Back in 1890, two brothers left Chicago with their families and headed West to Sandpoint, Idaho to become hunters and fur traders. Once here, they realized there was more money to be made in timber work and contracting. Along with mining and orchard farming, that was their way of life for many years here in Sandpoint.
They started with log homes in the early 1890’s and then built their new homes later around 1898. One of the homes burned down, leaving the main house for the families to live in. They started an apple orchard, worked with timbers and bought a mine about 2 miles away from their property.
I found out last year that their homestead was sold to a company in California and was set to be demolished to make way for businesses. After using my sleuth skills (aka: Google), I tracked down the owner and made a deal to have the first rights to reclaim as much of the barn wood as we could.
We started on the barn first. The wood in there was gorgeous and well loved. We found planks as long as 14 feet with saw marks on them, and some beautiful beams. The best find was the barn doors! Most of them with their original hardware. Two of them with the mechanisms for sliding barn doors. We also found some very old chain link used as wire to separate stalls. I have never seen anything like this! It is heavy like wrought iron, but flexible and intricate. I’m sure this was used for something else decorative, but back then, I would assume they used what was laying around.
While the guys were working in the barn, my sister and I wandered the property. Over on the side of the property, buried deep in overgrown brush, was a little shed. At the time we didn’t know what this was. It was dirty and full of cobwebs, maybe a few mice. We saw hundreds of broken canning jars and assumed it was cold storage. We were looking at the low roof and noticed how perfect the planks were. We couldn’t tell right away because it was so dark, but they looked to be in excellent condition. This ended up being the holy grail! These planks were buried under a foot of old sawdust and once they were reclaimed, we had over 70 nine-foot boards, all about a foot wide. It took the guys over two weeks to get all of these boards. Keeping them in mint condition was key.
We had a short time to be on the property as others were waiting for us to finish so that they could come in and get their share. On close to our last day, a good friend of ours was there looking at the property with us. We were in the main house which had been remodeled back in 1935. Thankfully, he thought to pull off some of the cheap, lightweight paneling which was hiding ANOTHER great find…the original walls from 1898! Imagine my elation when I saw the square nails! Once they guys started removing the boards, we saw that most of the insulation was saw dust. In that saw dust we found treasures! An old tonic bottle from Chicago (the Elsasser’s hometown), a Gold Mining Map for Couer d’Alene, ID (just south of Sandpoint) and many other little trinkets.
In the kitchen we uncovered years worth of wallpaper. It was amazing to see it all, wondering what these walls could tell us. When I work with old wood, I’m often working in silence. I just like to feel what it has to tell me. That may sound silly to some…but I’d like to think the ladies of the Elsasser Homestead were with me as I oiled our new Grazing Boards. Now I get to share these stories as their hard work from many years ago finds its way into your homes.
From Idaho with Love,