Love and lilacs; Living history revealed in the Skinner House
Their list of artifacts is long: rafters’ cleats (used horse shoes that secured raft logs together), hand-carved wooden goblets, old coins and pipes, handmade nails, and a plain, marble grave marker that bears the initials D.S. The Skinners were originally buried in a neighboring cemetery that was largely washed away by an 1880s flood, so it’s possible that the marker was for Daniel Skinner himself. They have also found a German bisque doll leg, circa 1890, and pennies that date back to 1826 and 1849. During renovation, they found that their walls were lined with old newspapers and product packaging, revealing details about prior renovations and bearing logos that could be conceptual predecessors to 20th-century icons like Campbell’s soup, Camel’s cigarettes and other brands.
Their biggest discovery remains unproven. Their house was rumored to have a secret room. When renovating their master bedroom they found a hidden entranceway (down in a scuttle hole in a closet’s back wall) that lead to an area of their attic floor that was heavily reinforced and large enough to fit 10 people. Along with being an artist, Gina has served as a substitute teacher for many years and thus taught about how Harriet Tubman led slaves from safe-house to safe-house following the river on the Underground Railroad. Numerous homes in the area have similar secret rooms, and, while they have no documentation, the Kaufmanns believe that theirs was a stop along the route.
The house breathed a sigh of relief – loved again
When they moved in, the house had been vacant for 18 years. Along with being a corrections officer, Tom has a local business doing home repairs and property management, so he brought his professional knowledge home. “Exposing the innards and then repairing it, has made us a part of the structure,” says Tom. “We have really enjoyed the process; not just of renovation but of rejuvenation.”
Once, when painting the living room, the colors pink and green came to Gina, who later learned that indeed the room previously had those very same colors. As she puts it, working on the house is, “uncovering a mystery, like Nancy Drew. As we uncovered things it would tell us more of its history and needs. Our original plans might have been not to have this bathroom here, or that door open there, but we learned as we went and adjusted accordingly.”