Re-Storying A House

Sunday, December 9th, 2018

When I first saw my Cody place, the classic mid-Century modern had clearly gone through some hard times. The signs of neglect were obvious and numerous: roof shingles curled and broken, the carport added to the front entry sagging, once magnificent windows filmed with age and dirt, piles of stained mattresses and filthy insulation in the garage, the antique boiler laboring to keep the house warm, the three bathrooms with two working sinks, one working toilet, and one dubious shower between them; the overgrown yard, a tangle of dead shrubs and dirt and trees growing too close together. 

The living room when I first saw it, and that was on a good day... 

It was a daunting project, no doubt about that. But I could see the promise in the place. What gave me pause--and also tugged at my heart--was what I can only describe as a sense of despair, as if the house and yard had given up. 

So of course I had to buy it. I believe in healing and restoration--of houses, land, people. I could see that the place had a lot more years ahead if someone would only take a chance on bringing it back to life. 

Which I've spent the last two years doing, with the help of some talented trades-folk, most especially my contractor, Jeff Durham. The house and yard are renewed from roof to basement, and from front to back and side to side. The place shines and sparkles and sings again.

The backyard before

The backyard now, after tree-trimming and removal, meadow-seeding, and many sweaty hours hauling gravel and rock... 

Now that it's finished, I wanted to know if the place needed anything else from me before I head south. So I asked a new friend, an energy worker and healer in various modalities, to "read" my house. What Kim learned motivated me to do something I've intended to do all along, but haven't found the time for until now: research the house's story, at least as far as learning who owned it over the years. All I knew was that the house was built in 1956, and that there had been only two long-term owners. 

What I discovered from the county records, the history archives at the library, and from friends and neighbors was fascinating. I am only the seventh owner of this house and, oddly, the third widow. 

For most of the sixty-two years since the house was built, it was occupied by just two sets of owners: first, and longest, Inez and George King, who bought the house in 1969, and lived here until 2003 (George died in 1981, but Inez seems to have happily stayed on for another 22 years until her death in 2003). That year, Patricia Baumhover and Howard Madaus bought the house from the King's children; they, or at least she, lived here until 2015. (Howard, a military historian and former curator of the Cody Arms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody's big museum complex, died in 2007. Patricia, a librarian at the Park County Library, lived here alone--but for her cats, according to the neighbors--for another eight years.)

The house might well be called the King House though, since the Kings were in residence for 33 years, just over half the lifespan of the house today. I searched the archives for a photo of Inez, and couldn't find one. (History tends to erase women unless they are famous.)

I did learn a good bit about the King family, who moved to Cody in 1946 and developed Wapiti Lodge, one of the older lodges on the North Fork Highway, the road to the East Entrance of Yellowstone. After George and Inez sold the lodge and retired in 1970, they moved to town, presumably to be closer to their kids and grandkids. (Their descendants still live in the area.)

Wapiti Lodge in 1948, in the early years when the Kings were developing the complex. 

When I read Inez's obituary, I was delighted to discover that she was a gardener who enjoyed "working in her yard [and] tending to her flowers." In renovating the house and yard, I did my best to preserve the heritage perennials I uncovered, including the huge patch of fragrant lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) in the back yard just outside the living room windows. I was careful to site the deck far enough away from the house that the patch wouldn't be disturbed. (My mom loved lily of the valley too.)

Lily of the valley from that big patch in the backyard

I also divided and spread the English iris (Iris latifolia cultivars) that I suspect Inez planted so they now bloom throughout the front yard, and did the same with the daylilies I found languishing in the shade along the east side of the house. And I planted peonies (Paeonia spp), another favorite garden flower of Inez's era, along with tall Asiatic lilies (Lilium hybrids). 

One of the patches of English iris I suspect Inez planted, blooming this spring after I dug up and divided the tubers to give them more space to flourish.

As I pack up to move south, I think about Inez and Patricia and the other women who have loved this house and yard, and hope they approve of all I've given this special place. And that the new owners--whoever they will be--will continue to fill this place with love and laughter and joy.