Chronicled here, for those who are interested, is a brief history of the Pumpkin Shell of North Lake, and the story of its return to "a simpler time."
The Pumpkin Shell was built in 1913, in North Lake, Wisconsin, from the Sears Hazelton plan. Joseph Hargraves most likely used the local lumberyard, Wilbur Lumber rather than having Sears deliver the pre-cut pieces by railcar. North Lake is an unincorporated town on Highway 83, adjacent to North Lake and just north of Beaver Lake and Pine Lake, a few miles north of what is now Hartland. It was settled in 1860. The Volunteer Fire Department organized in 1917.
Hargraves' house was originally painted dark brown, with trim the color of wood putty. He lived in the home until his death; he was laid in state in the parlor, which spooked some of the local children as they used to walk past. His unmarried daughter, Mary, lived with him. I believe she also stayed in the house until her death.
Sometime in the mid 1960s the second family moved in, Eldred Struck, his wife and young daughter, Shelly. It is likely that new interior decorating began now or in the 70s. Paneling and dropped ceilings were installed, as were Styrofoam ceiling beams in the living room, dining room and both bedrooms. The floors were carpeted and new flooring installed over the kitchen linoleum. The kitchen and bath were modernized. At some point oil forced warm air heating was installed and additional electrical work was done. Light fixtures were replaced in all rooms, white steel siding was applied over the original wood, and what windows and storms were to be used were painted white or black. Two layers of asphalt shingles were applied over the cedar shingles and a new single car garage was built. Basement windows were steel barred and chained against entry, and a large metal grate was installed in the front door. An aluminum screen door was in the front, and orange and black striped carpet was glued to the front porch.
El Struck lived in the home until his death, and we, the third family took ownership in May of 2000. We paid approximately 100 times the original cost of the home. But we got a sturdy, snug home with wonderful, wavy window glass.
Now starts the fun! Our daughter, Andrea, and her husband, Matt, immediately painted over the olive green "colonial" wallboard in the kitchen. We knew we wouldn't be starting any work in there for quite a while, so we considered it a necessary interim measure. They pulled up the carpet from the front porch, and we actually had strangers stop as they walked by and thank us for removing it! My husband, Scott, removed the wrought iron railing and I scraped and painted the pillars - changing them from black to white. I began the job of scraping and painting the eaves, which was to take two summers to actually complete. We eventually found the original porch railing in the old garage. I am not sure if we will restore that or duplicate when we are ready to reinstall the railing.
The first winter indoors was spent scraping, painting, repairing and re-screening 18 old wood screens. Some passage and closet doors were stripped over the winter, too.
With summer 2001, the kids returned from school, and eager to see what awaited us, Andrea and Matt, Scott and I and my dad, Bob, pulled all but the carpet out of the front bedroom; painting, stripping woodwork, staining and varnishing. We had a few areas on the ceiling that needed repair, but all went well. The doors and windows revealed beautiful fir wood which stripped well with a heat gun.
Heeding advice that recommends alternating indoor with outdoor projects, we next re-roofed the house, enlisting the help of our faithful friend, Eric, and then made arrangements for a new two-car garage. A sign on the roadside, "Garage—Free to a good home" produced immediate results, and a very happy asphalt contractor carted home a fantastic little garage. We began work on the new garage as soon as our new neighbor, Dick, excavated and poured the concrete. At the time, Andrea and Matt were 2nd year architecture grad students at the University of Minnesota. They took the summer off to design and build a great garage that echoes the lines of the roof and duplicates the little dormer of the house. Materials were ordered and we were on our way.
Andrea and Matt planned, supervised and swung hammers, while Scott and my dad worked alongside. Matt's parents came down from St Paul for a few days to help out, and Matt's best friend, Kyle, came down the weekend we put up the trusses. My Grandma, Rose, helped paint every piece of Cemplank and trim board that we installed.
After the garage project we moved back inside again, beginning work in the living and dining rooms. The Styrofoam beams came down and were placed at the roadside where some lucky guy found himself a treasure. We removed the false ceiling and paneling, repaired some plaster, painted, glazed and stripped more wood. Woodwork in the bedrooms and bathroom had been painted white (primarily to cover up the greens, blues, peaches and purples that had been there before). Woodwork in the living and dining rooms were, however, wood grained with brown paint. This was removed to reveal lively fir with beautiful grain. We installed the wonderful bookshelf my dad made from a tree on his property and were able to finally unpack the books. Work began restoring the built in china cabinet. The drawers and doors had been removed, the entire cabinet was painted white and brown bi-fold doors had been installed over the face. The bi-fold doors went to the roadside where a lucky neighbor walked home with them. I began the job of stripping and my dad built new doors and drawers. Hardware was installed and glass ordered; it looks great!
The big project for summer 2002 was removing the green carpet from the living and dining rooms. This my dad took home for his garage where he works on old Ford T's and A's. We uncovered a beautiful cast iron floor grate in one corner, measuring about 30" x 30". The opening to the basement had already been boarded up, so we just cleaned the grate and returned it to its location. We then rented sanding equipment and took the plunge. It may not be "professional quality" but I am too pleased with the results to care! Beautiful Hard Rock Maple floors were stained a light Pecan and finished. The finish took 14 days to cure, so we lived a very cramped existence for a few weeks. Thanks goodness we had that great garage!
In the meantime my husband, Scott, had been improving the electrical work. What we had seen was really scary, so we were anxious to redo everything. We discovered that going straight up from the basement brought us 14" into the room, so we had to come down from the attic for all exterior wall outlets. Scott put strong ceiling fixture braces in place and generally did everything we needed to have clean, safe (and sufficient) power. Gone, finally, was the extension cord we had threaded up through the heat vents and around the room to power the stereo upstairs. Speaking of the basement, it is cool and dry, with a root cellar and a large cistern which had been used for collecting water. The pipes had long ago been filled with concrete, so we rented a concrete saw and opened a passage into this coveted space. The attic is sound and large, and if we can figure out how to do it, I would someday like to build a studio up there.
All the storm windows were stripped, re-glazed and painted over the summer. Only a few old panes were broken which I had to replace with regular window glass. Even I can't tell when I look, so I know no one else will notice. We replaced the silver aluminum combination front door with a full view wood screen/storm door from Combination Door Company. It has been stained dark and varnished with Spar varnish, though with the deep porch it never sees any rain.
During the summer we also had a lot of dirt to move from the previous summer's garage project. We leveled the huge pile and I continued to develop the "garden" in back. Really just a large, wild area that I am managing.
The hallway was a quick job because the floors had already been finished when we did the living and dining rooms. All that was needed was to take down the false ceiling and pull the same dark paneling off the walls. The woodwork there was stripped, walls painted and glazed to match the dining room and ceiling picture molding was purchased to allow me to hang some pictures in the hallway.
The last major project for the year was our bedroom. Since I knew the finish needed 14 days to cure, we had to get started quickly to be done before Thanksgiving Dinner! The ceiling in this room was (after we removed the ubiquitous ceiling tile) in miserable shape, so the decision had been made to remove the little that was still intact and replace it with drywall. Scott and my dad worked on that, while my Grandma Rose and I pulled off the dark paneling and scraped wallpaper. The walls were then painted and glazed the same color as the other bedroom, the woodwork completed and new molding cut to go above all the doors and windows in the house, from whence it had been removed for paneling. New baseboard molding was also installed throughout, as the original was destroyed when the paneling was installed. We choose, as the closest match to the ghost prints I saw, to use high quality 1 x 8 pine, with a quarter round routed along the top.
After this work was all completed we pulled up the lavender carpeting. This, too, made someone really happy, as they stopped by the roadside to pick it up. This time I sanded the floor on my hands and knees with my trusty Bosch belt sander and then stained and finished to match the rest of the house.
We were lucky in that some of the original (or perhaps early conversion) registers were still available. I had to purchase one for the living room from Guilded Salvage in Minneapolis where we were with Andrea and Matt. I will need to find one yet for our bedroom, but I am patient.
The bathroom and kitchen had both been updated by the previous owner, and though I don't care for the appearance, they are both very workable and (since we painted the kitchen wallboard white) neutral. Those two rooms will be the next interior projects, but first I have to deal with the rest of the exterior of the house! The steel siding must be removed—what will I find beneath? Last summer Matt pulled the siding from the dormer and found it to be in pretty good shape so it was painted to match the garage. My hope is that the rest will have fared as well.
Stripping and repairing all the double hung windows is a future project, too. And perhaps some day we may figure out a way to liberate the attic space, without doing damage to the integrity of the house. Then there is the back porch. Painted mint green now, I am not sure if I want to go white like the kitchen will be, or strip to natural. There's plenty of time to decide on that!
We've been here about 2½ years and seen a lot of improvements. I am on schedule, quite closely, in fact, with the 5-year plan. I just love this house!
It is now fall of 2004 and more work has been accomplished. The kitchen has been the major site of remodeling, or perhaps, reversing the remuddling. We had previously put in some ceiling light fixtures which hung down below the dropped ceiling panels and upgraded the circuits for a modern kitchen. Now we were ready for some fun! Scott removed the dropped ceiling, then my dad and I removed the hardboard paneling and olive green wainscot paneling from the walls. We found faux-tile beneath the wainscot, but the condition was so poor that we felt we needed to go with a bead board instead of rebuilding. We started by removing the cupboard and cabinet doors and painting the carcass Behr's Plantation White. My dad built new doors with a panel construction, and also built a whole new bank for above the current cabinets. I ordered wonderful Oil-rubbed bronze hinges from Classic Brass and picked up cute white knobs with fruit on them from Home Depot (my husband's contribution). We chose a wavy glass for several of the cupboard doors and that has been a lot of fun. After the dust settled from that part, we removed the old flooring (using boiling water and scrapers) and finished the kitchen floor in the same Pecan as the rest of the house. Then it was time to replace the Formica counter top. I bought a bundle of maple flooring ($89) and we constructed a tongue and groove wood counter top. We have sanded and oiled it with mineral oil, the only "finish" we plan to use on it. After removing the old counter, we installed the wood one and installed the 'new' old sink we picked up secondhand, and a new faucet I bought on eBay.
My original budget for the kitchen was $1000, but we went over by almost 50% — so the whole kitchen remodel cost us about $1500. Not too bad, I'd say! I love the kitchen. It is beautiful and functional, and retains a good "old-fashioned" feeling while allowing me the use of my microwave.
Next we will install a backdrop of bead board beneath the cupboards, using what was left from the wainscoting around the room.
In the dining room, my son-in-law, Matt, has begun helping replace the plate rail that once circled the room. We had found ghost lines when we originally painted the room and knew we would do that someday. I am trying to decide what variation of color I should paint above the rail, but will leave it as is until I know for sure.
My never-ending gratitude to my husband Scott for his support and patience, thanks to my dad for all the work he's done, and to Rose, who is always willing to lend a hand, to my mom who fed us on those roofing and garage days, to Andrea and Matt for their designs and execution, to Walter, and Kyle and Eric for all that they contributed. And to Sara, our other daughter, who just isn't into this kind of thing, but obligingly told me things looked nice whenever she'd come home from Madison.
And why "The Pumpkin Shell of North Lake"? You know, "And there he kept her very well."