Friday, June 19, 2009

The Old Stone House in Mahattan, Kansas

I've mentioned the old stone house at 804 Moro Street in Manhattan, Kansas so many times I thought perhaps a series of photos of the places we lived would be interesting. If my count is correct, Leif lived in 17 places plus three military camps in Bosnia in his 33 years. Only eight of them were with us and I don't have photos of all of them, but I think they will give a sense of place.

When we moved from Germany back to Manhattan, Kansas in September 1973, we were looking for a house to buy. It wasn't a good market then and we weren't finding what we wanted, an older home with a lot of room. Then I chanced upon this house while driving up Moro Street toward Aggieville. It was a wreck. The house was totally covered with Virginia creeper vines, which had grown all the way up to the gutter and then back down into the yard. The house had 33 windows (counting the front and back doors) but you couldn't see into or out of any of them because of the vines.

We contacted the realtor and took a look at it. The inside was a mess. All of the rooms, including woodwork, were painted either an ugly dark tan (with matching drapes and carpet in the living room) or an ugly institutional green, in semigloss paint, except for one room, which had weird combinations of chartreuse and forest green and yellow and pink with a big boob on the wall. The place was littered with dead bugs and the kitchen had ancient brown linoleum on the floor and countertop, which was shredding. It had been on the market for six months with no offers and we heard stories about prospective buyers coming out covered with fleas, hence the dead bugs when they closed it up and fumigated it.

Apparently we saw the "possibilities" in the place, so we made an offer. They were asking $28,000 and we offered $21,000. Even in 1973 it was a cheap house, especially on a double corner lot, but it was so old and had not been renovated, that no one was interested but us. When we went to the realtor the next day and were told our offer had been refused, Peter W. told them he was glad, that he had had nightmares all night about the place and to just give him his ernest money check back. Well, that got their attention and the next thing we knew, they accepted.

We moved in, if you can call sleeping on army cots in the living room (because the place was unlivable) moving in, and started working on the house to try to make it a home. People said it must be so rewarding, but no, it was just grungy hard work, and as soon as we got one thing done, we either found something new wrong or whatever we improved made everything else look ten times worse.

Peter W. liked the Virginia creeper vines and wanted to keep them, but we soon found that was impossible. As soon as we opened the windows, we discovered that they were full of sparrow nests that smelled awful. We tore them all down, making a pile to be hauled away the size of a boxcar. Then the house looked naked and pitiful.

We lived in the house from September 1973 to the summer of 1976 and spent most of our spare time during those three years working on it. More about that and what the house was like inside in my next post.

Leif was born in the middle of this adventure, on January 28, 1975. He spent a lot of time in a backpack on me while I worked.

The top photo was taken May 25, 2002, and shows the lush yard we had created over the years.
The second photo shows the nearly barren yard during the dead of winter in January 1975, the month and year Leif was born.
The third photo shows the house after all the vines were torn off in the fall of 1973.
The bottom photo shows the house as it looked when we bought it on September 8, 1973.

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