The Lasting Legacy of the Irish in St. Paul

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we’re going to explore a little of the significant impact the Irish have had on St. Paul’s, and indeed Minnesota’s, cultural, political, and religious life. A legacy you can experience during your visit to the B&B.

Edward Phelan, John Hays, and William Evans (all Irishmen) were among the early soldiers stationed at Fort Snelling. When they were discharged in 1938, they bought land in and around what would become downtown St. Paul (which was incorporated in 1849).

View of St. Paul 1851
View of St. Paul, 1851. Joel Emmons Whitney. Daguerreotype. Minnesota Historical Society

Later, Hays was the victim in the city’s first murder. One of his countrymen, Edward Phelan, was accused of the murder, but released for lack of evidence. Eventually, Phalen Creek and Lake Phalen were named after him.

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Archbishop John Ireland (1838-1918). 1908. Golling Studio. Minnesota Historical Society

Irish immigrant John Ireland, appointed Archbishop of St. Paul in 1888, was hugely influential in the city as well as the whole of Minnesota. He was responsible for the building of the Cathedral of St. Paul as well as the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

Cathedral of St. PaulCathedral of St. Paul by Ryan Claussen is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Basilica Minneapolis
Basilica of St. Mary by Bobak Ha’Eri is licensed under CC-By-SA-3.0.

He was also responsible for starting the University of St. Thomas, one of the finest universities in a state rich with them. These are all beautiful places, and well worth a visit.

Archbishop Ireland also headed an ambitious program of Irish Catholic colonies around Minnesota, with the goals of increasing the state’s Catholic population and offering a new life to his fellow countrymen suffering the ravages of famine and civil unrest in Ireland. This included setting up a community of farms, with houses, seed, equipment, and household goods available at good rates and on credit to give them a good start. Also provided was instruction on how to farm the prairie sod, which would have been very different from farming in Ireland, if the new colonists had been farmers at all.

For the most part, this was very successful, but there were occasional failures, as with the Connemara group of Graceville in 1880. They were fishermen back home who not only seemed to have no desire to be farmers, but also had to contend with the unbelievably harsh winter of 1880-1 (immortalized in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter). Most of them were eventually resettled in St. Paul in the Connemara Patch, cheek by jowl with the more notorious Swede Hollow in Dayton’s Bluff, where they stayed until the railroad came through and moved them out in 1908. Here’s a tour brochure of Dayton’s Bluff that includes the Connemara Patch, as well as other beautiful and historic landmarks.

Swede Hollow 1910
Swede Hollow looking north, c.1910. Minnesota Historical Society

James J. Hill, a man of Irish heritage, came to St. Paul in 1856 with nothing, and through hard work and business acumen attained vast wealth as a railroad baron. A great believer in philanthropy, on both the small and large scale, he worked with Ireland on a number of projects, helping fund what Ireland envisioned. Although not Catholic himself, his wife, Mary, was, and she gave a great deal of money to the building of St. Paul’s glorious new cathedral.

James J. Hill. 1902. Pach Brothers. Mary Mehegan Hill, c.1910. Minnesota Historical Society

He built a series of houses in the swankiest parts of town, ending with his magnificent mansion on Summit Avenue, complete with pipe organ, art gallery, and boiler from a train engine for heating and hot water. It’s well worth a tour, and it’s only a couple of blocks from the Cathedral, and within walking distance from the B&B.

James J. Hill House 2013
James J. Hill House, 2013
by McGhiever is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

When you visit us, take the opportunity to check out some of these landmarks which help document the importance of Irish people in the history of St. Paul.

 

Simply Elegant

We’ve been doing some renovations at the B&B, shedding some of our Victorian busyness and going for a more calming, streamlined look.

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Less wallpaper…

img_8594…more paint.

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Fewer patterns…

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…more color.

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The result?

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A soothing symphony of peaches, gray-greens, and creams…

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…which delightfully offsets the beautiful woodwork, and allows it to shine.

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One very subtle tone-on-tone brocade remains, adding a hint of Victorian elegance to stairwell…

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…and inglenook.

Our Victorian mansion is still a jewel box of a house, just with a quieter sensibility that highlights its inherent grace and style. We invite you to visit us and experience our new look for yourself. Welcome!

 

Published in: on October 10, 2016 at 6:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Grande Dame Decked Out in All Her Holiday Finery

Although the holiday season has passed, we thought we’d give you an idea of how the B&B was dressed for the festivities this year. Beautifully, in case you wondered. 🙂 (We limit the decorations to the public areas and outside. None of the guest rooms are adorned.)

We put up a lot of lights, as they reflect wonderfully off the woodwork, and impart a lovely glow after dark, which is much appreciated as the sun sets early this time of year.

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We string poinsettia lights around the inglenook mantel and …

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lights in the poinsettias illuminating the path up the stairs.

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Lights and boughs around the living room mantel,

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and a luminous ceramic village in the parlor.

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More lights in the dining room palm …

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revealing a roosting bird hidden among the fronds.

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A firmament …

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with angel in the dining room.

 

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And then, of course, the traditional mother load of ornaments – the tree!

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Decked out in treasures collected by our family over decades,

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many of which have stories and memories associated with them.

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The tree lends a beautiful radiance to the parlor inside …

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and glimmers through the window outside,

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complementing the little outdoor trees …

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and the rest of the house’s open air finery. (Just look at that porch!)

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Around back, just outside the kitchen, is a winter wonderland of greenery, lights, and snow, keeping the planters just as decorative in the winter as in the summer, when they’re full of flowers.

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I think snow is the prettiest shade you can have for fairy lights.

Published in: on January 30, 2016 at 7:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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Help the Twin Cities Celebrate Christmas

Here are some ideas to help the Twin Cities celebrate Christmas while you’re visiting the B&B.

A Victorian Christmas at the Alexander Ramsey House

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“Experience the sights, sounds and tastes of a Victorian Christmas in 1875. During the guided tour, guests can taste homemade cookies fresh from the wood burning stove, listen to popular holiday music of the era played on the family’s Steinway piano, and view original family ornaments and Christmas gifts. Discover how the Ramsey family and their friends, neighbors and servants prepared for and celebrated the Christmas season. Shop in the Carriage House gift store for replica Victorian ornaments and holiday items.

The 60-minute guided tours start every half hour with the last tour starting at 3:30 pm. A Victorian Christmas at the Ramsey House runs Wednesdays through Sundays Nov. 27, 2015-Jan. 3, 2016, except Dec. 25.

Cost:  $11 adults, $9 seniors and college students, $7 ages 6-17, $3 discount MNHS [Minnesota Historical Society] members. Get tickets online or call 651-259-3015” (1 mile from the B&B.)

Hill House Holidays

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“The bustle and excitement of a Gilded Age Christmas is brought to life as the servants of the James J. Hill House prepare for the holidays. Costumed actors portray people who worked for the Hill family in a dramatized portrayal of servant life and holiday preparations at the Hill family’s Summit Avenue mansion. The program moves through the elegant first floor spaces and then to the basement servant work areas. The script is based on letters and oral histories of people who worked for the Hill family during the first decade of the 20th century.

Tours leave every half hour, and Hill House Holidays runs Saturdays and Sundays from Dec. 5-27.

Cost:  $12 adults, $10 seniors and students, $8 ages 6-17, $2 discount MNHS [Minnesota Historical Society] members. Get tickets online or call 651-259-3015” (6 blocks from the B&B.)

Check the James J. Hill House website for other events, such as concerts and storytelling.

An Eventually Christmas:  Holidays at the Mill

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“Join the Ghost of Mill City Past for an intimate look at the 1920 Washburn Crosby holiday party in this unique play set in the museum’s Flour Tower elevator ride. Scenes unfold on different floors where the audience meets characters drawn from the pages of the company’s employee newspaper, the Eventually News. Witness the rocky romance of Celia and Otto; meet marketing mastermind Benjamin S. Bull; experience the awesome sweeping power of Bill Smith and learn the secret origin of the Washburn Crosby marketing slogan, “Eventually—Why Not Now?”

Performances are at 6, 7 and 8 pm. Recommended for ages 8 and older. Ticket includes museum admission and refreshments after the play.

$14 adults, $12 seniors and college students, $10 ages 6-17 and MNHS [Minnesota Historical Society] members, $2 off adult admission with Fringe Festival button. Get tickets online or call 651-259-3015”

At the Mill City Museum Dec 13, 17, 18, 19th. (8.7 miles from the B&B.)

The Christmas Carol on stage

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The nationally renowned Guthrie Theater is continuing its annual tradition of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Check the website for more information and showtimes. (8.3 miles from the B&B.)

European Christmas Market

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“The European Christmas Market in St. Paul is based on the traditional, charming, and festive open air Christkindlmarkts that spring up in Germany, Austria and other countries during the Advent season. Shop for unique, handmade holiday gifts and decorations from local vendors, drink Glühwein (spiced mulled wine), and taste European inspired food and delicacies during the first two weekends in December:

Friday, December 4: 2 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Saturday, December 5: 10 am – 9 p.m.
Sunday, December 6: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Friday, December 11: 2 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Saturday, December 12: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sunday, December 13: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.”

At Union Depot downtown St. Paul. (2.3 miles from the B&B.)

Christmas Concerts

Holiday Concert 2012 2
A listing of Christmas concerts happening all over the city.

Holiday Events from the St. Paul Pioneer Press

Zoo-Lights
A listing of events happening in the Twin Cities in December, many of them holiday themed.

 

A Highly Walkable Oasis of a Neighborhood

“We’re in the Ramsey Hill Historic District, a quiet and highly walkable oasis of beautiful old homes [and] gardens.”

We brag about our neighborhood, the Ramsey Hill Historic District, quite a bit here at the Cathedral Hill B&B. The above is a quote from our website, and today we’d like to show you some pictures that we think prove our claim.

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This is the corner of Holly and Mackubin, facing the block the B&B is on.

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A little further on you can see the B&B on the right, with the grand white porch.

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And this is across the street. Lots of beautiful trees with fall color, even on a gray day. And beautiful houses.

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This is the end of our block at Holly and Arundel. Posh condos on the right, and a really lovely example of a painted lady on the left. This house has windows that actually curve with the rounded bay window, and has diamond-paned windows that sparkle like anything in the sun.

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The next few photos are at the intersection of Portland, Western, and Summit Avenues, three blocks from the B&B. This corner features beautifully restored houses,

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and Nathan Hale Park, which has a skating rink and a spectacular light display in winter, thanks to the neighborhood association.

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Summit Avenue, marking the edge of the part of the city that’s oriented to the river instead of the cardinal directions, follows the bluff for a stunning view of the river and downtown.

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It was, and is again, the domain of the rich and famous of St. Paul, featuring the really grand houses, making up the longest continuous stretch of original Victorian housing in the US. And it’s only three blocks from the B&B. The dome you see peeking up there belongs to the Cathedral of St. Paul.

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It also has wide sidewalks and great trees,

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which offer plenty of shade in the summer and color in the fall.

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Not to mention fabulous leaf crunching opportunities.

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At Summit and Mackubin is a brick beauty, that was painted white when we moved into the neighborhood in 1978. Who knows what the owners were thinking?

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A block the other direction from the B&B is Ashland Ave.

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I think this color pops more because of the gray, not in spite of it.

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Gorgeous.

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A couple of blocks further north is Selby Avenue, once the place to eat, shop, and be seen, with its restaurants, shops,

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and stately Victorian commercial architecture. This building at Western Street, Blair Arcade, was once a residential hotel, The Angus, and somehow survived the urban renewal craze. It’s now condos, with a coffee shop, bookshop, restaurant, and salon among its commercial tenants.

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And finally, a further three blocks east, is Nina Street, one of the last brick-paved streets in the city.

I hope you enjoyed your walking tour. Come visit us and experience the neighborhood!

Published in: on October 31, 2015 at 10:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Kitchen of Our Dreams

In last month’s post about the B&B’s innovative floor washing system, you may have noticed some features unusual for a residential kitchen designed and remodeled just after 1980.

Cooking Area

Like, what’s with the (over?) abundance of appliances?

Well, when we bought this house in 1978, we had five kids, and weren’t ruling out the possibility of a couple more (which happened), and the burnt orange kitchen (with a pantry that took up way too much room) we inherited just wasn’t going to cut it. So Bill (who trained as an engineer) got out his drafting pencils (this was 1980, after all) and designed the kitchen of his dreams, based on logic and reason as well as aesthetics. He wanted it to be beautiful, but above all, it had to be functional. So, he started by figuring out how many meals would be prepared and eaten in that kitchen before he and Katy suffered(?) empty nest syndrome, and came up with 186,000.

Wow.

He figured with a family of 9, 2 stoves, 2 dishwashers and 2 sinks was only practical for a couple of reasons. First, when one inevitably broke down there was a backup (“no washing dishes in bathtubs,” as he says), and second, a larger family needs larger capacity. The two stoves, for instance have been a real blessing on holidays; we don’t have to worry about staging in the ovens and can bake at two different temperatures at the same time. And we get together as a family of 25 or so every Monday night, so two dishwashers are a real help.

He also included a trash compactor, so we wouldn’t be taking the garbage out daily. Given 2 stoves, he built a serious vent hood. The fan is powered by a 3/4 horsepower washing machine motor with 3 speeds built in and has a powered vent on the outside of the house. It’s loud, but really effective, and you don’t have to worry about a draft in the winter.

East Wall

There’s plenty of counter space. The peninsula offers a large stretch of unbroken counter with nothing over it, and accessible outlets on the back. There are flood lights in can fixtures over it for great lighting, and the undermounted sink has a garbage disposal so you can scrape scraps right into it.

Big Sink - Baby Bathing

Katy wanted a sink big enough to bathe two grandbabies in at a time, and that’s what she got.

South Wall

You’ll notice the microwave, next to the door in this picture, has a large surround. Bill bought Katy a $600 microwave before he started remodeling the kitchen, and it was originally mounted there. In the last 35 years microwaves have gotten significantly smaller (and cheaper!), so he put in a frame to support the smaller microwave within its larger space.

Storage is another must in a kitchen. There are 4 rows of storage (all custom-built) on this wall. The cabinets under the ceiling are the soffets and store things that just don’t come out that often, like holiday dishes. Next are relatively standard upper cabinets, but with hidden hinges and fully adjustable shelves. (Bill made the middle upper cabinet on this wall as a dumbwaiter to the second floor where the laundry room is, but after everyone moved out changed it into a regular cabinet.) Next, at counter level, is the original toaster garage, liquor cabinet, meat slicer, and another cabinet. Under the counter is all wide, fully opening drawers with metal slides that hold 100 pounds. There are only three cabinets at this level in the entire kitchen:  under the sinks, and one for large cutting boards and cookie sheets, etc to stand on edge.

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The rest are (custom-built) drawers of varying depth

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and configuration depending on what Bill thought might go in them.

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This one is up above, I know, but look how deep it is, and it goes all the way back!

Another thing important to a kitchen is adequate lighting and power.

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These are the switches by the back door, including outdoor lights and basement lights.

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This is by the door into the kitchen from the front of the house. It controls task and ambient lighting at different levels, the sconces in the eating area, and the winch for the floor washing system. Everything is dimmable, and everything is controlled from this one panel. At its brightest, you could probably do surgery on the peninsula, if you were so inclined. (We discourage guests from doing surgery in our kitchen, btw.) 🙂

The power outlets are similarly available, both on the walls, under the upper cabinets, and in the cabinets where appropriate, such as the toaster garage and the meat slicer cabinet.

Eating Area

The peninsula also acts as a divider between the working and eating areas of the kitchen. The working area is clean surfaces, white appliances, a classic blue and white color scheme, and very modern. The eating area is all warm woods and sconce lighting, reflecting the style of our historic Victorian home.

Loft

However, it’s not all traditional. Bill wanted to use every inch of space, so he cut off the top of the cavernous stairway to the basement, and made it into a play loft for kids.

Loft Stairs

It has its own lighting and stairs, and is a place for kids to be under supervision without being under foot. And it’s definitely kid-sized. The grandchildren have as much fun up there as the kids did.

And Bill used the space under the loft’s stairs for a set of drawers. Did I mention he wanted to use every inch of space?

Table - Seatbelts

This last picture hearkens back to the floor washing system blog entry again. Here’s how the seatbelts that hang the table from the ceiling look at their under-table attachment point. In case you were curious.

So that’s are kitchen. If a lot of this looks familiar, take a look at the current trends in kitchen design, and you’ll see that Bill was way ahead of his time. The extensive use of oversized drawers, the lighting, having more than four burners, the clean lines, extra storage, all of these are things that people want in kitchens now. And I can see why; they make the B&B’s kitchen a delight to use.

This kitchen was two years in the making, and worth every minute.

Published in: on October 31, 2015 at 8:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Yard (And House) Beautiful

We’ve completed the final phase of the outside renovation of the B&B – landscaping.

Last autumn ended with a newly elegant house on a bare patch of ground, soon hidden by the grace of winter. No one expects much landscaping in a Minnesota January.

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This spring, we first finished the last details on the house, including completing the lattice under the porch and reinstalling the original porch light fixture.

Then we started creating an outdoor setting that would complement our gracious B&B. As the backyard remained untouched through the renovation process, our efforts focused mostly on the front yard, with some attention paid to the side yards, as well.

The first step was cleaning up and grading the front yard. This included a lovely new layer of top soil to welcome the soon-to-be-arriving sod.

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We also put in a stepped retaining wall, with room for a planting bed, thus eliminating the hill down to the sidewalk.

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We used Chilton Wall Stone both for its shape and its natural varied coloration. It definitely adds pizzazz, don’t you think?

We also put stone borders around the porch, leaving room for a gravel bed (3/4 gray trap),

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lined the new herringbone walk, which now matches the width of our grand porch steps,

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and created two interesting, if small, planting beds designed to visually ease the transition between the differing widths of the walk and the cement stairs down to the sidewalk, and play with the fact that those stairs are off-center to the walk. They are, however, aligned with the walk to the street, which in itself is visually off-kilter due to the extra concrete pad designed to make alighting from vehicles less messy due to snow and mud. The visual geometry’s a little complex.

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Here we are with the stone in, the sod laid, and the boulevard seeded.

Next, the plants!

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We planted tuberous begonias alternating with hostas in the retaining wall bed and just hostas around the tree,

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astible in the little beds next to the stairs,

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and hydrangeas in the side yard.

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Beautiful grounds

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for a beautiful house.

Published in: on October 1, 2015 at 6:46 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Porch of our Dreams

Cathedral Hill Bed & Breakfast is as beautiful outside as it is inside, with many charming and comfortable places to relax and congregate.

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Put our grand new porch to good use as a scenic spot for a little R&R.

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Behold, our new porch furniture, that not only gracefully complements the style of house, but is also really comfortable.

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While away the afternoon chatting or reading with a glass of something cold.

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The B&B’s wifi is easily accessible.

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And the views can’t be beat. Whether it’s the historic details of the porch itself,

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encouraging you to imagine you’re back in 1897 on the original newly constructed porch surrounded by potted palms,

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or taking in the area’s Victorian architecture,

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and lush greenery. Sit and watch the neighborhood go by, seeing and being seen.

Our front porch is one of the new amenities we’re proud to offer our guests.

Congratulations! It’s Victorian!

So, let’s review.

488 in c.1930s

Here’s the house in about 1942. Our goal and inspiration for change…

488 from the outside, C. 2003, probably taken by Katy Gray

…from this. The legacy of mid-century modernistic tendencies (i.e. clean lines), practicality (because that never-have-to-paint siding really is much more practical than wood), and budget. None of which aesthetically serve a 1896 Victorian built by a banker wanting as gracious a home as his substantial wealth would allow. Our lovingly playing catch-up with that aesthetic service brings us to (drumroll please)…

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…this. Not bad. Pretty darn spectacular, in fact, if we do say so ourselves. Hardly recognizable as the same house.

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No matter what angle…

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…you view it from, the transformation is astounding,…

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…the results elegant, gracious, and welcoming,…

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…and already offering new places to congregate or step away from the crowd.

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Our home feels like a Victorian mansion from the outside as well as the inside, finally,…

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…and it wears its vividly historic colors proudly, from up the block…

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and down.

I think the banker would be pleased. I know we sure are.

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 7:40 am  Comments (2)  
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Tying Up the Loose Ends

We’re at the point of cleaning up some final details.

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We created replica lattice for the bottom of the porch. The original idea was to clean up some original we found, but it would have been prohibitively expensive.

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We finished up the faux stone paint treatment on the foundation of the house.

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The front door trim has been created…

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…and painted, giving the front door surround a substantial and clean look. Especially as it’s contrasted by the naturally finished original oak door.

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A new house number display and a painted and rehung mailbox finish off the entry. (The wreath, while fetching, is not part of the holiday decorating plans. The letter carrier would not be happy as the mailbox opens from the top.)

The last big project is a new roof for the house, which, while not adding to the aesthetic, does have the benefit of keeping out the weather. And then we just keep working away at the last small details until the project is finished. At least for this round. You know what they say about historic houses….

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 6:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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