Sunday, March 13, 2022

Homelore: The Weaver House

Watercolor sketch of a dark blue bungalow house called The Weaver House

A few years ago, my good friend Shannon bought a 1920s bungalow in Duckpond, a historic neighborhood in Gainesville, FL. I showed up to her previous house while she was going through items she didn't plan to bring to her "new" house and I started peppering her with questions. Who lived in that house? Do you think there's anything hidden in the walls? What are you going to name it?

She's really nice and patient with me. She said she only knew the name of the person she bought the house from and that there was evidence that it was a kit house based on instructions they found inside the walls. See? People who buy old houses love to look inside the walls.

I left her house that day with two heavy things weighing on me: knowledge that I needed to get Shannon a housewarming gift that taught her more about her lovely 1920s kit house, and an antique wardrobe that she said would fit better in my house than hers. Again, Shannon is really nice.

The Story of The Weaver House

I'm sharing just a few points from the research I found because I couldn't fit it all into a reasonable-sized blogpost. I hope you'll come back to visit for more in the future!

1920s: Marjorie and George Bailey

Before uncovering any details about previous occupants, I had to consider the actual address of the home. In Gainesville, streets are numbered according to a logical grid system, but they used to have names from Alabama Street to Yulee Street. Knowing if your home had a different address at one point is critical to finding out its history. I won't disclose Shannon's address, but it used to be called Bay Street and George and Marjorie Bailey were the first occupants.

City directory of 1922 Gainesville highlighting Marjorie and George Bailey
George and Marjorie Bailey in 1922 Gainesville Directory

George was a salesman at Baird Hardware Company, just a mile away from his home. 

Salesmen at Baird Hardware Co; Photo from Explore Historic Alachua County

George and Marjorie built a quiet life in Gainesville but they quickly outgrew the kit house on Bay Street. Marjorie wanted a big family, so they followed opportunity to New Jersey, where George sold insurance instead of hardware. He passed away in 1964, leaving Marjorie and their two daughters and one son.

1920s-1960s: Alice and Rudolph Weaver

I'm not a professional (or unprofessional) historic preservationist, I'm just writing on my blog. So I don't know the rules and I apologize to the professionals if I'm bending them. Are homes named after the first occupant or the ones who were well known? Maybe this home should be called the Bailey House, but the Weavers stole my heart. They deserve several blog posts on Homelore, but I'll try to capture the most salient points here.

In 1925, the Baileys sold their kit house on Bay Street to the Weaver family.

1930 Census showing Rudolph and Alice Weaver. Home is valued at $9,000
1930 Census showing Rudolph and Alice Weaver. Home is valued at $9,000

Who were the Weavers?

Rudolph Weaver was an architect.

Photo of Rudolph Weaver holding a coat and hat

Since I'm not a professional (as stated earlier), I can say this: isn't he a handsome guy?? He looks like he belongs in a film noir about an architect who moonlights as a detective. That might be a great idea for another blog post. ;)

Rudolph Weaver dedicated his life to architecture. He was born in 1880 in Pennsylvania and later moved to Washington, teaching at Washington State University. That's where he met Alice. *cue dreamy music*

If you were beginning to think Rudolph was the highlight of this post, think again. Let me introduce you to Alice Walden, aka Alice Weaver.

Alice Walden/Weaver was a pianist.

Side profile of Alice Walden

She appears so serene in her photo, like she's calmed by music playing around her. 

Alice was born in 1878 in Wisconsin and graduated with a degree in music from Wisconsin University. She spent her life performing and studying music around the world:

Timeline of Alice Walden: 1904 studies piano in Germany, 1908 performs benefit concert, 1911 performs in Butte, MT, 1912 accepts position with KSU, 1914 accepts position with WSU

Reading about Alice's career as a pianist--from studying in Germany to teaching at Washington State University (WSU)--was making me fall in love with Alice, but I wasn't alone. In the summer of 1921, during a torrential downpour, Alice stayed late in the music department at WSU to wait for the rain to settle down. Thinking she was alone, she sat down to play a thunderous song that would dance with the rain. 

Rudolph had just run inside for protection from the storm when he heard Polonaise in C Sharp Minor by Chopin echoing through the halls. He approached the room where Alice played and watched her hair dance with her fingers, admiring her ability to compose the storm around her.

For the rest of that summer, Rudolph dedicated every day to writing poems and compositions for Alice. In the fall, they would surprise WSU faculty and staff with the passionate performance of Chopin that made Rudolph fall in love, and the summer songs written and composed by Rudolph that made Alice fall in love. 

"The feature and surprise of the evening was the singing of three numbers, "Aspiration," "Prayer" and "The Everlasting Mystery," the words and music of which were written and composed by Rudolph Weaver and Miss Alice Walden.

The next year, they married. 

Alice and Rudolph move to Gainesville

In 1925, the Weavers moved to Gainesville where Rudolph Weaver would become the first director of UF's School of Architecture and Allied Arts.

Rudolph Weaver, director of School of Architecture and Allied Arts

During his time as the university's architect, Weaver designed several buildings in the collegiate gothic style, including multiple residence halls, the student infirmary, and Norman Hall. He also designed the Seagle Building off-campus.

His designs were stately with details found in every nook and cranny. Weaver's designs are what I love the most about working on University of Florida's (UF) campus--I find something new every time I look at them.

Rudolph Weaver on UF Campus

Rudolph poured his energy into the designs of some of the most impressive buildings UF would ever see, then came home to his lovely and simple prefabricated kit house. There was no custom molding, towers, or Gothic cast stone tracery, but it was filled with the love and music of Alice. 

Watercolor sketch of the Weaver house

Welcome home, Shannon

Neither one of us was expecting this result when I went on a search to learn about her kit house. I didn't want to just dump a bunch of pictures in front of her and say "hey Shannon, an architect used to live in your house!" She needed to know about Alice too, especially since Shannon moved her piano into the same room that Alice played hers in. I put together this timeline and wrote a short story from the house's point of view. When Alice moved to Gainesville, she stopped performing at concerts and mostly played songs for her little kit house. Now it's Shannon's turn.

Disclaimer: I may have embellished on some the night of the storm when they met. Whatever happened, you know that an architect and musician falling in love is a beautiful thing.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

How to Love an Old Home

It's my fifth anniversary of finding my forever home, so I thought I'd share a few tips and tricks that have helped us have a successful relationship. Before I break it down, I'd love to introduce you to her. First, we affectionately call her O'HOGS (Old House On Glen Springs), but she's technically the Blake House if we named her by her first occupants. O'HOGS sort of fits her personality better, though. Anyway, O'HOGS was built in 1928 and is considered a Florida cracker house, a wood frame house with no fancy details. It's currently on approximately an acre and a half, but was once part of a large farm that spanned miles around and included several barns and a large farmhouse behind us (it burned down in the 70s).

Gray Florida Cracker house with front porch and American flag

When I tell people the stuff I've had to do to keep up with this house they usually respond with "no, thank you!" I get it, though. Who wants to buy a new foundation or own 12 different fly swatters because wasps sneak in through the cracks? Just because I'm in love with my house doesn't mean I haven't had days where I admire all the brand spankin' new houses developed on the other side of the pond. I bet their houses are so sealed tight and all they do is relax on the weekends. But if you find yourself like me, owning an old house that sometimes gives you anxiety, grab a notebook and ponder how to love an old house:

Step 1: Ask questions

Researching old homes is one of my favorite things to do. You'd be surprised by the amount of stuff you can find on the Internet or in your local community. Try searching your address in the following places to uncover its story:
  • Census records or old city directories (you can oftentimes locate these in websites like
  • County property appraisal site
  • Local historians or history museums
  • Public and academic libraries' digital collections and/or special collections
  • Neighbors
My favorite find for O'HOGS was an interview of Alice Blake, the original owner, housed in University of Florida's Digital Collections. I learned so much about my house, the family who lived here, and the city of Gainesville from the 30s-80s.

Alice Blake was known as "Nana Blake" to a lot of neighborhood children. How do I know that? They're adults now and they sometimes message me on Instagram! She had a daycare in this home for a while and saw at least four people who I met on Instagram and my very own hairdresser! Here is one of the pictures they've sent me of her:

Nana Blake and two children

Step 1 is enough to make you fall in love. Look at Nana Blake and those cuties!

Step 2: Listen and appreciate

Now that I know a bit about the history of my home, I try to listen to what it might need or want. It's an old cracker farmhouse that never asked for ornate Victorian details or grand staircases. I respect that. I've also learned to listen to its creaks and make sure it's not in need of support. I know there's a spot in the dining room that always says hello when I step on it and two of the three front doors need a little extra help from my hip to open. I love and appreciate those little house quirks.

Side note: I don't know the full history of how we ended up with three front doors, but how fun is that? It helps me feel connected to the outside. 😅

Step 3: Have fun together

I know I literally just said something about not adding ornate Victorian details to a cracker house, but hear me out with this next step. Yes, as a wannabe architect, I am a strong believer in honoring and preserving the design of your home. Except I'm designing a hobbit-themed kitchen right now and I feel a bit like a hypocrite. But hobbits are all about wood and stone, and hosting visitors. So a wood-frame house with three front doors makes me feel like I can get away with this. And you know what? It's so much fun and I will take up cooking, so win/win.

Hobbit house
This airbnb is inspiration for my kitchen reno

Step 4: Buy it a new pair of shoes

Technically this should come before the step above, but I wanted to wait a little longer before being a buzzkill. Imagine if you had to sit in the same spot for 100 years and endure hurricanes and thunderstorms every year, along with countless bugs crawling all over you. Your back would probably hurt, right? Your feet would be tired. Your skin would be itchy and gross. Before I was allowed to do anything fun to my house, I had to address foundation issues. I needed to protect its siding and replace some of the windows. It was not fun and did not help me fall in love, but once it was done and out of the way, I felt like we could focus more on what we loved about each other. 

Steel smart jacks

So if it needs it and you can financially afford it, buy it its shoes (foundation) or dress (paint) to make it feel refreshed. O'HOGS needed several pairs of shoes. We found out that the living room was supported by an old water tank from a well! And I still don't know why there's a light bulb under my house, but I hope it's because some adorable creature lives under there.

Blue house
When we bought it in 2017

Gray house
New dress, new shoes, new cat in the window

Step 5: Slow down and say I love you

Sometimes I run my fingers along the porch rails, admire the view of the old oak trees, and tell my house that it is a good house. Last night I sang my favorite song to it and that's not weird. I just really love this old house and I'm sure if you followed these five steps, you would love your old house too. 😍