Featured in "Wisconsin's Own-Twenty Remarkable Homes"
Published by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin

   
 

 

OUR FIFTY TWO PLUS YEARS
RESTORATION ODYSSEY

Shortly after our arrival in Baraboo over fifty-two years ago, we stopped on Sixth Street to admire the rustic and dilapidated mansion with its imaginative ginger­bread trim. While sitting there and admiring the house, Ralph told Pamela, in jest, that “Baraboo’s most elegant house of 1860” was for sale. To our amazement, three days later a picture of the home appeared in the window of a real estate office. A quick trip to Sixth Street disclosed a “For Sale” sign on a tree in the front yard. We knew it was meant to be ours.

The broker tried to re-direct our interest to a modern little Cape Cod. The more he discouraged us the more our interest increased. We finally got a viewing…on a dark and stormy night!

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March 1966

The realty ad described the house as having been redecorated, having a new roof, wiring, and plumbing. That was somewhat of an overstatement. Several panels of the etched cranberry glass surrounding the front door had been broken by vandals. The uniquely shaped windows were hidden by striped aluminum awnings. Bookcases lining the front hall had been enclosed with plywood. Contemporary light fixtures adorned every room except the front hall. However, nothing could derail our determination to be the 5th owners of “Seven Gables”. By the way, our banker thought that $14,600 was too high a price for this ramshackled place.

After moving in, several townspeople informed us of their intentions to purchase the home and convert it to an apartment house or to demolish it to yield three building lots.

The house is situated on 3 heavily wooded lots. There were many large oaks and elms in yard. The front yard was overgrown with brush…like a haunted house. The lower lot was overgrown with old grapevines and bushes. We eventually cleared out some of the over­growth but still keep that part of the yard in a natural state.

Upon settling in, we had experiences with faulty plumbing and wiring. One morning while preparing breakfast, there was a gush of water coming from the ceiling. We initially thought that the roof was leaking, but it was a sunny day. We then discovered that the overflow drain to the upstairs tub was not connected. At other times during those first years we had other leaking ceiling problems. Eventually we had a new roof installed.

When we first inspected the basement, there was an old pair of swim fins hanging on the wall. It should have been a warning! The first year or so our sewer became plugged repeatedly so that the water would not drain properly. The problem was evidently due to the roots of the numerous old burr oak trees. Ralph eventually became quite adept at using a plumber’s snake.

The house needed new wiring and plumbing. Fuses were always blowing. We had most of house rewired a few years later. On the back porch there was a tree branch extending from the front of porch to the wall of house, near the ceiling. An old appliance cord was wrapped around it and a socket and bulb hung down. Many old gas lines were left in the basement. Someone tried to fix plumbing leaks with strips of inner tube. Several of the main doors were concealed behind short aluminum storm doors.

We began our restoration journey modestly at first with the intention of slowing the deterioration and then stabilizing the house structurally. We were guided by the physician’s motto: Do No Harm! On the first floor, we refinished the oak and pine floors, painted woodwork, papered walls, repaired plaster ceilings and generally cleaned up. The basement, besides containing several inches of water periodically, was littered with old appliances and other items too numerous to mention. One room in the basement had piles of sawdust which had been used for heating fuel.

Some of the other challenges which we tackled included replacing deteriorating metal porch roofs, repairing and replacing missing gingerbread trim and scraping and painting the exterior of the house,

Upstairs, two of the bedrooms had large sections plaster missing from the ceilings. In one bed­room, tile had been glued to the pine floor. Initially we covered the tiles with carpet. We were restless knowing that beautiful wide pine floor boards were beneath the tiles and carpet. Ralph tried to pry up the tile, but the pine splintered in the attempt. We questioned numerous people on a possible solu­tion, but the only method they could suggest was to put down wall to wall carpet. Finally we used a torch to soften the adhesive and then we were able to pry the tile loose. After many hours of sanding and varnishing we ended up with beautiful wide pine flooring. In the upstairs hall we removed plywood to reveal the pine flooring underneath. In the lower front hall, the pine was hidden from view by three patterns of linoleum.

Since the home does not have a large attic, the servants quarters bedroom had been used for storage and had many years of treasures left behind…to a level waist high.

The upstairs bathroom had some interesting plumbing. An amateur plumber installed a corner sink by the door and then attempted to bring in a footed tub. The tub stood too tall and would not clear the newly installed sink. The plumber found it necessary to take the legs off of the tub and set the tub on a bed of concrete. He then tried to hang the door so as to finish the job. However, the door wouldn’t close without striking the newly cemented tub. He found it necessary to cut a notch out of the door so that it would clear the tub and close properly.

We did most all the restoration work by ourselves. Often, it reminded us of the movie “African Queen”. We did employ carpenters to aid in the restoration of the kitchen in 1976.

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In 1932 a mural depicting local scenes had been painted on the walls of the den. At some time later, shellac had been applied to the mural which had not been applied very carefully and had yellowed badly. Large drip marks were quite visible. Through trial and error we discovered that denatured alcohol removed the shellac and did not disturb the painting. Blues, greens, and pinks appeared like magic as the old yellow disappeared.

We have furnished our home exclusively in Victorian antiques which we started collec­ting upon purchase of the house.  When we moved in on May 1, 1966, all of our furniture fit in one half of the dining room.

We replaced the contemporary light fixtures with antique period fixtures. We also replaced the broken etched cranberry glass.

Over the years we have learned much by our mistakes and our successes. Our adventures in restoring have made good story telling on each other. Ralph enjoys mentioning the incident when Pam dropped a full gallon of white paint from the top of a ladder onto the floor. A shower of paint soaked our recently stripped grand piano nearby. Luckily we acted quickly and used turpentine rags to remove the paint before it soaked in. We were both so shocked we didn’t say a word!

 

The first fifteen years of our occupancy were largely consumed by maintenance and damage control. In 1976, we removed our tenants from the apartment on the rear of the house. We rebuilt the kitchen in the area where it was previously located.

A trip to Natchez in 1980 gave us the necessary motivation to embark on more intensive path of returning the home to its former elegance of the 1860 period.

In the 1980’s, we started on a five year program to restore the exterior. This included repair and rebuilding of soffits, sills, doors, windows, porches, balcony’s etc. etc… We removed most of the many layers of paint and covered the board and batten siding with a four color paint scheme. This was accomplished before any good resources were available to guide us in color choice and placement.

Later in the 1980’s, we built a gazebo to compliment the house and installed the long missing roof finials which were apparent on an early photo of the house.

In the decade of the 1990’s, we restored the lower main hallway. In the 1930’s, the ceiling had been lowered and a bathroom was constructed in the back portion of the hall.  The work necessitated a major restoration of the original pine flooring in the hall.

On August 9, 2000 we celebrated the 140th birthday of Seven Gables with an ice cream social on the lawn.

The new millennium found us shifting into high gear in our efforts to refine the home. We started by installing a new steam boiler and water heater. We later accomplished a re-roofing of the entire house. In the process, we found the original wood shingles under the metal roof.

In 2002, while painting and papering master bedroom, we found early stenciling on upper walls.

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In 2003 while painting woodwork in several of the bedrooms, we found evidence that woodwork was originally treated with a Faux grain finish. This was the motivation for the start of a restoration of all of the wood graining in the house including some fanciful graining effects on the floors. This was a bonus as a result of removing the oak flooring which had been added in some of the downstairs rooms in the 1930’s.

The removal, in 2003, of a linen closet in the main upper hall resulted in the discovery of two early wall coverings. The repair of a ceiling in the office provided us with another surprise. We found evidence of a sloping eight-sided canopy over what was a doorway leading to the lower gardens. We also found a section of the soffit containing the original trim paint color concealed beneath an extension of the room done in the early days of the home. Repair of the pine floor in this area yield an interesting find in the dirt underneath…a large section of newspaper dated 1867!

In 2004, we removed the bookshelves and cabinets in the front hall which had been added in the 1930’s.
Original crown moldings were installed. One of the main entrance doors had been replaced in the 1930’s We replaced this with a door from the 1860-70 period. Removal of the 1930’s oak flooring in the dining room lead to the discovery of a former wall which had partitioned the dining room up until the 1930’s.

In 2005 we installed an 1860 period walnut faux grained and burled mantle and fireplace surround in the den. The original mantle and surround had been removed in the 1930’s at the time that the murals were painted.

In 2006, the removal of the oak floors and the 1930’s craftsman fireplace in the parlor provided a number of great surprises. Under the 1930’s oak flooring we discovered early siding boards from outside of the house which were being used as sub-flooring for the oak. A number of them yielded good samples of the original siding paint and one of the trim colors. These colors could have been inspired by Andrew Jackson Downing’s paint samples from the 1850’s!

We also found some very nice graining on the original pine floorboards.  In 2006 we grained the parlor, sunporch and office woodwork and floors in faux grain oak similar to original

Several embelishments were added to the parlor.

Downing-inspired ceiling beams and pendants, together with a Pugin like paper, adorn the ceiling. The final touch was the installation of a Bradley-Hubbard 1870 chandelier.

In addition to the ceiling, the focal point of the parlor is a newly installed white marble mantle and fireplace surround which was retrieved from an 1860 parish house in Dubuque, Iowa. This replaced a craftsman style brick mantle and surround dating from the 1930’s. Removal of the old fireplace yielded another bonus…many samples of two of the original wall coverings!!

Extensive restoration of the spacious Terrell Thomas room has recently been completed. The room features Bradbury & Bradbury wall and ceiling papers with an authentic 1850 Gothic Revival pattern on the walls. The focal point of the furnishings is a ten foot tall Renaissance Revival bed room suite likely made by the leading designer of the period, John Jeliff.

Color analysis of the exterior paint was performed in summer of 2006. Based on that study, a complete exterior paint restoration was accomplished by fall. The result is a color scheme featuring these authentic early Victorian paints: Renwick Beige, Rookwood Brown, Rookwood Dark Brown, accented by Renwick Rose Beige and Downing Straw.

 (Note: The content of this website is the sole property of Ralph & Pamela Krainik.)

 

GOTHIC REVIVAL

We are especially interested in networking with owners of Victorian homes and especially those in the Gothic Revival style. We encourage exchange tours.
 

 

     

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