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The house came with ancient and huge twin furnaces, plus a defunct humidifier and twin water air filters. We had someone come to give us an estimate on replacing them, who really just wanted to replace the units with the same. I thought they were way too big – it is a large house, but not that large. More than one person who looked at it said “We usually see these in churches, not houses.” It took up most of a large room in the basement.
We researched and discussed geothermal, which is expensive, but would cut way down on our carbon footprint. The blower burned out on one the first winter, and was replaced within a few days. We asked about an estimate on replacement, and never got one. Last January, the blower on the other unit went, in one of the coldest weeks of the year. We called our home warranty company, who sent yet another firm to fix it. The blower was gone, but they cleaned it and said it needed to be replaced rather than repaired. Weeks later, after they and we had had many separate discussions with the home warranty people, it was clear they had stopped returning our calls. One Friday they called and said they would be out on Monday to give us a final estimate, after I had expressed some dismay about the number they gave on the phone. We’re still not sure which Monday they meant.
By then it was March, and we had learned that the remaining furnace could heat the house, although if the daytime side, which was heated by the defunct furnace and where the thermostat lived, was warm enough, the bedroom side was unbearably hot. I bought more long underwear on sale.
Fortunately, Clarksburg has more than three heating and cooling companies, and Robert found three more to come and give us estimates in June. We thought that gave us some chance of having it warm by winter. We gave up on the geothermal when the first well driller we talked to made it seem as if drilling wells in town was impracticable if not impossible. One company sent a very nice young man who took lots of notes. I photographed the floor plans and emailed them and pictures of the duct work. Weeks later, we got major brochures and detailed estimates for many options, all of which included major reworking of the ducts. Another company sent two very knowledgeable men, who had lots of good suggestions. Unfortunately, when we asked for a written estimate, they brought us back a one-line bid, no detail. Finally, we got an estimate that was just right; good detail, good ideas, and a reasonable price, less than a third of the first estimate in March. And one Monday only a week or two later they said they could start the next day, and did.
So we have the highest-efficiency furnace available, with a two-speed blower, a variable-speed fan, and a high-efficiency filter. We didn’t replace the air-conditioner, since it is newer and we hardly ever use it. (We had 27 days over 90 this summer, when less than half-a dozen is usual, but found that the house stays at least 10 degrees cooler than outside. Since we kept the air-conditioning in Texas set at 80, we were quite happy without it most days here.)
The new furnace just purrs softly most of the time it is on, which isn’t much, so far. I ran the number on our gas use for the first year we were here, and the second, which just ended, and found that the air-sealing, the programmable thermostat, and the new patio door alone seem to have lowered it about 12% per degree day in the second year over the first. The new furnace should save another 10%. Next up, insulation.
Sunday was a clear and sunny fall day, and we took a drive east, as far as the Eastern continental divide, which is about an hour away. Last summer, friends had spotted a cemetery on a hill near the Maryland line, just where I have been wondering about some Stalnakers, one in the 1790 Maryland census, and one who owned a farm on Stalnaker Ridge where one of the markers for the Maryland line was. We stopped at Cool Spring on the way and got some apples – Yorks – from the large wooden crates out front, of all kinds of apples from the orchards just over the next mountain. Robert cut one up with his pocket knife and we ate it in the parking lot while admiring the trees on the mountains around.
The cemetery, in Eglon, where the buckwheat flour we get is grown and milled, turned out to be new, but we spotted another older cemetery in the middle of town (two blocks, more or less). Alas, no Stalnakers, and no graves much older than the Civil War. We hadn’t brought lunch, so we went south to Thomas and ate at the Purple Fiddle, which turned out to have free music going on. Nothing like bluegrass with your lunch.
We hadn’t been across 219 to Parsons for a while, so we went back that way, north along the Cheat to St. George, and then across West Virginia 38 to Philippi. Most of the drive is through the Monongahela National Forest. All of West Virginia’s mountains have been clearcut sometime in the last 100 years, and many of them as late as the 60s and 70s, so most of the trees are young (for trees), and the grove on each hillside is a uniform size. I didn’t take any pictures. The experience is four-dimensional and 360 degrees. Photographs can never capture the experience of a curving mountain road through a tunnel of golden sugar maples, falling leaves swirling through the air like rain, the fluttering of silver maples, the shivering of aspens in the sun, or the view from the Allegheny front.
Memorial Day weekend, we took another drive into the area where Upshur, Barbour, and Harrison County meet, at the upper end of Hacker’s Creek. My mother’s family, both her father’s McVaneys and mother’s McKinneys, were from here originally, although my great-grandparents moved south along the Little Kanawha in Gilmer and Braxton Counties before the Civil War. Most of them had come from east of the mountains, The McVaney branch from what are now Pendleton and Hardy Counties in West Virginia, and Rockingham County, Virginia, right across the state line, after the Revolution, and the McKinneys from farther east in the Shenandoah Valley. My father’s families, at the other end of Hacker’s Creek, had almost all been here since the first settlement.
After my friend Ruth and her husband were here in June, I went upstairs to confirm that the floor in the bath was really as bad as I remembered. Only guests and our children use it; I had been avoiding it because it was so ugly. But I had dreaded ripping the whole thing out. I decided the floor, at least, had to be fixed before we had more company. Whatever was under the fake-pebble tile, broken and crunching when it was stepped on and impossible to clean, must be an improvement. I pried a piece up. Underneath that was asphalt tile cement, but beneath that was clearly old linoleum tile, black and white checks just like the den, but half-size.
I always feel so professional in my knee pads, even if I’m barefoot.
Discovering how to remove the adhesive was fairly easy – coat with Goo Gone, scrub to dissolve, add dishwasher detergent, straight, scrub to dissolve, add water to dilute all that, mop up. It is straightforward, messy, and time-consuming. It seems to have taken forever, but apparently it was only two days, because company arrived two days after this picture was taken, and the floor was done.
Unfortunately, once the floor was stripped, the cracked plaster and peeling woodwork looked grim. Oh, yes – that was the part that took forever. The woodwork had 8 coats of paint – about one a decade – and clearly needed to be stripped, not just sanded. All the corners and edges of the plaster were cracked, and a strip across the middle. So I patched or stripped until I couldn’t stand it, and then went downstairs to research 18th century land grants. Robert eventually took over the stripping. While the furnace was being installed, I stripped. When the carpenter came to give us an estimate on opening the ceiling an installing, I was stripping. When he came back weeks later, I was finally painting. Robert installed new lights to replace the commercial flourescent strips (really) on either side of the mirror. We had more company coming, and finished just in time.
What can I say? I love this picture of the guys standing around at my niece’s wedding – my son, my husband, my brother, his son, his son’s grandfather. It is on my screen saver and makes me smile every time I see it. A friend who had not seen me for thirty years had commented on my stance in a picture. When I looked at this, I saw my son standing the same way.
When Hilde was here for Mother’s Day, we took a drive that included Jackson’s Mill. There is a small Jackson graveyard on the grounds, very close to the highway. I hadn’t been interested until I discovered that my 4th great-grandfather, John Brake, was buried there. Elizabeth Brake, his daughter by his first wife, married Edward Jackson, and had her father buried in the Jackson plot, separating him from his second wife, my 4th great-grandmother, Catherine Shook Brake, who is buried in the Morrison Cemetery at Berlin with two of her daughter’s families. They were separated, but he has a matching stone. The style and the wording “Sacred to the Memory” are the same. He didn’t live long past her death; she died in February and he in November of 1834.
John’s mother, Maria Elisabeth Kieffer, was one of my many ancestors killed by Indians during the settlement of West Virginia. She died on the South Branch of the Potomac in an Indian raid about 1764, and John’s brother Jacob was a captive for more than ten years. John’s first wife, Elizabeth Wetherholt, was the daughter of Capt. Nicholas Wetherholt of Northampton County, Pennsylvania. His brother, Jacob, also a militia captain, was killed in an Indian raid in 1763. Jacob’s widow, Susanna, married Michael Kern, one of the founders of Morgantown, who had Kern’s Fort, which was in what is now South Park in Morgantown.
Last winter we set out for Cranesville Swamp, on the Maryland line in Preston County, in hopes of finding skunk cabbage in bloom. Thwarted by remaining snow and a hazy idea of where we and it were, we stopped short of the goal. West Virginia Day, we found it, and also found that we were within yards of it last winter, but probably could not have made it in on the one-lane dirt (as in not really even graveled) access road to the parking area.
The swamp is part of an area known as the Great Glade in the 18th century, mentioned often in old letters and documents, as it was on the way from Winchester and the South Branch to the new Fort Pitt during the French and Indian War. The area around it is fine high mountain meadows, reflected in the name of the Preston County town just south, Terra Alta.
There is a path through pine woods, a boardwalk through the swamp, and skunk cabbage aplenty. We will know just where to look next winter for skunk cabbage in bloom.
At some point in the summer, after redoing the den floor, the upstairs bath, the furnace, the insulation, I decided on a new strategy to keep us moving forward on the house: eliminating some small irritant every day. We haven’t been very faithful, but Robert especially has gotten a lot done. Robert put down up molding in the den, missing, we guess, since the carpet was put down decades ago, and needed since we took the carpet up. We used a flat strip of pine to match the paneling, rather than shoe molding, and were delighted to find copper finishing nails for it, to match the decorative large-headed nails in the paneling. He replaced the rusted and ripped screen in the door from the den to the patio.
We finally, using Clarksburg Freecycle, got the blue area rug we inherited with the house, and the moving boxes, carried away, although giving things away directly turned out to be almost as much trouble as hauling them off to Goodwill. Robert and Hilde, who had asked for work to do while she was here, moved the extremely sturdy, and heavy, workbench from the dungeon to the finished area of the basement, so Robert now has a place to work comfortably. At some point I tested a dozen more solvents on the remaining glue from the awful wallpaper border I removed in the living room, and found that fabric softener actually worked well enough to be able scrape it off – with a metal scraper. During that, I tried a bit of cleaner on the dining room wallpaper, and discovered it wasn’t stained, just filthy. We have replaced the rusted, broken, nearly non-existent drain covers in the garage, the driveway, and the basement. We gathered up the flat stone pavers and made a landing for the west side of the front steps. One afternoon we devoted to removing all the remaining nails and picture hangers (more than a dozen, in odd places, in the den paneling alone.)
There is still much to do, large projects as well as small, but more and more we are restoring the house and making it ours. We still haven’t gotten the T-shirts that say “What were they thinking?” so almost every time we get into a project and discover some oddity, we still have to say it.
West Virginia Day weekend we went down to Glenville for the West Virginia State Folk Festival. They were selling pork barbecue on the corner at the stoplight where the Chevy dealer used to be. The building is gone, but the floor, including the ramp up to the showroom and garage, is still there. We sat and had a long conversation on genealogy with a local man and a visitor from Hinton, descendant of a slave family who were moved from old Virginia to the Hinton area just before the Civil War. As the parade was gathering, an older woman came and joined us in the shade, saying she had been lucky to find a parking spot across the street in front of Minnick’s Florist, which has been there as long as I can remember, and wouldn’t have to walk up the hill home (again!) that day.
My Aunt Elizabeth lived on top of that hill, which is steep, and often walked down to town. “Are you someone I should know? ” I said, thinking she must have been a neighbor. After some discussion, I said “Are you Fran?” – my aunt’s next-door-neighbor and good friend. Once I explained who I was (Eric’s sister, Ferd’s daughter) we talked about family. Aunt Elizabeth’s husband had been one of the organizers, and the secretary of the Folk Festival for many years.
After the parade, we walked up to the Country Store, where there were pictures of all the Festival Belles over the years – my grandmother deGruyter was a Belle in 1963 – and a group playing dulcimer and fiddle.
Here are Fran and Robert waiting for the parade.