It all started with a dream, quite literally, that led to this crazy journey and the story about how we got the Mineral House still boggles me to this day. Let’s just say the Universe listens, sometimes it’s says something quite audibly too and then works in mysterious ways to make the magic happen! My husband doesn’t believe it, but this was FATE. I hope you enjoy my story about how this all came to be and my journey with this crazy passion of mine. This is the Beginning- how it happened, starting with way back in my childhood. I swear, this will be the only long long long post of mine, just because it explains my history and how all of this came about and explains where my passion comes in. (And yes, I’ll post up the picture gallery too of the inside of the house, the features and the damage. )
A long time ago, in a little podunk town, far far way:
Ever since I was little, my most vivid night-time dreams involve adventures in old houses that begged for exploration, room after neverending room and hidden nooks and crannies. I’m not joking, my “house” dreams are WICKED WEIRD and incredibly vivid over any other types of dreams I have.
I think it started from an old farmhouse that we frequented a lot when I was a child, a friend of the family whose parents owned one of the first houses built in our hometown. That house (which I refer to as the Isham House) felt enormous to a six year old. Most memorable was it’s beautiful winding staircase that even had a nook with a statue of Mary in the middle of it. (I am going to add here that something about that nook scared the heck out of me. I had to run past it as fast as I could. I swear to this day there was something unnatural attached to that statue). It had a beautiful formal dining room behind giant wooden pocket doors, formal sitting room, living room and staff kitchen. I’ve dreamt about that house so many times that I can no longer delineate what was real and what wasn’t (other than that damn statue). I’ve had countless dreams about hidden closets all over the place, about a small door that you had to crawl through and it opened to a much bigger room. I’m pretty sure that was all just a dream.
Either way, it was definitely the influence of that house that made me fall in love with old houses. I also grew up right near both the Masonic Home which was one of the foundering brothers of Bettendorf’s home, and the Abby Monastery, which was eventually turned into a hotel which I was married in, and is now a rehabilitation resort for the hoity-toity.
I still have dreams about the Isham House to this day and yes, I’m obsessed with creepy houses that may or may not be haunted.
The next town over is full of beautiful old houses, up and down along River Drive and up the steep streets that were high enough to grab a majestic view of the Mighty Mississippi below. The town has an enormous amount of late 1800’s – early 1900’s homes, Victorians, Gregorian Revivals, Painted Ladies, Federals, you name it. The Gold Coast District is one of my favorites and the houses that sit on the bluffs over the Mississippi River. And then there’s the old houses up Main St. north of Palmer College. My father had an old house that was adjacent to one of the most beautiful Victorian Homes near Palmer College. (It’s a Palmer Fraternity house now, I can’t say the condition is the same as it was when I was a kid) but I played there every other weekend with a girl named Sara. The house was gorgeous, so much original woodwork throughout the house and I remember her mom had this beautiful loom set up in the hallway. Her father was an audio/video enthusiast and had the living room set up for watching laserdisc movies. This was back in the mid 1980’s. I remember staying overnight one night and Sara and I creeped ourselves out pretty bad. We got to stay in one of the downstairs spare bedrooms which she never slept in before and I swear, it felt like something was in the room with us. We were frozen to the bed, afraid to put our feet on the ground for fear there was going to grab our ankles the second we put our feet over the sides. (Pretty sure this was around the time Poltergeist came out and we were all scared to death of something pulling us under the bed).
Even on car rides, I would find myself obsessed with all the houses as we passed by. Dreaming of how beautiful the woodwork might be inside, admiring the wrap-around porches, the tall columns, and the decorative trim on others. During the summer, you often can’t see much of the houses at night because of the dense lush trees but during the winter, these wondrous beauties lit up from the inside with light pouring out of stained glass windows, standing out beautifully amidst the bare tree branches. It’s surprisingly beautiful, especially when it snows. (Even better if they have Christmas lights up, fir tree garland with chasing lights going up and down the columns, dancing off the snow drifts). I grew up wanting to own one of my own.
When I was 19, I tried to inquire about the Isham House. It had been abandoned for years, shuttered up, a remnant of what it once was. Unfortunately, it had been sold to a commercial entity and rezoned. Eventually, they tore it down. Something inside me pulled at me even back then, a desire to restore and bring back beauty to homes that have been neglected. Whenever I would return home to visit, I would drive around late at night, up and down some of the worst areas of town, drawn to the old houses. Let me just say, if I was a multi-millionaire and money didn’t matter, I would buy house after house and restore them to their former glory, just to do it.
This nagging feeling just never left me, even after we left the midwest. I ended up moving to suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona. I love the weather here, it’s absolutely glorious (I LOVE the heat) but… instead of beautiful houses of old charm, there’s only sprawling neighborhoods of stucco houses row and row, cul de sac after cul de sac. It’s just not the same.
Far away but longing for home:
So fast foward, we’d been in Arizona for about 8 years or so and my husband and I were traveling back and forth a lot to the midwest after the birth of our daughter. We wanted her to be able to have as much time with the cousins, aunts and uncles. The issue was it was either a very short stay or an uncomfortable stay always bouncing houses between relatives. I told my husband “Wouldn’t it be nice if we just had a place of our own back home that we could stay during breaks? Go home for summer, go home for school breaks, and have our own place.” It was a pipe dream but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So I started looking.
My biggest concern would be that the ones that were likely in a price range I could tackle without impacting the family budget were probably too far gone. I spent months looking for the right house from Davenport to Cedar Rapids and all along the way. I thought I found one but when we sent an inspector to look at it, I was strongly encouraged to avoid it at all costs. It wasn’t even that old of a house, it was mid 1950’s and was pretty mangled but I was still looking for options to house us during our trips.
One day, and I kid you not, I swear I heard in my head “Check the Illinois side”. It was clear as a bell. So I pulled up zillow and started taking a look on the “other side of the creek” as we like to call it. (The Mississippi River). Still, even the old run down ones were still WAY out of my budget. I adjusted the maximum to the highest I was figuring I could maybe pull off, still nothing. And then I heard in my mind “look further out”.
I zoomed out on the map and a dot popped up. I clicked on it and low and behold, I found the listing for the Mineral House. Clicking through the pictures, I got more and more excited. You could tell the house needed a lot of work but I saw all the beauty behind it. The photos were in the dead of winter, dull and blah. I pulled up the address through google maps and zoomed in. Summer view, trees surrounding it, gorgeous oaks, old. Wrap around porch, giant front bay windows. The original ornamental wood trims are still up in the gables even though the previous owner had put up vinyl siding and new windows. And the price was within enough of a range for me to take it to my husband, who was up in North Dakota at the time for a graduation, and say “CHECK… THIS… OUT…” The original price listing on the house had been cut in half.
The fire has been lit but there’s some competition:
I flew out a couple days later to go see the house. Ray skipped his graduation ceremony and flew out there to view it with me. We arrived a little early to try and look at the exterior without the pressure of an agent there but a couple was already there viewing the house. So we piddled around the town and got a feel for the area. I know Ray wasn’t too keen on the idea of tackling the house at first and yes, it has caused some bitter arguments since, but even he was falling in love with it as we did our walkthrough. We moo’d hello to the cow across the street and found the closest local diner. We drove around the corn fields and relished in the beauty of the streets shaded by strong oaks and elms up and down either side.
Finally, our time-slot was near so we headed back and met up with the realtor. We walked through the house, taking notes as we went of pros and cons. (There’s a ton on both sides of that). At the end, the realtor advised that they had just lowered the price $3,000 more from the listing when I called her the week before. I had the money in the bank to buy the house outright.
So I lowballed them anyway and offered $3500 less than what they’d just dropped it down to. Pretty sure I crushed the agents soul a little bit on that one. I figured worst that would happen is we didn’t get it or we did. So why not, right?
A couple days later, she contacted me and said that another couple (the ones who were there right before us) had put a similar bid on the house and asked if I’d consider raising the bid. I thought about it for a second, listening to my internal voice. I felt the calm, no worries, no fears, if it was meant to be ours, we wouldn’t have much of a bidding war. I replied “You can go $500 higher and that’s it”.
She paused for a moment, you could tell she was disappointed. She said “That’s not much to work with” and I said “If it’s meant to be mine, it’ll be mine.”
The final decision…
The next day, I got a phone call from the agent. She said “Well, I just got off the phone the buyers agent. They said they didn’t want to get into a bidding war and backed out. The sellers accepted your offer”.
I know she couldn’t see the smile on my face through the phone but I’m sure she could sense it anyway. “Told you it was meant to be mine”.
We knew going into a house with a seriously lowball offer and cash / as-is sale, we would have problems. The ceilings have major damage to them and who knows what shape the walls are behind the old wallpaper. The first problem we encountered was when we had the water turned on. The upstairs toilet immediately started to leak and pour water through the hole in the ceiling (which was there already), so apparently it had never been repaired. The second was even though we’d turned off all the water to the boiler system, it still managed to pressurize just enough that we found many of the radiators had the metal blown out of them. The mayor of the town is also a plumber, so he got them bypassed pretty fast for us so that we could at least run water to the downstairs toilet and sink.
We also discovered that the downstairs toilet was suspended in the air above the rotted out subflooring. Mayor helped us out on that one too and got something in there temporarily for us and got the toilet installed again. We patched the giant hole in the porch flooring with boards we found out in the garage. Eventually the whole porch will need to be replaced and those columns are very pricey. But we’ll get there.
Over time, we’ve had a few areas worked on, some emergency roofing and the upstairs bathroom is down to the studs. This week, I will be headed out and meeting a heating contractor to get estimates on finally getting heat into the house. Once that’s done and the bathroom upstairs restored, we will be able to make steady regular progress on the house and will be able to stay there for longer periods of time to work on things room by room.
I’ll do updates over the next week on progress, I plan on doing some wallpaper stripping and painting while I’m in town and possibly some flooring in the bathroom upstairs, drywall and buy a new toilet and tub for the bathroom if my budget allows. Below are the original listing images- I need to get new posts up with the updates that have been done.