When you start renovating an old building, you never know what you might find.
Perhaps nothing will turn up that’s as dramatic as what a couple in Israel found – archaeologists digging under their home in Jerusalem’s Old City near a temple site came up with items dating from more than 2,000 years ago.
Still, a number of Fort Wayne residents working on old homes and buildings have uncovered things that spoke to them from an earlier time.
Note from the past
Kelli Kensill and her boyfriend, Tim Calhoun, began to remodel their home at 2333 Curdes Ave. earlier this year. She wanted to expand the kitchen by bumping out part of a north wall.
That’s when workers found a parcel wrapped in black plastic between the studs.
Inside were an old newspaper and an envelope holding a typewritten letter dated Feb. 26, 1950. It was signed by previous owners, “Mr. C.M. Christopher” and. “Mrs. C.M. (Tama) Christopher.”
A Clarence M. Christopher and his wife Tama are listed in the 1950 city directory at that address, with his occupation listed as a representative for International Harvester Co.
“If you are tearing this down because it is unsightly or out-dated, remember this is the prettiest thing I have seen for a long time,” the letter begins.
“My old kitchen was very out-moded and unhandy to use. My husband has done all this work himself – the first he has ever done and has done a swell job of it too.”
The letter goes on to say the couple moved to Fort Wayne from South Carolina in 1929 and had lived in the house since 1936.
“We love it here and the people are wonderful; hoping your neighbors are equally as nice,” the letter continues. “The temperature is Zero, the ground is covered with a thick covering of snow. A beautiful Sunday morning.”
Kensill, 49, an administrative judge, says the note left her with goose bumps.
“It sent chills down our backs and touched us with its sweetness,” she says. The couple plans to have it framed and hung near where it was found.
From talking with neighbors, Kensill discovered that the home was part of the original Louis F. Curdes development of starter homes for returning World War I veterans and their families.
The house, which she’s lived in for more than 20 years, has a bungalow style and many Craftsman details, as well as period features, including a pull-down ironing board behind a door in the dining room.
Kensill says she plans to retain many of the kitchen’s features, including the cabinets, as remodeling continues.
She was so inspired by the letter that she wrote a similarly worded note and included it and a copy of the original letter inside the drywall for the next remodelers to find.
The Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house at 1529 E. Washington St. across from Indiana Tech’s clock tower is about 150 years old. It’s served the fraternity for decades, so Thomas Lee of Fort Wayne, president of its Alumni Volunteer Corp., wasn’t sure what to expect from a still-continuing renovation.
Vintage beer cans? Bottles caps from parties past? With rare beer memorabilia sometimes going for hundreds of dollars, Lee says, “We were kinda hoping for something like that.”
But alas, nothing of the sort turned up. Still, the remodelers weren’t entirely disappointed when they found a piece of a Journal Gazette newspaper from the turn of the 20th century tucked in the insulation behind a second-floor wall.
Stories he could make out included one on Theodore Roosevelt and on a World’s Fair.
“You could still read a decent amount of it,” he says. “We thought it was pretty interesting.”
ARCH, Fort Wayne’s historic architecture preservation association, lately has been busy stabilizing and restoring dilapidated storefront buildings along the west side of the 1000 block of Broadway.
Perhaps the best known is the former Canton Laundry building – and, says Michael Galbraith, ARCH executive director, it yielded a trove of artifacts.
“We found a bunch of old laundry tickets, in English and Chinese, and we found a whole box of single cuff links, never a pair,” he says. “We found an old poster from a Chinese supplier from 1972. There were things just everywhere on the second floor. It was like they just kind of left one day.”
The key find, Galbraith says, was a hand-painted Canton Laundry sign from the 1950s – from before the current sign, which still hangs.
“It’s way cool,” says Galbraith, who had it framed and hung it in his office in ARCH’s headquarters, 818 Lafayette St.
As for the Canton Laundry sign that still hangs outside its former home on Broadway – that’s not going anywhere.
“I’ve had so many people wanting that sign,” Galbraith says. “They just want to have it and put it in their basement or their man cave or whatever.”
Artist Jody Hemphill Smith and her attorney husband Mark Paul Smith spent years restoring the early 1900s Richardsonian Romanesque home in Fort Wayne’s West Central neighborhood that is now their residence and The Castle Gallery.
Many things they uncovered in the house, formerly the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, were architectural features – a staircase that had been closed off, parquet floors under old linoleum, and stained-glass pocket doors hidden in a wall.
But one of the intriguing artifacts, Hemphill Smith says, was a box containing an antique china tea set.
“Back in the day,” she says, “the art museum used to have ladies’ teas. That’s what they were used for.”
White with a delicate light-green leaf edging, each plate has a little round depression in it to hold the tea cup. The plates are oval and shaped with a little notch – so they can be held more easily in one hand.
A few years ago, Hemphill-Smith couldn’t resist taking out the set for guests to use at a reception after a talk she gave for a meeting of the Fort Wayne Art League at the gallery.
“I served like little crumpets, and they all got to carry them around, with the old tea cups,” she says. “I haven’t gotten them out for a while.”
But now, she says, she thinks she just might.