The real beauty of a complex object is often best seen, not only in the "big picture," but also in the attention to detail of the builder.

For example:  The front walkway to the house at 801 Flynn in Alva, Oklahoma is made of bricks from the Coffeyville, Kansas Vitrified Brick & Tile Company.  I'd forgotten that some of the bricks are stamped with the makers' name.

I wonder if the bricks for the house itself were from Coffeyville, too?  It seems a reasonable assumption.  

When I got home from my trip last week, I did some quick research on the company.  I found an interesting piece of American history on the Coffeyville, Kansas Chamber of Commerce website:

"Due to an abundance of natural resources - large deposits of shale, limestone and building stone - Coffeyville had a number of brick plants in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s - the Standard Brick Company, Vitrified Brick Company, Yoke Brick Company.

"When Coffeyville's four brick factories were operating to capacity some 765,500 bricks were made every day. Today these bricks can be seen literally throughout the world and have become a collector's item to many.

"In the 1900's bricks were in great demand for sidewalk and street paving. There were 36 blocks of brick streets by 1905 to replace the dust and mud roads.  Also, many railroads used bricks for their passenger platforms. Each factory would imprint their brick with a company name or a special design. One of the best known Coffeyville bricks is the yoke brick made by the Yoke Vitrified Brick Company."

The Coffeyville Chamber website also notes the importance of glass in the city's history: 

"Coffeyville was the home of both blown glass factories and bottle glass factories.

"The art of hand blown glass produced a romantic era for Coffeyville between 1901 and 1916.  There were 10 glass plants in the city.  A number of homes today have windows of the blown glass from Coffeyville factories, and some collectors have glass fruit jars, plates, and other items which say 'Made in Coffeyville.'

"Glass blowers, who had learned their trade from their fathers and grandfathers in Europe, moved to Coffeyville with their families...  More than 1000 jobs were available in the glass factories at one time and it was said that half the town’s adult population was 'glass people.'  Glass blowers were highly skilled and earned $75 to $100 per week depending upon the amount of their production....

"The Coffeyville Window Glass Company was located by the Katy tracks on the present site of the Acme Foundry.  The company employed 175 to 200 workers.  One year $200,000 worth of glass products was marketed by the company.  Over 700,000 feet of lumber were used in making boxes in which to ship the glass."

This information makes me wonder if the any of the original glass in the Crowell House in Alva came from Coffeyville, too?  The research I did for my previous post indicated that George Crowell, the house's original owner, brought in an Italian craftsman, and that all the wood and glass were imported from Kansas.

P.G. Wodehouse humorously wrote: "Whatever may be said in favour of the Victorians, it is pretty generally admitted that few of them were to be trusted within reach of a trowel and a pile of bricks."   The three-story Crowell House was built in 1906, five years after Queen Victoria died, so I guess it's technically "Edwardian" except that the architecture is said to be Prairie-style -- oh, well.  

Whatever the case, it's obvious that someone in 1906 was expert at handling a trowel and a very, very large pile of bricks.  

It's good to know that Mr. Crowell could trust his builders and, after more than 100 years, the bricks in the house at 801 Flynn are still standing strong.

To be continued....


The Coffeyville Chamber's website is here:

This story is one in a series on the historic red brick house at 801 Flynn in Alva, Oklahoma.  This Prairie-style mansion was built in 1906 by local businessman George W. Crowell. 

My grandmother bought it from his heirs in 1968, and lived there for several years. 

The house has changed hands several times since then; it’s now The Vintage Inn, a bed-and-breakfast.  

I went back to visit in October 2013.   All the blog posts I wrote on the visit are collected here:

"Like" The Estate Sale Chronicles on Facebook!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Returning to the Crowell House in Alva

It was late afternoon when I arrived that Tuesday in October.  Aside from a couple of workmen outside, the house was the only one at home.

In a previous post, I wrote that my grandmother bought this house in the late 1960s, then sold it several years later.  It changed hands several times and is now a bed and breakfast called The Vintage Inn.  I made the trip to Oklahoma, in part, to stay there once again.

Perhaps a little more house-history is in order now.  The home at 801 Flynn Street, Alva, Oklahoma, was built in 1906 by the influential local businessman George Washington Crowell.  

On pages 1509-1510 of Volume IV of A Standard History of Oklahoma (1916) Joseph B. Thoburn, we find a little background on the man who was the original owner of the house.  

"George W. Crowell. Among those men of dynamic force and fine constructive powers who have been foremost in the furtherance of the civic and industrial development and progress of Woods County, Oklahoma, a place of exceptional prominence and distinction must be accorded to the sterling citizen and representative man of affairs whose name initiates this paragraph. Mr. Crowell is vice president of the First National Bank of Alva, the county seat of Woods County, was the founder of the firm of Crowell Brothers, engaged in dealing in lumber and grain; and his extraneous capitalistic interests are likewise of broad scope and importance, as shown by his being president of the Panhandle Grain Company of Amarillo, Texas, and president and treasurer of the Centennial Coal Company of Denver, Colorado."
Crowell Bros. Grain Elevator
(photo found in public documents at
George Crowell was born in North Carolina in 1862, and moved to Kansas in 1879.  He and his brother David owned a lumber company.  The book continues: 

"The firm now maintains a series of well equipped lumber yards, at different points in Kansas and Oklahoma and the business has expanded to large and substantial proportions under the careful, progressive and honorable management of the enterprising proprietors.

"In 1893 Mr. Crowell became one of the large concourse of prospective settlers who participated in the run into the famous Cherokee Strip, or Outlet, of Oklahoma, at the time it was thrown open to settlement. He established his residence at Alva, the present thriving little metropolis and judicial center of Woods County, and the governor of Oklahoma Territory appointed him chairman of the first board of county commissioners of the new county. 

"Mr. Crowell thus played an important part in formulating the system of government for the county and also was influential in the progressive movements made by the board for the furtherance of the best interests of the ambitious county and its people. Mr. Crowell has otherwise given effective service in behalf of the public, and especially through his several years incumbency of the office of member of the city council of Alva.... In all things he is to be designated as a loyal, progressive and public-spirited citizen as well as a straightforward, alert and substantial business man…."

A page on describes the architectural style of the house as "...evocative of the Prairie Style as found in Oklahoma. It has a steeply pitched hip roof, covered with ceramic tile roofing. The center entry bay is topped by a dormer capped with a unique double-hipped roof. Below the dormer is a set of five windows, three in the center are closely spaced, flanked at a short distance with another on each side. Each of these windows has a transom. A stone beltcourse is set into the wall at the height of the second-story windows. The main entry porch features piers that extend past the roofline of the porch; these piers were probably originally terminated by urns. This was a common style found in other Prairie-style homes of the 1920s, a style first popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright. The porch piers are flanked by columns, and the style of the port is mirrored in the style of the east-facing sunroom. A large porch, open other than over the entry, provides a strong visual base for this large home."

The Okie Legacy website describes the origins of the house:  "As to George's big house on 8th & Flynn Ave., in Alva, Oklahoma, legend has it Crowell wanted to build the biggest house in Alva so he constructed the house in 1906 and succeeded for about a year, until another man built a slightly larger house on the west side of town.  

"Crowell brought in an Italian artist, who was charged with scrolling in gold leaf on the walls and ceilings on the first floor and up the stairs. He also carved rail posts and the glass doors leading into the house. All the wood and the tile roofing for the house was shipped in from Kansas."

Photo postcard of the "Geo. Crowell Residence, Alva, Okla."

George Crowell's first wife died in 1911, but A Standard History of Oklahoma notes: "On the 1st of October, 1913, Mr. Crowell contracted a second marriage, by his union with Mae Wilcox, who was born at Neosho, Missouri, on the 6th of April, 1884, and who is the popular chatelaine of their pleasant and hospitable home in Alva."

Pleasant and hospitable.

I went up the steps to the front door, noting that the leaded glass windows were still in place.  They were beautiful from the outside...

And even more so from the inside, with their little rainbows of light.

If you were going to build a three-story house like the one at 801 Flynn, it would help to be in the lumber business.  This slightly smudged photograph of my grandmother's from about 1970 shows the entry hall and staircase, crafted of solid oak, as I remembered it.

Last Tuesday afternoon, I walked slowly around the entry hall, camera at the ready.

Even though the paint colors are different and a vintage tin ceiling has been added, the wooden details are still there and in excellent condition.

The house was quiet.  I walked up the stairs and, when I got to the top, rested my hand on the oak.

"Hello, my old friend," I said.  The house spent the next couple of days responding.

To be continued....

Information on The Vintage Inn may be found here:

The Okie Legacy website story on the Crowell House is here:

And a story about George Crowell's family is here:

The Flickr site with the description and a photo of the Crowell mansion (among many interesting pictures of Oklahoma landmarks) is here: 

A Standard History of Oklahoma, Vol. IV, is available online:  

The website for Ponca City, Oklahoma, tells more about the Cherokee Strip land run of 1893:

This story is one in a series on the historic red brick house at 801 Flynn in Alva, Oklahoma.  This Prairie-style mansion was built in 1906 by local businessman George W. Crowell. 

My grandmother bought it from his heirs in 1968, and lived there for several years. 

The house has changed hands several times since then; it’s now The Vintage Inn, a bed-and-breakfast.  

I went back to visit in October 2013.   All the blog posts I wrote on the visit are collected here:

"Like" The Estate Sale Chronicles on Facebook!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Memories of the Magic Kingdom

I recently had the chance to visit Disneyland with a small group of people, including my 1o-year-old nephew and his mom.   Coincidentally, the weekend after our visit to the Magic Kingdom, I picked up a bunch of old Disneyland memorabilia at an estate sale.

The family who saved these memories from their own trips to Disneyland, must have visited there several times during the early 1960s and the early 1970s.  

Four-fifty.  Four-seventy five.  Six dollars for a teenager to get in and ride all those rides.   Amazing.  And yet there was a leftover E Ticket loose inside one of the ticket books!  (This was long before "E" stood for "electronic.")

(Which ride to go on?  Hard to choose, but probably "Pirates.")

The pocket guide to Disneyland, shown above, has a date of 1971 on it.  It was obviously well-used.  I bet the previous owners had a good time while they were there.

The souvenirs from my most recent trip to Disneyland are different than the ones I found at the estate sale: a PDF printout confirming my online ticket purchase; a receipt for a Build-Your-Own Lightsaber at the "Star Wars" gift shop in Tomorrowland (I told you I went there with a 10-year-old); a folder on my computer full of digital photographs.  

Even though the admission price to Disneyland has gone up (understatement!), it's certainly easier and better to pay a flat admission fee and ride all the E Ticket rides you want without having to buy another coupon book.  And digital technology certainly makes it easier to get the tickets in advance and navigate around the park. 

But I wonder:  How can we make sure we save our best memories to share them with future generations, when the records of those memories exist only in cyberspace as a string of ones and zeros, or can be deleted from a cellphone or a file with one wrong push of a button?   

The paper memories trigger the remembrance and the sharing with others.  How will we remember to explain what an E Ticket was, to someone who was born long after E Tickets were history?

I think I'd better print a few of the best photos and put them in a scrapbook or photo album, just to be sure these memories can be passed along.  And when I pass them along, I will remember to explain about the importance of E Tickets. 

(The horse-drawn trolley.  The "Mark Twain" riverboat.  And Donald Duck.  It's good to know some things never change much.)

___ explains E Tickets (officially E Coupons):

There are tons of websites devoted to the history of Disneyland.  This is an interesting one:

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Viola's Memorable "Estate Sale Purchase" (or Home is Where Your Stuff Is)

Someone recently asked me where I got my love of going to estate sales.  That's easy to answer: from my grandmother.

Viola just loved antiques and, for many years, actively sought them out at yard sales, estate sales, antique shops, thrift stores, and flea markets.  This was long before the Internet allowed buyers with a cell phone to look up the resale or investment value of an item at a sale on the spot, as I see today.  Armed with a paperback antiques price guide and a magnifying glass, Viola sought out and brought home teapots, mechanical banks, carnival and cranberry glass, Indian jewelry, pots and baskets, Victorian-era dolls -- even a matching cobalt blue onionskin Tiffany glass vase ("vahse") and plate that she paid $2 for at a yard sale.  Once when she was traveling, she bought an antique brass bed that she shipped home disassembled on a Greyhound bus, but usually the things she found would fit inside a brown paper grocery bag and could be stored in a bookcase.

Native American pot, American carnival glass, etc.,
found by my grandmother at estate sales and elsewhere, circa 1970

Most of the time when I go to estate sales, I transport the treasures I find in my handy L.L. Bean tote bag (which I also found at an estate sale).  Okay, I keep two tote bags in the car, just in case I find a lot of good stuff.  By restricting my purchases to those that will fit in the tote bag(s), I can easily get them home.

Even though I've found a few larger items that I needed help transporting (like the oak pub table), I don't think I'll ever find something as large as Viola once found at an estate sale.  

She not only bought the entire contents of a nine-bedroom, four-bath, 6000 square foot brick house...she bought the house as well.  

If the outside of the house, built in the early 1900s, was spectacular, the inside was even more so.  The small, now-smudged photos Viola took more than 40 years ago don't do it justice, but they are good enough to give me an idea of what made the house so appealing.

Dining room with European cut glass chandelier


Entry Hall
Kitchen, complete with happy family members and cowboy hats.
(Not sure what the cowboy hats were about.)

Living Room

I only visited the house a handful of times -- not nearly enough -- but even after all these years I think I could draw a pretty accurate floor plan. 

The leaded glass around the front door, the secret "servants' stairwell" leading from the ground floor upstairs, the massive claw-foot bathtub on the second floor (that took forever to fill), the prisms on that unbelievable chandelier in the dining room casting rainbows of morning sunlight on the walls, my grandmother's delight in living in such a place  -- all engraved themselves on the inside of my brain, and there they remain to this day.  

The house had been built to impress, but it still conveyed a companionable peace and friendliness to the teenaged me. As British author Elizabeth Goudge wrote of another old house in her 1948 novel Pilgrim's Inn:

...[She] had a feeling that this house had a personality of its own, some sort of great angel who grew with the house and was enriched, or otherwise, by those who lived here; and she felt too that this angel was well disposed towards her.  It was a genial sort of angel, and remarkably patient....

I remember the house so well.  I wonder if the house remembers me?  

I will find out.  The people who own the house now run it as a bed and breakfast inn, and (Thank You, Lord) they have a vacancy next week.

To be continued....

This story is one in a series on the historic red brick house at 801 Flynn in Alva, Oklahoma.  This Prairie-style mansion was built in 1906 by local businessman George W. Crowell. 

My grandmother bought it from his heirs in 1968, and lived there for several years. 

The house has changed hands several times since then; it’s now The Vintage Inn, a bed-and-breakfast.  

I went back to visit in October 2013.   All the blog posts I wrote on the visit are collected here:

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Herb of Grace

Going to an estate sale and finding a copy of an old book that I've already read and enjoyed, gives me a connection with the other person who owned the book too. If the pages are well-thumbed and the dust jacket is falling apart, I know the book was read often and kept for a reason.

And, of course, if I need to replace my copy of the book that I've loaned to someone else, I'll buy the one at the estate sale (if it's cheap enough).  Last weekend, I found a 1948 copy of Pilgrim's Inn by Elizabeth Goudge (1900-1984).

Not only did it still have its dust jacket, it also had the original Wings Literary Guild book review that came with it:

Goudge is probably best-known as the author of Green Dolphin Street, which was made into a film in 1947, but she wrote a number of other books which I've enjoyed more.  Pilgrim's Inn is one of them.

"What's it about?" you might ask.  I could say that it's about a family, and some other people, who find themselves living in a very old house in England after World War II, but that's too pedestrian a description.  The editors of Wings admitted:

Pilgrim's Inn is difficult to describe, because as in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, the old house plays a part as important as any of the characters.  Tired, distressed people find within the old inn's walls a peace and a magic spell that, once felt, changes their lives.

I think there's a little more to it than that.  Elizabeth Goudge's great strength, which appears in all her books, is her ability to make a seamless connection between the earthly and the spiritual, the living and the inanimate, the mundane and the holy. 

In Pilgrim's Inn, the Eliot family, reunited just after World War II, discovers that their new home, The Herb of Grace, is really an ancient maison dieu, a pilgrim inn, built as a hostel for pilgrims near a great abbey or cathedral in the era before Henry VIII.  Goudge describes the father and children of the family entering the house for the first time:

...Immediately they had a wonderful feeling of being most royally and loudly welcomed, almost as though some generous, glowing personality had shouted aloud at the sight of them.  They looked about them, but there was no one with them in the stone-flagged passage....

As they look around the entryway, The Herb of Grace's personality manifests itself:

...George's eye was caught the glory of the staircase that exactly faced the front door.  It was of black oak and highly polished with age, each stair sagging in the middle like a bent bow.  It sloped up between high paneled walls, then divided and curved away to the right and left beneath an alcove in the paneling where there must once have been a cupboard, and that now held some strange little carved figure that he could not make out in the dim light.  The sweep of this dividing staircase was most beautiful and gracious, and gave one a feeling of welcome like strong arms held out, the arms of that glowing personality who had welcomed them in.  And Ben noticed, though George did not, that the whole structure of the staircase, with the arms held out beneath the upright panel, was like a cross.

Goudge's more practical characters are initially embarrassed or angry at the idea that the house has the personality of a benevolent saint.  But others embrace the idea, as the Herb of Grace seems to embrace them.  

If you've ever lived in a house that seemed to have a personality of its own, you may understand their experience. I wonder if the person who owned this book before, ever lived in or visited a house with a welcoming personality all its own?

I've been blessed to know a house like that, although it was not nearly as old as the Herb of Grace in Goudge's book.  I'll tell you about it soon.

Elizabeth Goudge's books are all over and eBay, often at very reasonable prices.  You might enjoy:

A City of Bells (fiction, 1936)
God So Loved the World (non-fiction, 1951)
The Little White Horse (children's fiction, 1946)

If you enjoy The Little White Horse, you're in good company.  J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, once said that it was her favorite book as a child and that it had a direct influence on the Harry Potter books.

The Elizabeth Goudge society has a website:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Older generations spent their time differently than many of us do today.  They took time to read, to cook, to write, to create.  This is evident in the items I see at almost every estate sale I attend:

* Back issues of National Geographic and Arizona Highways magazines

* Pyrex bowls and casserole dishes

* A drawer, a box, a glass jar full of pens and pencils

* Free notecards sent by Paralyzed Veterans of America (hey, they were free)

* A sewing machine

* Hardcover books

* Embroidery, usually on pillowcases, tablecloths and tea towels

Some of the embroidered items are beautifully done.  I thought I would share some of them with you.

The Southern Belle is a recurring theme in pillowcase art

She also appears on slipcovers and sometimes in wall hangings

Floral motifs were also popular, both small...

...and large.
But I don't think I've ever seen any embroidery as cute as the kittens on this tea towel: