A History Repeating

My obsession with finding out more about the original owners of our house began because I was convinced that our house was haunted. It absolutely looks like a house that would be haunted, and the fact that the previous owners moved out of this perfectly amazing house seemingly abruptly immediately signified to me that they were chased out by spirits, try as they might to convince me that it was more about the lack of central air. "Unsuspecting couple move into too good to be true old mansion only to be accosted by ghosts" is basically the plot of every horror movie I've ever seen. I just needed a little bit of history to ease my mind. Cory was already dead set on buying this house, so I knew he was going to make me live here no matter what.

Thankfully, I have seen nary a ghost and the dog seems to be perfectly content. Dogs can sense these things--something else I learned from horror movies. Our research has turned up nothing too shocking in the history of our house. What is surprising is the connections we seem to have to the first people who lived here.

We should go back to the beginning, to the man who started it all. 

A.R. Wilson at his desk in the ALICO building. Image Source.

A.R. Wilson at his desk in the ALICO building. Image Source.

A. R. Wilson moved from Richmond, Virginia, to Waco in 1910--just a week after marrying his wife, Gertrude--to work at Amicable Life Insurance Co. (ALICO). That same year, the ALICO building was erected to become the tallest building on this side of the Mississippi River for a brief period of time, and it still stands today as a local landmark. Mr. Wilson became president of the company in 1920. He built our house in 1926.

This is where things get really interesting. A few months ago, Cory went to a bank auction on the local courthouse steps and purchased 1919 Columbus, a foreclosure property, as an investment. He does these things. After making vast improvements to the house, he just sold it last week. Imagine my surprise when I came across this article from 1914 about A. R. Wilson, wherein it states that his home was located at 1919 Columbus Street. Of course, the actual house that he lived in was long gone, a new one in its place, but what are the odds that we would come to own two of Mr. Wilson's homesteads? It's kind of poetic how the money from the sale of one of his homes will spur on the renovation of another.

The coincidences don't end there. My mother was describing our house to her friend Nancy, who grew up in Waco in the 1940s. Nancy said she knew exactly the house that my mother was describing. Her cousin Carol lived there with her grandparents. As it turns out, Nancy's cousin Carol is the granddaughter of A. R. Wilson. She still lives in Waco, and we have invited her over. We can't wait to get a firsthand account of what it was like to live here 70 years ago, what is the same, and what has changed.

With a near century-old house, we know there are thousands of stories about it and the people who lived here. What we didn't expect to find was all of the physical evidence and in the strangest places. Our first few discoveries date all the way back to when the Wilson family first lived here.

While doing demo work in our master bathroom, we found our first artifact--a can of paint inside the wall. Based on the design of the can itself and the prominence of the Devoe brand in the 1920s, we're fairly certain that this is the house paint from the days of original construction. Devoe Paints was the first American paint brand, originating in 1754, and the company still exists today. The twenties saw the advent of the ever-popular lead-based house paint, but this particular paint is actually zinc-based. While I take some comfort in this, I will continue to harbor a healthy fear of lead poisoning until everything in this house has been freshly painted over.

We inherited a full attic, a few things from the previous owners and the owners before them and perhaps the owners before them. Cory found this little envelope tucked inside a dusty magazine amongst it all. He opened it to find a fragile train ticket from December of 1925, the remnant of a trip from Tennessee to Texas. There's really no way for us to know the identity of the passenger, but when I look at it, I picture Mr. Wilson on a business trip, briefcase in one hand and this ticket in the other.

And inside the laundry room wall was found this crumpled piece of paper--a baggage ticket from a ship. Apparently, Mrs. A.R. Wilson was quite a traveler, sailing from New York to France in June of 1921. I imagine this tag was once attached to some really fabulous piece of luggage. It's kind of wonderful to think about this little piece of paper traveling with her to Europe and all the way back again. It obviously meant something to her, being kept for five years and brought to her new home in 1926. Who knows what chain of events put it inside the wall.

Finding these treasures so by accident has made us both vigilant and careful as we deconstruct parts of the house and build anew. Every floorboard we move, every wall we come crashing through could be filled with little pieces of wonderment from the past.

We will be archiving it all.

-Kate