The previous occupants of The Old Crack House were only renters. According to Ms. D, they had lived there for over ten years. They knew the original owner and builder of the house who was a master carpenter.
He built the house before this area became a city. Early records show that his grandfather had owned the land since the late 1890’s. He started building the house in 1920 and finished it in 1923. He had several acres and gave each of his daughters a lot and built them a house in which to live when they got married. This was still farmland and was part of a much bigger plot of land which had historical significance dating back to civil war times. In fact there are a number of gravestones in Gettysburg, the occupants of whom, trace their roots back to this ten block area.
The carpenter who built this house had a large family and wanted to have all of them live nearby. He built the house out of rough cut oak taken from the land. He hand made all the trim and woodwork. The hardwood floors were hand cut and installed by him.
When the stock market crashed in 1929, he became ill and all the surrounding property he owned was sold to satisfy his debts. Over time, his surviving daughters either sold the property they were given, or they passed away and the property remained in the hands of distant family members who lived in California. They rented the house out to various people. Most of the renters were long-term and were known by the family. Over time, the family became detached more and more from the property and only collected rent making very few repairs to the property. As well built as the property was, extended neglect and failure to do even routine maintenance, was beginning to take its toll on the house.
I always admired the large old house across the street. It was sad to see a beautiful old house slowly fade away and fall into such disrepair. The house always was the largest house on the block. In fact, it was the largest for several blocks around. The exterior walls were stucco. This reflected a time when masons, who were true tradesmen and craftsmen, hand mixed all their mortar to make the stucco mixture. I was told by the remaining family members and their friends, people who still had access to the history of the place, that the first owner and builder of the house did his own stucco work. One of the daughters who is in her late nineties and returned from California in 2001, lives a block and half away. Although needing a walker to get around, she is still sharp as a tack and has a vivid memory. She and her husband have been an excellent source of information about the house.
The last long-term renters who lived here had a large family of nine. To make room for their family, they subdivided the rooms on the upper floor and in the basement. The front porch and parlor had been converted to bedrooms. However they were never completely finished. Temporary walls with sheetrock that only had one coat of tape, made up the make shift bedrooms.
Those with knowledge of this family, describe them as urban hillbillies.
The father had been injured and was unable to work. His wife stayed home to take care of the kids. She took in laundry and ran a day care out of the house. Because they were unable to pay the rent, the surviving Californian owners of the house, evicted the family and put it up for sale.
A man, who specialized in buying distressed properties, purchased it for next to nothing. Having had previous shady property dealings, this man had a reputation with the city as a ‘slum-lord’. He fixed it up just enough to resell it to the owner before us, a woman with eight children.
How he was able to get this single mother to qualify for a grant to replace the roof and totally insulate and winterize the property is still unclear. It somehow involved a contract-for-deed and some creative financing. The public records show he pocketed sixty thousand dollars in thirty days and never had to pay for any materials or labor.
That one still baffles me.
The contract-for-deed had a balloon balance due in twenty-four months. At that point she had to get a mortgage or forfeit the property.
As if it were yesterday, I remember the day she pulled up in front of the house in a new Sport Utility. The vehicle was similar to mine, but ten years newer. It had custom wheels and several other options that made it worth about forty-five grand. I remember thinking that it looked like she was doing well and would finally be able to fix up the property.
So much for my assumption; as I would soon find out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
All the kids jumped out of the Sport Utility and started running and screaming up the front porch. With all those noisy children, I remember thinking that the neighborhood wouldn’t be the same.
Boy was I right about that. If only I had known what was about to happen.
copy write 03-22-07 all rights reserved D. Jerzak