Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

House fire led to parents’ mail-order home purchase

Mother had driven the Model T Ford to town, and Dad was planting corn. It was May 18, 1922. As we were going down Crouch’s Hill, Mom screamed, "Oh, God! No! That’s my house!"

Black smoke rolled from a spot that had to be our home. The walls fell in just as we came in sight. Dad had been able to save a big chair and the drawer of the library table that served as his lockbox. The alarm had gone out over the rural telephone, and neighbors were there in time to save cured hams, shoulders and bacon slabs from the smokehouse, but Mom’s home-canned meat, blackberry jam and canned garden vegetables were lost. The fire was ignited by the tiny kerosene flame on an incubator full of hen eggs.

Everyone suffered when any family was in trouble. In two weeks, we were living in a borrowed Army tent left over from World War I. It was supported by tall stumps of burned maple trees so Dad could be close to his cows, dairy barn and "milk house." Mom cooked on her same wood/coal range after Dad and the hired men hitched the mule team to it and pulled it from the ashes. We all helped by scraping and brushing and washing. Dad hastily made a table and a small storage structure under one of the surviving maple trees.

In spite of the fire - and the weekly electrical storms that plagued us that summer - this 6-year-old tomboy could see a lot of fun ahead, camping like gypsy travelers. Dad and Mom were saving money to replace the old barn, but that money was just a drop in the bucket toward building a house. They had a $3,500 insurance payment that disappeared fast, replacing necessities. They had a reliable record for paying interest and repaying loans, so C.W. Furtney and Columbia Savings Bank loaned money, and they made plans.

Rural people or-dered almost everything they needed from a huge catalog from Sears, Roebuck and Co. A separate Sears catalog described "kit homes," which were illustrated in color and had detailed information and floor plans. Mom and Dad sat up late, studying catalogs from several companies, comparing floor plans, conveniences, quality and costs. They finally chose an Aladdin Redi-Cut Home from a company in Bay City, Mich. They ordered a frame bungalow with lots of windows, four rooms, a bath and three large closets. Each closet held a Murphy bed. The house would have a pipeless furnace and a stairway to an unfinished attic.

Gradually it dawned on me that this lovely new home would make terrific changes in our lives. We would have indoor plumbing, a basement and a furnace. It would be on a hilltop overlooking the rest of the farm. Someday the electric lines might even extend that far out into the country. In 1922, it was four miles from our dairy farm to Ninth Street and Broadway in Columbia. Dad and the hired men began to dig the basement as soon as Aladdin Co. provided the exact directions.

Today the house is gone. It stood on what is now El Chaparral’s 5-acre park. My grandson, Sam Russell, located the remains of the fireplace foundation Dad made from limestone rocks from his branch of Grindstone Creek 80 years ago.


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