Thursday, May 17, 2007

Some Pictures of the Yard

Here is the rock pile that I like to call "the quarry". As you can see, we have removed most of the overgrowth and I have been digging around in it.

BTW - this is of about a third of the pile.

The next few pictures will show you some of what we have done with the rocks.

Sorry about the quality of the pictures, I used my cell phone to take these.

Here is a raised flower bed we made last year. The tree it circles is a 100+ year old Oak.

If you look real close at the upper center of the picture you will see two posts with an Evergreen behind them. This marks the other end of "the quarry".

Here is a terraced flower bed we started a couple years ago. It has been built to stop the erosion at this spot by the front gate. You can see where the dirt ends and the grass begins towards the left of the wall. The wall will eventually extend to this point.

Also, we will be making a matching wall on the other side of the walk way.

We had to build the steps ourselves. No one seems to know why there were no steps ther to begin with.

Here is a patio we put in last year. The floor is made up of the rocks, pieces of cement, and washed pea-gravel. You can also, just barely, see another flower bed that is in the shape of an "L" that is a buffer between the house and patio.

Before we put this in, this space was nothing more than a mud hole.

On the far end of the patio is a small fountain surrounded by washed pea-gravel, rocks, and a small deck I built.

Here is a close up of the fountain. The water bubbles up from the rock between the two crane statues.

Here is our herb garden. We are in the middle of re-doing the plants. The circle pattern traces the spot where a HUGE evergreen once stood (it was dead so we took it down). The base of the bird bath sits on top of the old stump. As you can tell, the tree was enormous!

BTW - that is one of the bird baths we found on the property.

A close-up of the bird bath.

Here is the other bird bath we found. This one is the one that is a fountain. It stands a little over 3.5' tall.

This picture I tossed in for the fun of it. It is of the little red barn that sits at the back of the property. The black spot in the center is our burn pit. Next to it you can see a pile of wood. This year marks the first time the pile has been small enough you could see the pit and all the building!

From our first full Summer here (2000) this spot has been covered by a pile of branches that rivaled the rock pile in base size. It was usually 4+ feet in height.

Also, remember the nasty building we had to demolish? The small, grey wall next to the limb pile is all that remains of it. It is part of the foundation we have as yet to get rid of. So, we just started dumbing the limbs to burn where it stood.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

About the House

I guess I should at least tell you all a little about the known history of the house.

None of the paperwork we have found on the house agree on when it was built. All we know is that it was built between 1895 and 1901.

We do know that there was a house on the property in 1873 (you can still see the outline of the foundation in the fall).

The house was build by James Mordy for his second wife Margaret as a wedding gift. We have not found a marriage date for them but have been told it was "around the turn-of-the-century". Unfortunately, the archives for the City's paper were destroyed in a fire back in 1972, but we are still looking.

We do know that he was of English decent and came from a wealthy family in Pennsylvania. No one really knows why he came to Kansas and we have not been able to find out what he did for a living. When the house was built he did import a lot of the wood used, along with some of the other building materials. To help date the house we know that it had dual lights - the kind that had both gas and electric. We did find one snippet in an article that said that the property was "one of the more stately homes in town, complete with the most modern conveniences and electricity".

In 1923 Margaret died. It was too much for James so he closed down the house and moved to Wichita. He didn't return to our town until he was buried. So the house sat empty for a few years. After his death, one of James' brothers took over the property. Eventually the property was listed under this brother's name. When James' son, James T., returned to town as the Presbyterian minister, he took over the property. Then, in 1946, the couple who owned the house before us bought it.

I know it isn't much of a history, but it's all we have. There are so many conflicting pieces of info out there about the house, and the builder's family, that we don't know what is true and what isn't. All we know for sure is that it remained in the hands of the Mordy family, in one way or another, until 1946.

If we learn more, and perhaps more accurate, information I will post it.

BTW - the picture of the house at the top of this post is from 1930. It's the earliest known photo of the house. The reason the picture was taken was that the porch was redone and the builder who did it wanted a picture. His daughter gave it to use. Why they put that low wall around the porch we will never know. The owners before us removed it.

One thing of interest, there is a very good chance that my great grand father built this house. He, along with his brothers, built over 75% of the larger, nicer homes in this town, along with most of the other ones too.

The House is FINALLY Ours!!!

Hello again!

Well, let me pick up the story from where we left off.

Once the auction was over, and the crowds had all gone home, Annette and I, along with assorted family and friends, sat on the porch and recounted the day. We also started to 'walk the property' (which would become a weekly ritual) and see what we had just gotten ourselves into.

The yard was SO overgrown with trees; shrubs; various assorted plants; and TONS of weeds. As for grass - well - there wasn't any. The yard was like a jungle in the middle of suburbia. The trees ranged anywhere from 100+ year old oaks to saplings that came up wherever. The yard had been left to 'go-to-seed' for about 20 years - YES - 20 years! It was so bad that the auction company had to come in with bush-hogs, chainsaws, and heavy equipment just to clear spots for people to stand. It was so overgrown that you could hardly see the house!

Besides the flora and foliage there were piles of junk left over and miscellaneous junk. There was even an old, stucco storage building that was so bad.... It was rotting, crawling with mold, fungus, slime, and who knows what else. Part of the roof was even caving in. 90% of the items stored in it (we're talking bags of old corn cobs and dozens upon dozens of KFC containers - that type of junk) was not salvageable.

We even found, buried under mounds of rotting wood, leaves and debris, what looked like the muzzle of a cannon! Turned out it was a cast-iron column that was used in a door way. In fact there were four of them. Two sets of columns in two styles. Each is about 8 to 9 feet tall and weigh over a ton. When we demolished the building we were able to move them. So now they are sitting, with their lintels, in a back part of the property.

We also stumbled across a couple of amazing finds that we were shocked had not been been auctioned off. The first were two, hand made, folk art, birdbaths. They are both concrete with decorative stones and rocks embedded in them. One is even a fountain! We estimate that they were made sometime in the 30s or 40s. The other find was a pile of limestone pavers and rocks in various sizes and shapes. It was hidden under a very thick layer of ivy and antique rose bushes. The pile is about 15'x6'x3' and is estimated to hold over one thousand rocks. We believe they are left-overs from when the yard had been landscaped. As an aside, the builder of the house was good friends of the founder and creator of the Bartlett Arboretum here in town ( We were told that the property had been landscaped by this guy's landscaper. There is a lot of evidence pointing to this fact also. Several of the trees, shrubs, and plants are rare and are only known to exist in our yard and the Arboretum. There is also the pesky bricks and rocks! We can not mow, dig, walk, etc. without hitting, stepping on, or tripping over one of them! We have found traces of brick and stone lined paths and flower beds all over the place!

There are also innumerable stumps everywhere! Most of them are small, less than 3" in diameter, and are the remains of the growth the auction company cut down and the old plants that just died off. We go through a riding mower and a push mower about t every other year. So, we do not buy new ones. I can't wait for the day I can buy a new riding mower!!! Even this week I hit a stump I never knew existed. I was lucky it didn't hurt the blade of the mower.

We also discovered a structure underground. Kind of like a cellar, but we never found an entrance. We know it existed because there was a vent shaft coming out of the spot. What was so unusual, other than no entrance, was the fact that the vent shaft was well over 10 tall. When I would try to dig out around the shaft I would find it attached to a brick form - structure like. Last fall I had had it - I could no longer stand not knowing what was buried out there. So, I took my handy sawzall and cut the vent pipe down and peered down the shaft - it was filed with dirt and sand. Bummer - thought it would be more interesting than that. So I stuck a hose to it to see if it would drain somewhere. It didn't. So - what ever it was it has been filled in. Perhaps it was a storm cellar or a septic tank. What ever it was the person who put it in thought it needed to have a huge vent shaft. I tell people that that is where the bodies are buried! LOL One thing that leads me to think it is not a septic tank is the fact that we are using the original septic tank!! it is a beehive shaped structure made of brick with a dirt floor. More of THAT story later.

Next Post I will tell you about all the junk left inside the house.....

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


Well, this is my first post to our new house restoration blog. Unfortunately, it was not started at the same time we started work on our 'Folly'. However, we did take pictures from the very beginning of this madness we call "home restoration". So, as soon as I can find the photos, in all the mess, I will get them scanned into the system and uploaded. For now, let me start at the beginning.....

My wife, Annette, and I have always wanted a 'fixer-upper'. We would buy the magazines, drive by the old houses and neighborhoods, and we would dream. In 1993 we moved into a small Victorian cottage that my parents owned. It was built in 1873, had five rooms and was all of 750 square feet. The bathroom was about the size of most modern closets! Three years later we bought the house from my parents and started restoring it. However, we still wanted to get one of those "huge 'ol monstrosities".

Slowly the work progressed on our tiny cottage. At the same time we continued to look at other houses and even contacted a family friend who was a real-estate agent. We told her what we were interested in and gave her a list that contained 14 "must have items" we were looking for in a house. We even got pre-approval from a bank for the amount we could borrow. And so...the hunt was on!

We averaged about 1 house every two weeks. Each house that we viewed was either too far from work, or from family and friends, or there were just a hand full of "must haves" available. You've all been there. You know how it goes - when you find 'the one' you know it. None of the ones we had looked at were 'the one'.

Three years later we were to the point of giving up and just looking at either adding on to our cottage, buying a newer house, or building. Then it happened, we received a phone call from our agent. She promptly told us that she thought she'd found us a house. She asked if she could stop by and talk to us about it.

That evening she arrived. We sat around the table and she began to tell us about it. It sounded perfect! Almost two acres of property; two stories (including an attic bigger than our current cottage - technically a third story); and basically all of our "must haves" (all but two). There was one catch - we couldn't tell a soul about it.

Turns out the house was only a few blocks from our current home!

The people who owned it had died. The wife died in 1997 (IIRC) and the husband died almost a year after her. About three months after his wife died he fell and ended up in a nursing home. So the house sat vacant for more than a year. Once word got out that the husband had died there were all sorts of speculations as to what would happen to the property. The couple donated lots of money and property to all sorts of organizations, so many felt the house would be donated to some group. Several thought it would be donated to his church (he donated all the land it was built on and it was right next door); some thought it would be donated to the school system (the house sits between the school's new gym and it's football field AND he donated the property for both of those!); and some thought it would be donated to his Alma Mater for them to sell and keep the proceeds. They were all wrong! He left nothing in his will about the disposal of the property! So it was left up to his remaining family member to decide what to do with it.

Now here is why we had to keep it a seceret. Basically, the family wanted it kept it quiet because they weren't sure what they were going to do with it. So, our agent said not to say a word to anyone. Her boss was going to handle the sale, whether it be by traditional sale or auction, and they didn't want a lot of phone calls about it. She said that IF we went over to look, make sure no one saw us do it. This was in January of 1999.

So, we would sneak over on Sunday mornings while most people were asleep or in church. We would try our best to peek in the windows and in the doors but most of the curtains were drawn and the windows were filthy. From what we could see it was perfect it was 'THE ONE'! After sneaking over there several times we contacted out agent and told her we would like to make the family an offer, sight-unseen, if they would just sell to us and forgo an auction (at the time they were leaning towards an auction). She contacted her boss and he contacted the family with our offer. They turned it down and said "if they are willing to pay that much, we think we could get more at auction". An auction it was to be then! They set June 26th, 1999 as the date. We had almost 5 months to sit and worry....

In the mean time we formulated a financial plan based on how much the bank had approved us for AND on how much the house would be worth once restored (very long story there). As the day of the auction drew closer we asked our agent if she would be our proxy and bid for us. We did this for two reasons: 1) we didn't want everyone in town to know how much we were willing to pay for a house & 2) we couldn't bare to be there and see it go to someone else! We had our hearts set on this house, unfortunately so did others. During this time we found out that three other couples were interested and one of them was infamous for buying old houses (they would fix it up and modernize it and then flip it). The school was also interested. They wanted it so they could level it and make a new parking lot. In the event that the school did win the house we were prepared to make them an offer - we would buy the house and move it.

On the day of the auction our agent stopped buy and went over the game plan. She said that if the property got to a certain dollar amount she would call us and get approval to go higher. She would keep us on the line at that point until the house sold. After she left, Annette and I just sat in our house and waited. The auction was to start at 8 AM and she had no idea when the house would be on the block.

It turned out that the auction was THE social event of the season for our tiny town (hey what do you expect from a town of less than 1700 people in the middle of America). Two families even held quasi family reunions at it! Keep in mind that this house belonged to one of the oldest, most prominent, and wealthy families - not only in our town but in the county. Several hundred people showed up - it was like a festival! It was such an undertaking that the local police had armed guards stay on the property the night before. Also, the only people, other than our agent, who were at the auction, and knew we were bidding, were our parents.

At about 12:15 Annette and I got a call - it was our agent. She said "well, are you ready?" We were terrified - we had authorized her to bid up to almost 100% of what the bank approved us for. If she called wanting more we would have to go into the future equity which was VERY risky. Again she said "are you ready?" and Annette said "okay". She then said "come on down and bring your check book - the house is yours!". We were ecstatic! We literally ran out of the house and danced in the street! In fact, my mother almost hit us in her car! As soon as she saw that our agent won the bid she jumped in the car to come and get us.

Once we got to the house we found out how the bidding had gone. Our parents told us that our agent was very classy about it. She just stood there with her arms crossed. All she did to place a bid was lift a finger while her hand rested on her arm! The funny part was HOW she won the bid. The bidding was getting to the point that it was between her, the 'house flippers' and one other couple and the bids were coming in at increments of $50 (it stayed like this for 30 minutes). Our agent was overheard to say "HELL!" and bounced the increments up to $150. At this point the third couple dropped out. After continuing to bid for another 15 minutes our agent was heard to say "screw this!" and upped the bid to $500 a pop. The 'house flipping' couple didn't counter and the house was ours.

Here is the REAL kicker - we got the house for less than half of what we were willing to pay! The family was so furious they bitched at the auctioneer (our agent's boss and the owner of the company) and threatened to sue. They said "the house is worth more than that! We had a couple offer a lot more for it before the auction!". The auctioneer laughed and said "we know - who do you think bought the house?".

Now remember, we did not want anyone to know our agent was bidding for us, so we told her not to tell anyone. When we arrived she pulled us off to one side and asked if it could be announced who bought the house. Evidently there were several people upset that it was not announced who bought it. All the auctioneer said is that the buyers wished to remain 'anonymous'. The speculation was that it was a person from Wichita, or from out of state. People were upset that the house might be going to an 'outsider'. So, with our blessing, the auctioneer said he would make the announcement within the hour. I can tell you, I had a lot of fun during that hour! There was so much hubbub going on about "who bought the house"! It was fun listening to it. I was eventually stopped by a friend of the family and asked "why weren't you here earlier - the house went cheap!". I looked at him, smiled, and leaned forward and said "I did buy it". He about fell off the seat he was sitting on! I walked on to another section of the property and ran into another family friend. He looked at me and asked "so, have you bought any treasures today?". I looked at him and said "yes - I bought the house" and walked off without saying another word - as if I had just bought a loaf of bread or something. A few yards away I turned and looked back at him. He was just standing there staring back at me with a dumbfounded look on his face! LOL LOL LOL

Once the word got out that we bought the house we had lots of people hunt us down to congratulate us. All-in-all it was a GREAT day! The only bad thing that happened was that someone bought a couple boxes of what most people thought were miscellaneous light fixture parts. He got both boxes for $30 bucks each! Turns out those boxes contained the original light fixtures from when the house was built! They were the kind that had both electrical and gas together! If we would have known about those they would not have left the property.

Once it was all over we were left with everything no one wanted, or got missed. There was so much junk left behind - but THAT'S a story for another day; perhaps tomorrow.