By Brian D. Coleman | Photos by William Wright
A country doctor named Rufus Ward, with “blue eyes, neatly combed hair, and a frail constitution,” in 1855 purchased a two-story, double-pen brick home for his rural practice in southern Indiana. The vernacular country farmhouse was built in 1840 of local materials: limestone for the foundation, local brick for walls, common poplar for mantels and trim. The house is rumored to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad; the Wards were vocal abolitionists. When Rufus Ward passed away in 1861, his wife, Clementine, remarried, but the farmhouse remained in the family for more than a century.
Their son, Thomas Jefferson Ward, and his wife, Addie, lived in the farmhouse for their entire lives. They modestly updated the place, adding a Victorian front porch with decorative wood balustrades, and a kitchen/keeping room at the rear. Old windows got new six-over-six sash. But original details were kept, and today the house still has a finely carved poplar mantel in the front parlor, beaded trim, and wide-plank floors. Thomas Ward’s daughter Haidee was married here in 1927 and lived in the house for another 50 years. She maintained it well, making few alterations besides the introduction of electricity and indoor plumbing in the 1920s.
It was from Haidee that Linda and Phil Stafford purchased the house 1978. Haidee even left a few pieces of furniture, which have been conserved, including a cherry corner cabinet in the parlor. (A hot-water pipe runs through it!) The sound house needed only cosmetic work, so Phil and Linda spent a decade of weekends stripping wallpaper, plastering, and repainting. Inspired by the historic Bump Tavern at Cooperstown, New York, Linda tried her hand at stenciling a decorative border on the parlor floor. To keep the house simple and provide a backdrop for their growing collection of antiques, the couple painted walls Sears’ ‘White’ and used a medium brown called ‘Pearwood’ from Old Village Paints on trim.
Painting your early home? Read more about choosing historic interior paint colors.
The couple’s love of old things dates to both their childhoods. Phil grew up in an 1850s German farmhouse not far away; some of Linda’s fondest memories are of family vacations taken at historic sites, including Civil War battlefields. They furnished the house with a combination of family pieces (the cherry rope bed, a curly-maple rocker in the library, a mid-19th-century oak cupboard that stores quilts), along with country antiques they have added over the years. After seeing tealeaf ironstone displayed at Lincoln’s home in Springfield, they took to collecting it, as well as other ceramics: salt-glazed jugs, pale yellow-ware mixing bowls, earthen redware platters. The period rooms are warm with an old sugar chest and breakfront, simple candle tables of mahogany, and early drawings by Indiana artists.
The couple extended the house in 1990, adding a second story over the dining room and kitchen. The footprint is the same, and the new second level has a master bedroom, a den, and two needed baths (which introduced the very first shower to the house). The knob-and-tube wiring was finally updated, and a new HVAC system installed. The addition was built with salvaged materials, including bricks that came from an old jailhouse. They discovered usable old doors in the barn, including the original back door, still with claw marks from a farm dog trying to come in.
Another discreet addition went up in 2008, for a family room and garage; it’s capped with an old cupola and weathervane. These rooms were designed for accessibility, given the couple’s desire to stay in the house as they get older. Phil laid a brick path to the door of the addition, setting the herringbone pattern himself: “a backbreaking experience.”
Phil, a cultural anthropologist at Indiana University, used his own experience when writing his book Elderburbia: Aging with a Sense of Place in America (Praeger, 2009). In a fast-paced time of constant change, stewardship of an old house can be reassuring, and provide a sense of place and belonging.
Published in: Early Homes Spring/Summer 2011