The Writing IN the wall

When I started researching this old house I had some doubt about the previous owners claim that it was the Shively's Summer residence. Afterall, Shively is and was a fairly prominent family name in town with ancestry dating back to the middle or late 18th century. But then, as I dug through deeds, sifted through library archives and even covered in dust and grime while cleaning up and restoring walls and wood trim, some amazing indisputable facts start to shine.

While I was cleaning the built-in linen press in the hall on the second floor I turned over a drawer (these are hefty drawers, mahogany and pine and weigh at least 45 pounds) and I saw some writing - the name Shively penciled onto the back of a drawer. Now, you know this is the one time where there is no doubt the Shivelys built the home (additionally, I found evidence in the way the linen press is built that shows it is absolutely original to the home, not added at a later time, as some thought).

Along with Shively job are the words linen press and drawer back-- further evidence that this was custom built as the linen press in the Shively home and not reused timber (commonly done in pre-20th century America--they were the original recyclers).

The left sid eof the drawer back showing the words drawer back and Shively job
The job number and description -- 1246 and linen press -- seen in this shot of the right side of the drawer back

So that put me on alert - I scoured closets and shelves and things looking for writing. Another place in the house where I found written evidence of the custom craftsmanship that built this house is inside the window seat in the alcove in the master bed room.

L (left) side is written on this panel inside the window seat

I figure that 46 is the job number on this built-in. Marked seat top it identifies the fixed panel seating area between the 2 hinged lids

Discovered while I was on my hands and knees, patiently washing out the inside of the seat so we can store sweaters, this looks like its just simple handyman notation. But, I do love the look of 19th century and early 20th century script, even that of a handyman. Inside the seat you can see the original and unfinished floorboards, and the three-coat plaster, original throughout the house.

The restored dresser where a list of furniture purchases from  about 1810 was found

One of the most exciting written documents I have found is not in the house. It is a tally of purchases, including prices, on the back of a drawer from a dresser dating to about 1810. Again, while I was cleaning and waxing it, I flipped a drawer and was stunned to see this list of furniture. Its a bit hard to read so I had to enhance the writing a bit, but note the $ and cents column notations at the top of the list:

Table     7  00

Dresser Stand     4  50

Beadstead (bed)     3  50

Chaises     13  50

(total)     28  50

All that for only $28.50. Its pretty exciting to know that this dresser was originally sold for just $4.50. Man, to go back in time with a fist-full of money and buy buy buy.

Written on the top of another drawer is Mary Madison 1900 in what is obviously a childs hand. She probably got to use this dresser when it fell out of favor/became unfashionable. I dont know who she is, but I do know this dresser has a recent Indiana history, so one day I may try to find out who Mary Madison was.

Masterful cursive created with care tells us plainly that this dresser belonged to Mary Madison in 1900

These lovely handwritten documents, most often hidden away behind drawers, under cabinets and inside furniture are some of the most touching and insightful records of earlier lives I have ever found. Makes you want to rip apart your old desk or closet and see who left their mark from long ago.

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