Saturday, February 21, 2015

Drowning my big-old-house sorrows ...

Some turn to strong drink when seeking solace; others, to the Internet. And quite frankly, I'm still smarting over Chariton's loss of the Stewart-Harper house. So I've been drowning my big-old-house sorrows principally at two sites, one (Old House Dreams) that I've written about before. You'll enjoy both if interested in historic domestic architecture.

I've been following Ross MacTaggart's "Restoring Ross" blog since late summer 2014, some months after he purchased the Cross House, a dilapidated 1894 mansion in Emporia, Kansas, a city of some 25,000 souls midway between Kansas City and Wichita perhaps best know because of William Allen White, "the Sage of Emporia."

This vast house had previous champions, Bob and Debbi Rodak, who purchased it in 1999 when it was boarded up, surrounded by a chain-link fence and most likely facing a date with a bulldozer. They did the work needed to stabilize it before circumstances changed --- including Mrs. Rodak's death. The Rodaks were responsible for getting the grand old house listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that earlier this year turned out to be vital to its future.

Ross purchased the house during March of 2014 and has been working steadily at restoring it since. You can read blog entries related to his restoration adventures by hitting the "Restoring the Cross House" photo once you've reached the main page. There are other categorized entries that are interesting, too, behind other icons on the page. Eventually, the mansion will serve as MacTaggart's home and the base for his business.

A high point of the process this winter came on Feb. 15 when Ross was awarded a $90,000 Kansas Heritage Fund grant to help fund restoration of the home's exterior, including spectacular stained glass. The grants are funded by a small tax on every mortgage filed in the state. Only buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places or the Kansas Register are eligible.

For what it's worth, the Cross House project is almost a text-book example of what it takes to save an historic structure after its fallen on hard times: Champions, vision --- and the right owners. The "right" owners will have intense dedication, a broad range of skills --- and either lots of money or access to lots of money.

Old House Dreams is a labor of love by Kelly, who started the site during 2009 as "Old House Dreamer." She spends what must be an incredible amount of time doing Web-based research, locating primarily Realtor listings for interesting and/or significant homes of all periods and styles, then creating individual entries for the best or incorporating them into "samplers."

This really is the top of the line among online sites of general interest devoted to historic domestic architecture.

Don't miss the "comments" section, where you'll learn a lot (Ross MacTaggart, of the Cross House, comments regularly and his big old house in Emporia was featured in an Old House Dreams post that still is accessible). The "forums" are interesting, too.

This recent entry for the McCray Mansion in Kendallville, Indiana, is a good example of what she does --- and it has I believe generated a record number of comments --- 130 and rising. So go take a look.

You can use the search engine in the right sidebar of the blog to explore old houses by age, style and location. Grand old Iowa houses appear here frequently, so take a look at the search engine and all it offers, too.

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