A solid old house for $25,000

The Old House Web
Text and Photos by Rosemary Thornton

littles house
The "Gladstone" Sears Kit Home of Brad and Jolene Little. Front door moved to the right in recent remodeling. The Littles paid $25,000 for the house and invested that much in improvements.

Price and location were the selling points for Carlinville, Illinois natives Jolene and Brad Little, who paid $25,000 for their home at 1120 University Street in 1991.

The house lots in the village, just 40 x 140 feet, can create a hemmed in feeling. But the houses on University Street face the wide open soccer fields across the street at Blackburn College.

Jolene Little
Jolene Little in her kitchen

"My mom lives next door," says Jolene Little explaining the other reason why the location on University was so appealing, "and a few months after she'd moved in, this house went up for sale and we couldn't pass up a solid old house for $25,000. The house was in good condition and we moved right in."

Their house, "The Gladstone" is just under 1,200 square feet of living area and is a cozy fit for their family of four, with two boys, ages 11 and 14.

"I have heard about families who've raised five and six kids in these houses," Jolene Little says, "so I shouldn't complain. You just have to learn how to use every square inch."

They've invested about $25,000 in repairs and improvements and estimate its current value at around $70,000.

They've replaced the original windows and the original gravity fed coal furnace, which had been converted to gas. Central air was installed at the same time, but serves primarily the first floor.

When built, the houses did not have ductwork on the second floor. A single "pass through" grate, basically a 12" square hole between the two floors, was the only conveyance for moving heat from downstairs to upstairs.

In the Littles' home, this grate is now connected to a duct and serves as the solitary upstairs register for heat and air. A window air conditioner in a hallway window cools the upstairs, but Jolene admits it gets a little chilly upstairs in the wintertime.

The remodeled bathroom

Although not as fancy as some of the Sears Kit homes, the Littles' home features original hardware, like this upstairs closet doorknob.

An original hinge

panel door
Refinished pine five panel door in upstairs bedroom.

living room
Living room in Littles' "Gladstone" and enclosed staircase.

living & dining room
View of living and dining room, with front door. Originally, front door opened into living room, but was later moved into dining room.

living room
The living room. Plate rail over the windows was added in recent remodeling.

dining room
View of dining room and kitchen.

(Click on pictures for larger view.)

The Littles also did extensive remodeling in the kitchen and bath, updated the electrical service and redid much of the plumbing. Vinyl siding was installed over the green asbestos tiles, which probably covered the original cypress clapboards. They also replaced the roof and added insulation to the exterior walls.

Downstairs, they moved interior walls that separate the living room, dining room and kitchen to create more open space. The wall between the kitchen and dining room was replaced with a half wall. The front door was moved from the left side of the front porch to the right, and now leads directly into the dining room.

A door to the basement was moved from the kitchen to the living room, creating more wall space in the kitchen and making for an easier access to the lower level, with its half bath.

In the far corner of the living room is the enclosed staircase with a landing and a 90-degree turn at the halfway point. There is no balustrade or newel post, only simple handrails mounted on the left wall.

Upstairs, an extremely narrow hallway leads to the three bedrooms, which measure 9 x 9, 9 x 12, and 10 x 13. Bookcases and shelves were installed to hold the children's electronics and toys. The closets are typically small for an old house. And with wide windows and doors, wall space is at a premium.

master bed
The master bedroom, measuring 13'1" x 10'10".

upstairs bed
Upstairs bedroom, measuring 9' x 12'.

smallest bed
The third, and smallest, bedroom, measuring 9'6" x 9'8".

under staircase
Underside of risers of second floor staircase are marked for "House 9B" when viewed from the basement.

The backyard, with patio and garden. Lot measures 40 x 140'.

trim detail
Trim detail

rear view
Rear view of the Littles' home.

front view
This front and side view shows where a second floor window was removed.

(Click on pictures for larger view.)

Most of the five panel doors in the upstairs rooms still retain their original finish. The aged yellow pine, coated with shellac 82 years ago, now glows with a deep red patina. The floors are 3" plank pine floors that show some wear and depression in high traffic areas, but are in very good condition.

The Littles gutted the bathroom and re-tiled the walls and floor. New fixtures, a tub, toilet and sink were installed at that time.

Every now and then, the Littles consider buying a larger home, but they plan to stay put for now.

"I've really enjoyed my house and partly because of the interest in it," Jolene Little says.

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