House Hopping with Preservationists began in Virginia and moved to Ohio. Today the tour continues in the Big Sky Country: Montana. Sarah and her husband rent an adorable bungalow in Great Falls, MT and she enjoys reading the house and pondering its history. Join Sarah as she takes us through the house and shares her insight for analyzing the changes that have been made by previous residents. Sarah proves that renting can be just as thought-provoking as owning.
By Sarah Nucci
I confess, I’m a Virginian at heart. I was born in Virginia, ended up in Ohio, Michigan, and Mississippi before coming home. And even then, I married into the Air Force – which took us to Las Vegas. It’s pretty safe to say that I was less than excited when we found out we were moving to Great Falls, MT, last year. I was even less excited when we planned on living on base, only to find out that we couldn’t as soon as my husband arrived. Slight freak out! No housing and I was on my way with two cats in the car.
It turned out okay in the end – the panicked house hunting brought up this home:
The front of my house. Yes, I realize this looks pretty sad at the moment - it’s February and there isn’t much snow. I’m told we’re getting plenty this week, but until it shows up we continue to have unseasonably warm weather. Ignore the lawn.
My husband texted me an image of the front of the house – and then a google search brought up this link. (Click to see lots of interior shots for a good idea of the layout and discussion to follow. The home looks big on the outside, but it’s a 1913 bungalow style house with small rooms that is hard to photograph.)
Let’s start outside. You can see that the house has three bays, with a center front door. It’s on a corner lot of only .09 acres. – and when I looked it up on the Sanborn Maps (it first appears in 1929), this house is one of two on the original lot, and it appears that there may have been some kind of garage in between the two.
The house is the one on the block on the left, top right corner. You’ll notice there is kind of a small porch on the inside of the lot, and you may notice that the neighbor’s house looks surprisingly like this one.
The neighbor's house, NE view.
The house was built about 15 years before the map was drawn and there are already changes you can see by looking at the maps. The biggest change is the flow of the floor plan. Rather than a porch across the front of the house, now when you walk through our front door, you enter the screened-in porch, which is only on the right half of the facade. From the porch you walk into the living room/kitchen. The dining room is off the kitchen (note the enclosed portion of the porch).
The dining room ceiling.
Check out the dining room: it has a dropped ceiling (remind anyone of elementary school). What you can’t see is that the floor slopes down. In extremely cold weather, the cold air comes through the floor, since this room is not over the basement and thus, has no insulation.
Exposed ceiling beam between the living room/kitchen.
In the main room are a couple of evident changes. You can see the beam through the middle of the room (running the short way through the house). I’m guessing there used to be a wall there. I’m guessing the kitchen as always been there, though it has been updated. Something that you don’t notice in a house until you move in: there are no wall outlets on the sink/stove side of the kitchen. Instead, they are all located by the L extension.
One of the saddest parts of what has happened to this house is actually the fireplace on the far north side of the house. Outside, on both houses, you can see the pretty awesome irregular brick on the fireplace. At some point, someone painted ours to match the walls. This makes me terribly sad. I’ve never been inside the neighbor’s house to know if theirs has been painted as well.
The painted mantle and fireplace.
One of those things I wasn’t really thinking about until recently is that we don’t have a hallway in our house. This is kind of amusing in that hey-our-master-bath-exits-onto-the-living-area-way, but then again since there are only two of us, it works out pretty well.
We only rent this house, and frankly, the owner is a single military guy – there used to be five young guys living in this house before we moved in. I’m pretty sure that there were some changes to make it “rentable.” One of these is the door frames throughout the house.
New door frames.
New trim and old baseboards.
You’ll notice that the baseboards are still there. Someone put some textured wall treatment on EVERYTHING and I guess the realtor probably thought it would rent better with the door frames added. They also added the tacky hollow wood doors. In fact, there is only one original door in the house – and it leads to the attic.
The only original door in the house.
If you walk through this “open area” at the base of the stairs you walk into the master bedroom. This is the far southwest corner of the house, and is right behind the kitchen. There are a couple of things that really indicate that this room has been heavily altered. One is that there is a small beam/extension through the middle of the room, and the other is the window next to the built-in bookcase on the far end of the room. You’ll notice that there is a small cut-out for the window to fit – and it cuts about 6 inches out of the side of the room.
Cut for the window in the master bedroom.
Looking up in the window cutout.
The old connection between the two rooms in the current master bedroom.
This room looks pretty spacious, right? Ha! We have a small, 1940s, four-poster bed that sits under the back window. It leaves about a foot and a half for us to walk between the wall and the bed. This is also the only room in the house that’s air conditioned. My guess is this could have been two rooms, that have been altered into the “master”
The last room in the middle of the two bedrooms is actually the bathroom. It’s not big, not even close, but it’s also not bad. The bathroom has the tub/shower combo, as well as the toilet, sink, and medicine cabinet. There’s also a small cabinet in the corner. From the outside you can see there was originally a window there that has been covered and painted over.
The filled in bathroom window on the rear of the house.
The city is built all around water ; in 1889 the first water tap was issued, and electricity happened early as well – the five water falls that Great Falls is named for were dammed early on for hydroelectric power. That being said – I’m not sure where the original bathroom was located. I have doubts it was here, but maybe it was as a Jack-and-Jill bathroom with doors into each bedroom.
I can safely say that the basement and the attic were not originally finished. You can see the images of the space on the link – but there isn’t too much to see. What I will point out, is that we have a small side porch that opens from the kitchen.
The side porch.
And we have that small stairway to the basement from that side of the house. My guess is that is what is marked on the Sanborn map there. The fireplace was definitely not the original or only means of heating the house; the coal chute cover is still on the back of the house.
The original coal chute.
Inside there has never been central air installed. In fact, we have that one window until and we only run it when sleeping during the summer months. The basement is always cool. The heating system, though, heats the first floor at the basement. It’s pretty efficient and it’s completely helped by the 9 deciduous trees that are on the property.
Unfortunately, the attic only has gravity vents onto the first floor. In the winter we actually close off the attic so we aren’t trying to heat it, and in the summer we open those windows to help cool off the house. It makes the space a bit unusable for much more than storage space!
This house has been amazing to live in – and there are definitely a lot of clues as to what the house was before we moved in. I’m hoping that my neighbors move sometime soon so I can have an excuse to explore their house.
What is your house telling you?
Sarah Nucci is a 2004 graduate of Mary Washington College, and is currently the Curator of History at the Montana Historical Society. She’s an avid re-enactor making the most of living in Montana.
Thank you Sarah for giving us a tour of your bungalow. I hope you enjoy analyzing the changes, learning more about the house, and dreaming of what you’d do if it were your own!
Next up on House Hopping with Preservationists, we’re headed back east to Vermont.