How I Met The Original Owners Of My Maine Time Capsule House


I had always dreamed of living in a mid-century ranch house like my grandmother’s. I spent many happy days as a toddler eating while seated at her chrome dinette set, admiring the figurines in her curio cabinet, watching “I Love Lucy” on her large TV with rabbit ears and looking out of her large multi-pane window onto the tree lined suburban street of Fort Lee, New Jersey in the late 1960’s.
 
I bought my dream home after years of looking. As soon as I walked inside it I knew right away it would be mine. There had only been a few updates since it was built in 1952, most of them done in the 60s. Thankfully no one tried to make it look like a cosmetically covered up mid century gem with new granite, stainless appliances and soulless muted colors in the kitchen.

While looking outside the living room window that was just like my grandmother's I wondered about who had lived there before the lady from whom we would purchase the house. She had been there fifteen years, but what about the people before her? There was an indescribably good energy to whole house. Almost like an episode of “The Twilight Zone” I felt transported back in time and I could almost see and hear “Leave it to Beaver” showing on a black and white television set as a housewife and mom cooked in the kitchen wearing an apron while her kids played in the front yard.

After I moved in I decided I wanted to look up the people who had lived there to thank them for taking such good care of it and see if they would like to come over for coffee. I called the town office where public records of ownership are maintained and it turned out that the original owners lived in the house for over forty years! I really wanted to meet them, but I hesitated; what would they think? Would I sound like a nut? To some people a house is just that but to me it’s a home filled with history and stories. What did I have to lose other than a pretty daydream?

I looked them up, saw they were still living in my town and invited them over to see their house (I didn’t call it “my” house). They were very receptive and offered to bring old photos- bonus!

When they arrived the following Saturday morning we walked around the grounds and they told us about the old neighborhood and people in it.

My (ex as of 2015) husband with the former owner

Inside we walked from room to room, and I asked them what was original and what had been replaced. I heard many stories and they said my television is in the same spot where they had theirs and that they indeed watched the first runs of “Leave it to Beaver” and “I Love Lucy.”
 
The best part of the visit was when we all sat down at my chrome dinette set in the kitchen with the large stack of photo albums they had brought over. 

My chrome dinette set

I saw pictures of my house being built, family pictures taken inside the house throughout the years, bridge games played in my living room and my favorite, Christmastime.





Although only 1,200 square feet they raised two children in the house, and judging from the excellent condition inside, they were very well behaved. We talked about the changes in ways people are able to finance homes now as compared to then and how a bigger house has somehow come to equate “better.” A smaller house is now usually perceived only as a starting point.

I explained: “I plan to live in this house a very long time, yet people often refer to it as a ‘starter home.’”

“This was our starter home for forty-two years,” the former Lady of the House replied.

I learned about some of the local business history and even saw a picture of the businessman whose name is on the thermometer outside my door. 


It seemed that back then everything was locally owned and you could shake hands (or even go bowling) with the person whose name was on the shop.

After a lovely two hour visit they needed to get going and they were kind enough to let me scan some of the photos.
 
“We approve,” they said as they left. I do, too.

An earlier version of my story appeared on Retro Renovation in 2009.

Comments

  1. So interesting, Averyl! I love those old floor plans. I don't like the modern open-concept plans at all. Neither does my husband. We are moving next year and hope to find something a little more retro.

    Aileen

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    1. Thanks, Aileen! I wish you the best of luck with your search! It can be a lot of fun.

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  2. What a lovely story, thank you!

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  3. I just love that you got to do that. I wish that I could find the people who built our house. I'd die a happy death if I could get them over her to talk things over with us. Boy do I have questions!

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    1. I love your ranch house, as you know, so I also wish you could talk with them! : )

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  4. How lovely! We live in a newer home, but I have my heart set on finding a 50s/60s bungalow with a big backyard for my little one. I don't want bigger, I want cosy :)

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  5. Just found you while buying a different book on my Kindle. Love this story. We recently purchased a unit in a MCM hi-rise and are working on getting it back to as authentic as we can afford to do. It won't be exact but will honor the original design. Can't wait to read your book.

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    1. Hi Ann. I'm so glad you found me! Thank you for reading my story and buying my book. I love MCM high-rise buildings. My house isn't exact or perfect or pure vintage. When I first moved in I wasn't in love with my late1960s kitchen floors, either. I wanted 50s floors. But then I began to love them because there's room for the 60s and early 70s in one home. I gather things piece by piece and have been doing it that way for over ten years. It's a lot of fun and I wish you success with it. : )

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  6. LOL! My house is "just under" 1000 square feet and I hated it at first. Then, I realized how cute it really is - after we completed some projects - it was a foreclosure in need of tlc. My house was built in 1951 and two of the original neighbors of the "track" still live in my cul-de-sac. I found it amazing that they each had 2 kids, even though the houses only have 2 bedrooms. But, people didn't have the extra junk we "need" today. My husband thought I had flipped when I was sad that the contractor had to demo the old kitchen tile with the farm scenes painted on them - they were cracked, but had character. Oh well, maybe someday I'll at least get a vintage Murano lamp - I remember my grandmother had a knock off version till my uncles broke it while being rambunctious! By the way, that percolator brought back memories of my father percolating coffee while he got ready for work...and that was back in the early 2000s!

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    1. Thanks for sharing that, Momo's mom. I bet your neighbors could tell you lots of interesting tidbits about your new hood. About the percolator: I'm sipping freshly perked coffee as I type this. You can still buy them new, too!

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  7. How neat! The lady (her husband had passed away several years earlier) we bought our house from was the original owner as well, although our house was built in '61, I think it was. Their children were already grown and out of the house when they bought it as their retirement home; she was 90 when we bought the house from her several years ago. So, they didn't have a lifetime of memories of raising children in the house. She was a fascinating lady though, who loved different cultures, and had various articles that she had collected from around the world during their travels. She also loved nature and animals, and had a bat house put up in the back yard, which we left because they are great for keeping the mosquitoes down. It was nice getting to chat with her some before we bought the house, and learning a little bit of history about their life here. She was home when we came to look at the house. She was going to leave, but we told her we didn't mind her being there. She had so much fun showing us around the house, and sharing details about it, and showing us some of the things she collected. We got along great, and she was so happy that we were buying her house because she liked us so much. I think that gave her peace of mind because she was afraid of who might end up buying her house. It's always nice to know someone is going to take care of something that was once yours.

    RL

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    1. That's wonderful and I agree, RL!

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    2. That's a cute story. I know I'd feel better if I knew someone was going to take care of our house once we've moved on.

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  8. Aww..I lived in my mid-century rancher "starter home" for 21 years, until DH and I moved in with my mother after Dad passed away. We loved it dearly, even while our friends were moving into trendier neighborhoods with McMansions and Craftsman bungalows. I love your story.

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    1. 21 years in the same "starter" home is almost unheard of these days! Thank you for commenting. : )

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    2. I have so enjoyed reading all the posts. We built hour home in 1976 and are still here. But thinking about moving to something with less yard and one
      level. a 1950's ranch would be perfect. You are all right none of us need 1/2 of what we collect. And life is much simpler without clutter. I look forward to more stories. We have been married for 48 years and from all of my experience I have loved being a wife, homemaker and mom more than anything else I have ever done. I was most fortunate to be a stay at home while raising our children and now I am back there again. I have not changed much in the way I took care of our home. It was not always easy and many sacrifices had to be made, but I would do it the same way again. Good luck to all of you
      Catherine

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  9. That's an amazing story!!!! I absolutely love your home and I hope one day my husband and I will own one just like yours! We love all things vintage and I love the idea of reconnecting with people from the past! Super cool:)
    Thanks for the wonderful blog!
    ~Lindsay:)

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    1. Thank you, Lindsay! I bet you will find your own time capsule house! : )

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  10. Thank you, thank you Averyl! My Grandparents had this home! One like it anyhow. Your home, words, and images so remind me of their love, fun, and safety. My brother and I occasionally shop together and see things that were in grandmom's home, when we were around 5 years old. I love your home, and things from the 50s, 60s and 70s. I work full time and am a full student (again!). Some I know use drinking or food to take the edge off and I tell them to just travel back in time and then bring the past to today. It feeds the soul in an amazing way, Old items I remember and bought give my apt. a feeling of continuity. One day I hope to find a house like yours - looking forward to that. I am now off to buy your book. Thank you Averyl!

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    1. Thank you! And you've got it! I gave up abusive drinking, smoking and eating and replaced it with the sanity and sanctity of the healthiest aspects of the "past." They really can be timeless ideals and practices. Best of luck with school and finding your new old home!

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