The Writers' House
I think it is important to acknowledge the history around us. And I'm a bit of a nerd about it, so here goes...
I live in an 1899 Victorian in Kansas City, Missouri. And the way I found the house is rather unique. It is also, a true writer's house, and I'll explain why I call it that.
In late 2012, my husband sent me a link to this fabulous mansion in St. Joseph, Missouri. It was full of stained glass, and was priced at nearly half a million dollars. Oh, how I would have loved to own it! At the time, we were living in an 1,100 square foot tract house south of Kansas City. I had done the best I could to make the home and garden as beautiful as possible, but I simply couldn't change the fact that it was built in 1990, not 1890.
I've loved old homes as far back as I can remember. Perhaps it was my years growing up in San Francisco and seeing all of the fine Victorian homes. I loved them so. The twisty staircases, the towers of the Queen Anne, the rich colors of the Painted Ladies. I loved standing in them and imagining the generations who lived there before, when the wood was new and horses drew trolleys and men still panned for gold.
And I always wanted to live in one. No one could dissuade me from it.
"Old houses take time and money to fix up."
"But its money well spent. They will last another 100+ years with a little time and love invested in them!"
When the house in St. Joseph came up, there was no way we could even dream of owning it. But I wrote about that dream on my blog, The Deadly Nightshade (now defunct, unfortunately). And a reader saw it, and commented. I was sitting at my desk when the email came through. And it set me on the path, and in the home I now have.
She wrote something to the extent of, "Half a million is way too much to pay for a house. We are renovating an 1899 Victorian in Kansas City and will put it on the market for less than $100k."
I was intrigued.
I needed to talk to this woman. I needed to see this house.
I sent her an email back. No response.
I put on my detective hat after I realized that she had a blog as well. That it had pictures of this house she was renovating and that it had belonged to a man who had written several historical tomes about Jesse James and Billy the Kid.
Pretty soon I knew the man's name... Harold Dellinger. And not too long after that (okay, a couple of days) I thought to look him up in some court records since she had mentioned he had lost it to foreclosure. Bingo! I now had the address.
My husband came home from work and I said, "Come on, we're going to see a house at this address."
The three of us piled into the van and headed for the place. We exited the highway, my husband took one look at the neighborhood, and promptly locked the doors. A few minutes later, we were at the house and the owner's husband happened to be there, on the back deck, painting.
He had no idea who we were, but thought I was a friend of his wife's and let us in. The second I laid eyes on the built-in bookshelves in the library, that was it, I was sold. "Don't put it on the market," I said, "we'll buy it." My husband audibly choked, his eyes round in surprise and shock. He looked as if he was going to have a coronary.
That said, four months later, we moved in. It was one of the best decisions we could have made. We now own three houses, all in a row. One has already been renovated and turned into a short-term rental, the other is currently underway, and we have another short-term rental, a 1956 Flying Cloud Airstream located in our large, shared yard. You can learn more about The Cottages short-term rentals by clicking on the link.
I found the original advertisement for it that was posted by the builder. I also found census records for Louise Abney, whose family was the original owners. She was age two in the 1900 census. Also, death records for her mother and grandmother. Combing through old newspaper records I found so many amazing things. The rooms upstairs were let out as individual apartments, likely four, possibly five of them, while Louise lived downstairs.
Louise grew up, became a teacher and a public speaker on the subject of proper speech. Several of her speech excerpts were used in local school primers and I have dutifully collected them and they occupy a special shelf in our home library. She lived here for most of her life. She sold the property in August 1979 for $15,000 and passed away in the spring of 1980. Harold Dellinger, who I met and spoke two several times before he passed away a few years ago, described her as a woman "belonging to another time and place." I think that, in those last few years, as the neighborhood declined, she was more and more isolated living in this house all by herself. She never married. Also, according to Harold, she had been engaged once, but her fiance died. They had planned to buy the house next door to the east (now long demolished).
I don't know anything about the person she sold it to, but he only owned it for approximately eighteen months before selling it to Harold Dellinger, who ended up living here for over 30 years before losing it to foreclosure in or around 2008. And as I mentioned earlier, Harold wrote a couple of non-fiction histories on Jesse James and Billy the Kid. He also wrote a neighborhood guidebook and was the one who installed the floor to ceiling bookshelves in the large southeast double bedroom on the second floor. I have collected these books as well.
His neighbors bought the house and Harold stayed as a renter for several years before finances forced him to move. They renovated the house further and were just putting the finishing touches on it when I came along. So, of the five owners this house has had, three of which are known to have lived here, all three have been writers.
Call it karma, call it fate, but I believe I was meant to be here. And now you know why I call it the writers' house!
Since we have been here, I have written, or finished writing, all but the first three of my books here in these walls, with plans for dozens more. My eldest daughter also wrote one book, and fleshed out several more, while living here for 18 months in 2015-2016. My father, who has also penned a sci-fi book, has his book featured on my special Writers House bookshelf. He didn't write it here, but he did live here for two years before it became necessary to place him in a nursing home, so I figure that counts.
We purchased Cottage West, at the far west end of the property in 2014 for $25. You can read more about that story here. We purchased Cottage East, at the far east end of our property in 2017 for $2,000. We've fixed up Cottage West, and hope to see Cottage East fixed up soon, within the next two years. Both will serve as rental properties.
I hope you have enjoyed the story, and the pictures, of The Writers House!