Shortly after moving into our "Dickens of an Old House," Grant and I beat a path to the Ripon Historical Society to see what we could find out about our home's original residents. A big part of the fun of owning an old house is learning what happened there "back in the day." I'm slightly disappointed to report that we didn't have a speakeasy in our basement or any other clandestine activities. That would have been something to talk about! However, we did learn a few interesting things.
Our house is one of a covey on our block, originally owned by members of the Reed family. The patriarch, Judge Lewis Edward Reed, and his wife, Angeline, built the cream brick Italianate home across the street from our house in 1878. This is a stunning home surrounded by an equally stunning wrought iron fence. Looking at the house, it's easy to imagine the stately Judge Reed riding down Watson Street in his carriage as he traveled back and forth from his duties in municipal court.
The Judge must have inspired great fealty in his offspring. His son, Roy Reed, was also a lawyer and judge. In 1903, he built the house we live in with his first wife, Gertrude. Judge Reed's daughter, Florence, married William Haseltine and in 1908, they built the gorgeous Georgian Revival right next to ours. There was no "over the river and through the woods" with this bunch. They lived snugly side-by-side for decades and then passed the houses to their children. In fact, Judge Reed's house and the Haseltine house are still owned by family members.
If you would like to know more about one of Ripon's vintage houses, here are some quick, easy-to-access resources that I've found helpful:
• The Ripon Historical Society historic district walking tours - These brochures cover dozens of houses and provide the basics on architectural style, original owners and building dates.
• The Ripon Historical Society archives - You need to make an appointment to access the archives, but it is well worth the effort. There is a remarkable amount of material thanks to the community members that have been diligently collecting information about our town since 1899.
• The Pedrick Notebooks - Local historian Samuel M. Pedrick meticulously documented the genealogies of Ripon's early residents. His papers are available on the Ripon Public Library Web site. You'll find addresses, occupations, cross-references to relatives.... Mr. Pedrick even notes people's burial plots in Hillside Cemetery.
• Ask your neighbors - Somebody always knows somebody who was best friends with the person who lived in your house 60 years ago! We have learned a lot about our house this way.
If you have resources or tips for researching an older home, or if you've discovered something unusual about your home, please let us know in the comments section!
Next time... find out why we have so many ladders propped all around the house!