The Hidden Staircase

A meeting place for regulars to discuss the lighter side of old-houses.

Moderators: oldhouse, TinaB, Don M, Schag

The Hidden Staircase

Postby melissakd on Sat May 01, 2010 3:32 pm

In the 1890s, our house's second floor was extended over the kitchen, and a flight of servants' stairs was built leading from the kitchen to the second floor. As usual with back stairs, these were steep and narrow and included some wedge-shaped steps.

They got quite a bit of use, going by the marks on the original stairs, but just a few years later, these backstairs were rebuilt for greater convenience, or rather they were built over. A new staircase began just forward of where the old ones had on the second floor, and descended by easy stages until they ran out of room to run. So they paused for a landing under a window, then turned 180 degrees and proceeded down to the kitchen. As they reached the landing, they were compelled to use a wedge-shaped step or two, but the new stairs were still easier to climb up or down.

The original backstairs were walled in completely, beneath the newer stairs, leaving a dead space under the lower half of the new stairs, and nothing further was heard of the hidden stairs until our sainted PO Bob began gutting the kitchen for renovation.

It's incredibly hard to take a picture that shows any of this, let alone all, but I finally have got enough that I think it gets the idea across. I've left 'em big for the benefit of anyone who really wants to see the details.

First comes the newer set of stairs, still in use, as it appears today.
Image

From the top of the stairs today
Image
Last edited by melissakd on Sat May 01, 2010 4:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Image
The Thaddeus W. Bayless House
Built between July 1863 and January 1865, major add/reno between 1890 and 1902
Style = Mutt
melissakd
 
Posts: 3468
Joined: Sun Nov 11, 2007 4:29 pm
Location: Indiana

Re: The Hidden Staircase

Postby melissakd on Sat May 01, 2010 3:55 pm

Now we creep toward the cubbyhole under the new stairs.
Image

And look inside
Image

In this picture, the joists supporting the landing can be seen overhead
Image
Image
The Thaddeus W. Bayless House
Built between July 1863 and January 1865, major add/reno between 1890 and 1902
Style = Mutt
melissakd
 
Posts: 3468
Joined: Sun Nov 11, 2007 4:29 pm
Location: Indiana

Re: The Hidden Staircase

Postby melissakd on Sat May 01, 2010 4:08 pm

If I turn a bit to the right, we see some of the same junk (included in the photo as a point of reference. No, really) and the underside of the hundred-year-old 'new' stairs
Image
Image
The Thaddeus W. Bayless House
Built between July 1863 and January 1865, major add/reno between 1890 and 1902
Style = Mutt
melissakd
 
Posts: 3468
Joined: Sun Nov 11, 2007 4:29 pm
Location: Indiana

Re: The Hidden Staircase

Postby melissakd on Sat May 01, 2010 4:15 pm

In this shot of the original back stairs, you can see the scuff marks that show these stairs were used for a while in the 1890s.
Image

This is what the view would be if we were coming downstairs in those days, before the retrofit stairs were built.
Image
Image
The Thaddeus W. Bayless House
Built between July 1863 and January 1865, major add/reno between 1890 and 1902
Style = Mutt
melissakd
 
Posts: 3468
Joined: Sun Nov 11, 2007 4:29 pm
Location: Indiana

Re: The Hidden Staircase

Postby melissakd on Sat May 01, 2010 4:31 pm

Finally, here is a shot up the original stairs to where they meet the second floor. At the top of the picture, you can see the retrofit stairs beginning to descend.
Image

This is the place where my DH, poking about for possible long-hidden treasure, found what is still the best artifact we have uncovered in the whole house and yard: this pair of portraits on metal. They must have fallen through a crack in the upper stairs or floor. We think of them as being perhaps David and Jennie McClure, the owners from 1873 to 1900. The dress fits the period. If not, they may be the next owners, the Doubles, who were about the same age.

Image
Image
The Thaddeus W. Bayless House
Built between July 1863 and January 1865, major add/reno between 1890 and 1902
Style = Mutt
melissakd
 
Posts: 3468
Joined: Sun Nov 11, 2007 4:29 pm
Location: Indiana

Re: The Hidden Staircase

Postby S Melissa on Sat May 01, 2010 9:07 pm

That's quite cool - imagine traversing those steps in long skirts? OMG. Widower makers!! The pics are great - tin types I'd wager. How fun :D
Melissa
Canton, MI
1860 Italianate - Reuben Huston Home
Image
S Melissa
 
Posts: 6339
Joined: Fri Jun 30, 2006 6:15 pm
Location: Canton Michigan

Re: The Hidden Staircase

Postby s.kelly on Sun May 02, 2010 11:27 pm

That is all great,the old stairs,older stairs, and those great pictures. How lucky to have found those. Do you have them up somewhere?

What are you going to do with the stairs?

I am envious of any servant stairs at all, we looked at several places that had them, but none was the right fit. We ended up with a working class place,so no servants then, no servants now. I really always wanted to get a place with the second set, not even sure why, it is wasted space really, but such cool wasted space.
s.kelly
 
Posts: 652
Joined: Sat May 02, 2009 9:42 am

Re: The Hidden Staircase

Postby 1880 Stick Victorian on Mon May 03, 2010 8:40 am

those are really cool!! did you just discover them? the photographs are truly a lucky find...it would be neat to know if they were the first or second owners.... do the original stairs lead to the same spot as the stairs you currently use? they don't look like they were use a whole lot... :?:
Image
Theo. & Alice Fries House
Lyons, New York - 1880
1880 Stick Victorian
 
Posts: 833
Joined: Tue Jul 08, 2008 3:35 am
Location: Lyons, NY

Re: The Hidden Staircase

Postby melissakd on Mon May 03, 2010 1:28 pm

S. Kelly -- A second set of stairs is a fine asset in case the first set catches fire. :)

The McClures would have been the third owners of the house; the first died almost as soon as the house would have been completed, and the second sold it before the back half of the second floor was added, so there wouldn't have been any back stairs.

In this photo you can see the tintypes on our parlor mantel, along with the green and blue vases left by our sainted PO Bob, who chose the navy blue paint for this room. It's a sort of PO shrine.
Image
Image
The Thaddeus W. Bayless House
Built between July 1863 and January 1865, major add/reno between 1890 and 1902
Style = Mutt
melissakd
 
Posts: 3468
Joined: Sun Nov 11, 2007 4:29 pm
Location: Indiana

Re: The Hidden Staircase

Postby melissakd on Mon May 03, 2010 2:07 pm

Stick, if you look at the last photo I posted, you can see that the 'new' stairs begin maybe 18" forward of where the old stairs began.

There's an upstairs room whose door is just at the top of the stairs; it's hard to say after all the renovations, but it may originally have been a step down from that doorway onto the stairs, and then another step or so up to the main level of the second floor. It would have been quite awkward, though I have seen things like that in plan books of the period. (I mean the servant's bedroom opening onto a landing a couple of steps down from the rest of the second floor.)

I would have thought that the Double family, who bought the house from the McClure family in 1901, might redesign the stairs, but I found evidence that it already had been done: the news story about D.B. McClure's fall says that he chose the wrong door in the dark. But originally the doorways were at opposite ends of the stairwell. It was only after the retrofit that the cellar and second-floor stair entrances were side by side, as in the first photo I posted. (There is no longer a door on the stairs to the second floor.)

If that was true, the original backstairs were used for only nine years at the utmost. Stick's observation of only modest wear would fit with that to a nicety. We're not walling them in; they can be used as a storage cubbyhole by the tenant, which is nice because you can't store things in the cellar.

The house was bought by investors in 1980 and split into two large two-story units, one using the front stairs and the other using the back stairs. I believe the front unit, where I live, had 2 baths and 2 large bedrooms, an eat-in kitchen, parlor (mantel photo) and entry hall. The back unit, which my family has renovated (all other photos), had 3 bedrooms, bath, large eat-in kitchen and living room. Before the split, the house hosted boarders or extended family for most of its tenure, so I don't feel too awful (any more) about leaving it as a rental property.

I *do* feel lucky to have all this lovely mystery to sift through; nearly as much of one as Nancy Drew with her hidden staircase.

MKD
Image
The Thaddeus W. Bayless House
Built between July 1863 and January 1865, major add/reno between 1890 and 1902
Style = Mutt
melissakd
 
Posts: 3468
Joined: Sun Nov 11, 2007 4:29 pm
Location: Indiana

Next

Return to The Hangout Forum

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest