Friday, August 28, 2009

No Library visit today...

As I thought, having husband at home from work makes it a little hard to do anything but enjoy our family time. So, no updates today on that front. I did add a few titles to the Sources and Bibliography, and you can check those out. I also googled the three women I mentioned yesterday, but came up with nothing. Well, almost nothing. Two of them are listed a being buried in Pennsylvania. That's an interesting tidbit, since the former owner of this House was also from PA.

I have firmly established that the House was built in 1885, as 1884 Tax Records show no structures on the property valued at $400. I also found out that before moving to Upper Mountain, Fenn lived on Park Street and Montague Place, and he owned that house until 1890.

After he sold The Cedars in 1902, until 1906 new Park Street house he owned nothing in Town. So, the question is, was he here or did he travel? And why one earth did he sell?

I am also gathering a list of local cemeteries to try and see which congregation was buried where, in case he is resting in Montclair. I can probably find this out from the Montclair Times obituaries. It would also be much easier :)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What now?

After the amazing discoveries of the last two days, today's visit to the Library was somewhat... deflating. I was absolutely certain yesterday that I was very close to discovering the year the House was moved to North Mountain and I simply wanted to confirm that by reviewing the Tax Field Books. Well, nothing, and I mean nothing, is as simple as it looks.

First, I checked the map, block and lot numbers and made sure they are correct. After that was done, I searched the books starting with 1902, the year Harry Fenn sold the House, to 1918. Interestingly, the three owners following the Fenn sale were all women: Laura A. Bausher, Addie R. Lambie, and Anne S. Hard.

Or that is what I thought. It should have simply been a matter of checking the old map, block and lot, and monitoring for the change in number of structures. If I used that as my guide, I would have found that between 1902 and 1906 on the 5 lots that Ms. Bausher purchased adjacent to the House, there was only one residence. And I would assume that was the House. However, in 1907, another house shows up in the tax books, and stays there until 1917.

Finding that pretty strange, I decided to backtrack. Not the best idea I had, since I had already re-shelved all the books. But, down they go again, all hundreds of pounds of them.

The second attempt to discover the allusive year went this way: I decided to find out the old block and lot number for the present day lot, and go back through the Tax Field Books, to find out what year did any new residences show up. I found it, of course, but I wasn't any less confused. It turns out that the lot was empty in 1902, and it had a house on it in 1903. But, which house?

This being 21st century, I wanted to ask for aerials, and then realized there were no aerials in 1902. Nor satellites, either, so Google Maps couldn't help me.

Also, this being 21st century, I was a bit surprised that none of this information was digitized. The Library has a binder that was provided to them by the Town, which contains the old and new addresses since the incorporation of the Town. For example, North Mountain used to be Lower Mountain, and the numeration used to be different, etc. Well, you would think information like that would be available in electronic format, so I don't have to spend 30 minutes flipping binder pages looking for the correct address. And it wasn't even alphabetized!?! We pay so much in property taxes, there isn't a one Town employee that has some free time from their other duties to do this? Seriously.

But, I digress. Since the tax records have now completely confused me, tomorrow I have to tackle the Montclair Times microfiche archives. Oh, yes, the joy of scrolling through the pages of newspaper negatives. And my younger readers are thinking: 'What is microfiche?"

Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Almost forgot...

Here is the photograph of the House, Southern elevation, as it stood on Upper Mountain Avenue. Beautiful. We believe this might be Mr. Fenn on the bicycle, as I took a very high def photo of the original and was able to zoom in.

Local History Collection at Montclair Public Library

Now that I've had at least 24 hours and the excited nerves have somewhat subsided, I should be a little more clearheaded to write about the exciting events of the last two days. I know there are those out there in both the virtual and the real world who would consider "exciting" a bit of an overstatement for what happened, but I strongly disagree.

You see, Harry Fenn has been a very elusive figure for me. He announced himself in my life via a rotten wooden board in the back of the coat closet. And today, I was searching genealogy sites to make sure there is no family connection, for I was certain there must be one, considering how much I wanted it to be [smile]. There is none, I assure you.

My thanks go out to William T. Fischer of the Montclair Public Library who is heading the local history collection. He seems to know where every scrap of paper is and what is written on it. Very useful person to know when one is doing research. Every library should have one of William - computers be damned.

First he showed me the originals of the photographs I found yesterday. They are locked up in a special room, and reproduction is only allowed via digital or other camera. No copies and no scanners. After that, he said I should check the following records: City Directory (since I have a name), then Tax Records (to confirm addresses and location of the House), and finally The Montclair Times archives (where I could probably find articles written about the building and moving of the House).

So, first we looked at the Tax Records for the Town. I cannot even describe to you the feeling of touching a paper record that has been written over 100 years ago. Almost magical. And the penmanship, amazing. Every letter is the same size and style, as if the hand who write those names never got tired. Truly fascinating.

What we found was that Harry Fenn sold the house in either late 1901 or early 1902, since he paid his tax dues of $144.00 for 1901, and there was nothing listed as due in 1902. In 1903, there is no record of him whatsoever, and the next time we find him is 1906, on Park Street, in the house built by his son-in-law, Dudley Van Antwerp, a preeminent Arts and Crafts architect.

Tomorrow, I am photographing the originals for the high resolution files, and checking the Tax Field Books, which have the structures listed by the street number, so I might be able to find when the House was moved to North Mountain. Can't wait!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Well, a moderate one, but success nonetheless. I knew there had to be more information about Fenn and about the House somewhere, considering how important he was, as well as the Cedars (also spelled as Ceders in some of the Library records).

So, inspired by a movie which shall remain unnamed, I went to the Montclair Public Library to see what they have in their records. I was completely amazed. It is a treasure trove, combined with their online resources. This is what I found:

1. Photographs of Fenn.
2. Image of the portrait done by Lawrence C. Earle.
3. Illustrations and photos of the house from what is now the Southern elevation and the exact location of the work that needs to be done this Fall.
4. General information about Fenn by his contemporaries. It seems he was well liked by everyone.

Amazing. I've also found out that he got married on October 14, 1885, to a woman named Eliza Crawford Scotcher in Kingston, Surrey, England, which I believe was his hometown. That is actually very romantic. Do you suppose he came to America to "make it", built the House, and then married her? Hm...

But I also remember reading somewhere he got married in Brooklyn. Odd. Have to get to the bottom of that mystery.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Meetings, meetings, and more meetings

I think I am all done with meetings. I am quite ready for the work to begin.

We had a meeting with a landscape designer and her partner-contractor. We really like both of them. Her name is Lisa Mierop and you can see some of her work here. Her partner is Frank Contey of Terra Graphics. We were quite impressed with their knowledge and inventiveness. And we seemed to have very good rapport, so they are the ones we chose to do our landscape work. Phase I is the backyard - clearing everything, except for a beautiful old linden tree, and leveling, so the kids have a safe place to play. The work includes new drainage, as the house is on the slope and there is a LOT of water coming down the hill when it rains. This work is slated for the spring.

The roof, ah, the roof... We had another meeting with our preferred architect, Mark Wright, about the scope of work. We told him what our total budget was and our concerns about the cost of the project. Apparently, we are so ignorant about the cost of this work that with the budget we had in mind we could get, well, one third of the roof we wanted. He's now gone back to the drawing board and hopefully we will have the plans we can use in a few weeks. It is almost September and this needs to be done before the winter.

Friday, August 14, 2009

House Tours Scheduled To Begin Tomorrow!

Very excited about this. We are seeing our first house tomorrow, then another 4-5 next week. We are also interviewing some other architects, as we are not sure how much an architect should cost and how their scopes are priced.

Also tackled the lighting issue today - we ordered some reproductions of the period light fixtures for the front porch and the Grand Hall. Still not finished, even though they were ordered at the beginning of July. Supposedly, one is ready, but the crystal piece for the Hall is not. They'll call us back.

Tomorrow, or more realistically next week, have to start researching door hardware. We ordered a sample from a place out West, about 2 months ago, AND paid for it. Still hasn't arrived. One of the GC's mentioned a place called Simon's in Manhattan. Supposedly, they specialize in building period-looking pieces. Funny it should be in Manhattan of all places.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Waiting for another GC

So, filling up the time with answering emails and writing blog posts :)

Tomorrow, hopefully, if the man of the House can take a day off, we'll be touring some of the houses done by the A-listers. They offered, and we are taking them up on it. Might as well. This is a big decision and they are all very expensive.

At some point we just have to bite the bullet and hope for the best... I am just full of these cliches today...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A, B, and C Lists

Having no luck with B's and C's, we have now started calling the A list contractors in town. I now strongly believe that the people we originally spoke to were afraid of the magnitude of work that needs to be done in, on, and around the house. The difference is also quite obvious when talking to them about stages of work and sources of income. So, hopefully, when the architectural drawings are done, we will be able to contract one of them as a GC (general contractor). We picked the roofer, and the GC I personally like the best works exclusively with him. That makes me feel good. That and the fact he comes highly recommended both from people he worked with and people who want to work with him. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wood and Water

Apparently, even if you don't have water penetrating the house, the humidity will make the wood around the house swell up, as we have seen in the past several days. Yesterday we were not able to close some of the doors. Today, the floors in the Hall have lifted up, so much that the closet door is leaving the scuff marks. And we can't open the French door leading to the screened porch. What can I say? We wanted an old house, we wanted the natural materials, so here we are. No point in complaining, but still a pleasure doing so.

Still no estimates.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Houses like this...

Used to be run by a small army of servants (butler, housekeeper, cook, other staff, etc.). I got a cleaning lady that comes once every 2 weeks and a nanny that works 40 hours a week. I also have a husband and 2 children that need to eat, drink, clean clothes, comfortable environment, and a happy matriarch to provide all this for them. I spent a total of 4 hours shopping for food today in different supermarkets. And most of it will be gone by the weekend... Then there is that company that I'm trying to get off the ground, leaky roof, facade that needs to be restored, rosettes and plates for the new/old door knobs, landscaping, architectural drawings...

No sign of contractors.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


OK, we had a total of 10 contractors take a look at our roof, with at least 2 more expected next week. The number of written estimates so far? 2. And one of them is at least a year old (when the leak was first noted). But, our architect was adamant not to use them, as they are quite sloppy with the flashing. So, one usable quote.

We might have gone overboard with the interview/estimate process, but can you blame us? I thought the economy was bad, and more than one of these contractors told us they usually have at least 4-6 months of work scheduled, and right now it's only 1-2. What is going on? Is it that they simply don't want this job and don't want to say it? They all seemed pretty competent to us and we know they've seen houses as old as ours and in worse condition... I don't get it...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Leaky Roof

Well, the roof restoration project is getting pushed forward, as the leak is rather visible and audible these days, with all this rain. So, the house is full of contractors going up and down the stairs, pricing the work... Will keep you posted.

The Quest

Due to the ever efficient airlines that fly us around these days, I had a chance to finish not one, but two books that I took on the mini-break with me. One of them is the Fenn illustrated "The Quest..." I mentioned in one of the previous posts. The parallels between us and the Shackelton's are fascinating, to say the least. In addition, it is a great educational tool for anyone involved with antiques in any capacity - descriptions of styles, how to spot a fake, how to restore furniture, etc. Really, really good. I highly recommend it.