Sunday, November 3, 2013

Essence of Old House

There are many smaller old things that I love about my grandmother's old home at 801 Flynn in Alva.  One is the little bird (I think he's a bell-holder) at the back door.

Another is the servant's stairway that leads from the kitchen to the second floor.  It wasn't carpeted when I first knew it.  I used to sit on the landing just before the stairs turn right, and wonder what it would have been like to be a servant in this old house's heyday.

Then there's the antique clawfoot bathtub in the suite I stayed in.  I hadn't used this tub since the early 1970s, but there it stands.

That's why they call it a clawfoot tub!

This bathtub has its original soap and washcloth holder and drain plug.

When the device in the middle, with its white ceramic top marked WASTE, is lowered, the drain is plugged and water stays in the tub.

Raise the knob, rest it on the small brass post on the inside, and the tub drains.


There are more small details, not as easily observed, that give the house its character.
The folks who run The Vintage Inn in Alva keep scented candles in some of the rooms.  The candles provide a pleasant scent, and they mask the faint "old house smell" that is a natural part of a 107-year-old building.  A good bed-and-breakfast inn, after all, is an old house with its party clothes on, and most visitors appreciate the scent of the candles as part of the house's welcome to them.

But I told Lori, my hostess, that I wanted to visit the basement of my grandmother's house again.  There are no scented candles down there; it still smells like an old house.

And I happen to love the smell of an old house.

Basement windows, exterior

I remembered which door off the hallway led to the basement, opened it with Lori's permission, and took a deep sniff.  "There you are!" I said to the house.

And with one of Lori's friends at my side, I went down the narrow, steep flight of stairs off the hallway and entered the world of the old house.  We saw small rooms full of shadows and light, an old mirror, a few tools, and a lot of stored Christmas decorations waiting to be put on display later in the year.  

When my grandmother owned the house, the basement had been divided into apartments that she (and previous owners) rented out.  When Vi first arrived, one of the apartment rooms had contained bushel baskets full of small appliances, flatware and glassware that had apparently come from the small restaurant, alternately called a Hamburger Bar or a Milk Bar depending on who you talked to, that was once part of a separate small building located on the property to the east of the house.  Local students used to visit it after school.

More baskets in the basement in 1969 were full of small items that showed that a previous tenant (an elderly man, if I recall the story) had been a minor league kleptomaniac -- stainless steel flatware, towels and ashtrays marked with the names of hotels all over the Midwest.  They have long since vanished.

But some things about the basement have stayed the same.

Look at the attention to detail the builders lavished on the basement.  This is the ceiling:

And there's a very old stained glass window!  You can see it from the side yard:

But to really appreciate it, you have to look at it from the inside.  The window's colored panes show a variety of colors and textures.

I wonder if more of the basement windows were originally stained glass, or if the builders only created this one?

They say that character is who you are when no one is looking.  I can see the character of this old home, and of the people who built it, in the basement (where usually no one looks) as well as above the ground.

To be continued...

The Okie Legacy website mentions the hamburger bar at the Crowell House:

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:

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  1. Oh Teresa, this is terrific. I can only imagine what it would be like to be able to walk through my childhood home and find things that have changed and also the treasures of the past that remain. I am hoping there are most posts and photos to find. I decided that I would check today and was happy to find this post.

    Take care, Mary Neal

  2. Hi Mary, glad you enjoyed it. I collected all of the many posts on the old house in Alva here: