Restoration has been completed on the main house. This Victorian gabled farm house was built about 1872 by John Walker. The floor plan is a traditional Latin cross layout. Extensive gingerbread and decorative shingles garnish the exterior.
The Seelinger family left the home in the 1930ís and it was leased to tenant farmers until 1948. It has stood empty since, home only to bobcats, owls, possums and other local wildlife.
While still standing straight and solid, decay was present throughout the house. A historical preservation architect was hired to guide the restoration efforts. Looking forward to nomination as a National Trust Historic District, detailed renovation plans insured adherence to the Department of interiorís strict standards for historic preservation.
Excavation began to remove the old hand hewn limestone block foundation. Hopes to add a basement for storage and an HVAC system were dashed when solid rock was encountered at just over four feet down.
Equipment was put aside and on their hands and knees, with only scoops and buckets, workers crawled under the old house digging trenches which would later accommodate electrical wiring and ductwork.
With exacting precision, the old foundation was removed and a new concrete foundation was poured.
Throughout the process the house was never raised or lowered even an inch and it sets today just where it did when first built over 130 years ago.
The excavating turned up an unexpected find Ė the familyís trash dump. Working with several volunteers, Brian Phillips directed an archaeological dig of the area. The plates, glasses, beer bottles, ink bottles, and more were taken to the JSJ office where volunteers spent long hours reassembling broken bowls, glasses and medicine bottles. These items will be placed on display when the restoration of the main house has been completed.
With the foundation work completed, attention was turned to the house itself.
Rotten materials were removed and replaced. Hazardous lead paint was carefully removed and hauled away for proper disposal.
The architect made regular visits to confer with the restoration workers and insure that his plans were being followed. As structural work neared completion, work was begun to prepare the house for painting.
A 1909 photograph of the house suggested an original color of white with varying shades of trim. This fit with color patterns of that time and bore tests confirmed the original green trim colors. Special custom mixing to match original pigments would have been very costly. Fortunately, the colors matched a new line of historic paints.
The exterior restoration took nearly two years to complete. Using exacting historic preservation standards, shingles were soaked for days before being hand bent to fit the curved roof on the bay windows. Old photographs and paint scrapings determined the original colors of the house. Old wavy window glass was salvaged from local homes being demolished and used in the entirely rebuilt windows, complete with original restored hardware. An original screen door was found stored n the threshing barn and duplicated for all exterior doors.
All that remains now to complete the exterior restoration is the addition of lightening rods and the reproduced roof cresting.
With the exterior secure and nearly complete, the work inside the house was started. The interior had been partially gutted in the early 1950ís. Ruth Seelinger Jones had planned to begin restoration of her childhood home but the work never progressed beyond this initial demolition.
The few remaining walls were stripped of wall paper which was preserved for later pattern matches. The old horsehair plaster and lathes were removed.
The original woodwork had been removed by Ruth and stored in the threshing barn. Moved to the broom corn barn during the threshing barnís restoration, it was inventoried and determined to have sufficient quantities remaining to complete the upstairs of the house. New woodwork was located that matched almost exactly the old patterns.
Much of the plaster not removed during the 50ís gutting, had fallen. The floors were deep with this plaster, old lathes, boards, debris, and animal nests and leavings. It took nearly 80 hours just to remove the loose materials.
A kitchen addition built by John Seelinger in the 1920ís was intact. The added pantry and food preparation room will provide much needed space for programs and exhibits.
Once again the architect prepared detailed plans for the interior restoration. In the 1890ís, the house was heated with fireplaces and wood stoves. Todayís needs dictated a modem heating and cooling system that would preserve the old look of the house and still provide the temperature and humidity control necessary for the planned antique furnishings. A museum styled HVAC system meets these needs through barely noticeable vents supplied by just two inch ductwork.
The electrical system provides control of the planned antique lighting fixtures from hidden switches under the back stairs. Necessary exposed switches will be the push button style popular at the turn of the century in homes where electricity was available.
A new electrical supply line has been buried in the west yard. Crews from the Osage Valley Electrical Coop ran the new line running from Seelinger Road to just west of the Summer Kitchen where an electrical substation was then installed. Electrical service did not come to Poplar Heights until the 1960ís so overhead lines just donít fit.
The main house was very well built. But, ever practical, where it didnít show, the builders didnít waste time or money on looks. This ceiling in an upstairs bedroom shows the rough sawn boards to which the cedar shingles were nailed. Used just as they were sawn from the tree trunk, their size varied with the size of the tree. Many of the hoards had the tree bark still attached. These outside boards were less expensive because they were never trimmed to size. The white marks on the rafters are remnants of the plaster that would have been pressed between the lathes when the ceilings were plastered.
After the old plaster and lathes were removed, the duct work for the HVAC system was installed and the electrical wiring was run, the ceilings were insulated. Then a local company finished the rooms with drywall. Less expensive drywall was chosen rather than the very expensive plaster because the walls were to be papered with historically accurate wallpaper and none of the plaster would be showing.
The back stairs have been reconstructed, a working fireplace rebuilt in the dining room, and the floors have been cleaned and refinished.
Original hardware has been cleaned and reinstalled.
The new, working fireplace is where the old one was in the dining room. It will be faced with sheetrock, wallpapered and a mantle added.
New museum style vents for HVAC system are nearly unnoticeable since they have been stained to match adjacent surfaces.
The installation of the period wallpaper and some fresh interior paint have given the house the look of a very stylish home of the late 19th century.