Vintage Crimson

Adventures in Restoring Antebellum Houses in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Month: June, 2013

Three Mysteries – Solved!

Every old house has an element of mystery, and 815 17th Avenue is no exception. There are so many things about the house that have had us scratching our heads. This week I found the explanations for three of those mysteries.


The first mystery is: when was the house divided into six apartments? I know that the house was built in 1838 and occupied by the same family until 1912. I always suspected that it was divided into apartments soon after, but had no clues about an exact date. The answer to this mystery involved the claw-foot bathtubs.


This is a photo of the bottom of the claw-foot tub, a perspective rarely seen. It is clearly dated July 17, 1915. Mystery solved! The bathrooms were added in 1915 and that was likely the year the house was divided – no family home would need six bathrooms in that configuration. I am so happy we are refinishing the old plumbing fixtures. They will be gorgeous and keeping them really helps maintains ‘soul’ of the old house.


Mystery number two: When the house was last painted in the late 1980s, why were the third floor gables left off? I have really puzzled over this question. Did they run out of paint? Or, lose momentum (something i can empathize with)? Why paint two stories and then just quit?


A chance internet search yielded an answer, which was seconded by my lovely neighbor. The house was painted by a local crew using scaffolding. Safety regulations precluded building the scaffolding tall enough to reach the third floor gables. Rather than rent a personnel lift, the painting was halted. Another mystery solved.

The third mystery: what are those openings at the bottom of the four first floor windows that face the front porch? At first, I thought of them as transoms. Alabama is very hot and humid in the summer (which lasts from May-September) and I thought it logical that ventilation was the purpose. But why have them at the bottom instead of the top of the windows? A visit from an architect friend yielded the answer to this mystery. The openings are called “jib doors’ and when they are opened and the windows are up, they provided a way to move easily between the double parlors and the front porch.


It is a good week of work at the old house.

Trying to Connect the Dots

Today has been spent ‘trying to connect the dots’ between my old house and Alabama’s history.  It  is the 50th anniversary of a watershed moment in the Civil Rights movement, Governor George Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door.”  The”stand” took place on June 11, 1963, when Gov. Wallace attempted to prevent two African-American students from enrolling in the university.  Only the intervention of National Guard troops enabled Vivian Malone and James Hood to enroll in classes.  This strange bit of political theater took place on the steps of Foster Auditorium, a landmark on the campus of the University of Alabama.


My old house is the Foster-Murfee-Caples House.  I know the connections between the house and the Murfee family and that Mrs. Caples owned it in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  However, I have yet to discover the link between 815 17th Avenue, my old house, and any member of the Foster family. Can anyone help me discover a link? Connect the dots?

The Foster family played a prominent role in Tuscaloosa’s history and the University of Alabama.  For example, Robert Clarke Foster was the president of the university from 1937-1941.  Foster Auditorium, built by the Works Progress Administration in 1939, is named for him.   As the scene of the “stand” Foster Auditorium is a lovely building with an indelible stain upon its history.  So it goes with buildings.  They are associated with the events that took place and the people that dwelt within their walls.

My old house, however it is connected to the Fosters, was certainly in use during the Civil Rights era and would have been a silent witness to all the events that shaped a new South.  It’s first fifty years saw the end of slavery and the second hundred the end of legal segregation.  What changes may the next hundred years bring?  We have come a long way since 1963.  My oldest son has lived with two African-American roommates and students of all races and religions are comfortable on our campus and in our town.   They all welcome here, in my old house.


“There’s No Place Like Home”

“Can we know who we are by looking at where we live?”

Clare Cooper Marcus


I would argue that the answer to Professor Marcus’s question is a resounding “yes!”  We choose our homes, just as we choose our clothes, in an effort to match our exteriors to an internal self-image.  We all carry a vision of our ideal selves in our ideal surroundings, and spend a great deal of effort and resources to make that vision a reality. Imagine if you could have any home you wanted.  If money was no object.  What would it look like?  How would it feel?  Many people are never lucky enough to find that special place where they feel at ‘home’ –  at rest.  For others, we are blessed to find the home where we belong.  It welcomes IMG_1065IMG_1125


 us to come in and breathe.  It just feels ‘right’, because it expresses our truest selves.  That is the essence of ‘home’.  It is  a place of both physical residence and also spiritual refuge.  My son knew this old house was his special place immediately.  He felt at ‘home’ here, as do I.

In his famous work, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Carl Jung describes the gradual evolution of his home on Lake Zurich.  Jung spent more than thirty years working on his house and believed that building a house was a symbol of building a self.  He saw it as an act of spiritual growth, and placed a plaque near his front door which read, “Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus Deus Aderit”, or “Bidden or Not Bidden, God is Present.”  I believe that God is present, not in the building of a house, but in the making of a “Home.” And, that is the work we are undertaking in our old house.


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