House Raising in
New Plymouth 1930s
Because it was so common for houses to burn in New Plymouth or other communities in early 1900s; barn raisings or house raisings were common. Because most family’s social life revolved around a church, the members of that congregation would provide the leadership, organization, most of the labor and even the materials. However, close friends, neighbors, and folks that traded work with the family also pitched in. We all knew each other, so it was never a problem. You notice the number on the roof shingling — a like number is probably on the other side doing the same. And, the ones not on the roof will be organizing materials, cutting lumber, or getting needed materials from a store — or even inside the house putting in flooring, or whatever. You often saw fifty or more folks all working together. What you do not see in this photo are the women. Any time you had this sort of work, then the women were also there, providing food and water, getting whatever supplies needed to be arranged.
A house this size, pretty standard in those years, could easily go up in a day (provided the materials were available) especially in winter when most farmers were not busy with crops. Farmers were so often trading or working with others, there were always natural leaders or someone would assume supervisor roles, who stepped up, and everyone was so used to working as a group, there would be a natural rhythm and organization.
This house had a chimney, usually the chimneys would survive a fire just fine. So the new house was simply re-built around them.
It was common in our area also, when someone had a stroke or heart attack, or some other serious ailment, for the same folks to work his farm, milk his cows, etc., dividing up the labor. That could be a day, a week, a month, or even longer. Many times I have helped put in a crop, or done someone’s chores for them, although most farmers wives or children might be able to take care of things themselves. One year the man helped was out an entire year with a heart attack he had barely survived. We put in, raised and harvested his entire farm’s crops. He recovered enough to do it himself the following year.
We were proud of our abilities to take care of ourselves.
New Plymouth houses were usually plain. Fancy cupola and wainscotting, as well as fancy cut shingles were uncommon. Poor farmers would be aghast at the wastage in such fancy cuts — but they are simple and cheap for mass production.
For a time– perhaps 30-40 years, 1890-1930s, you could buy different styles of houses pre-cut lumber– put-it- together-yourself (some assembly required in today’s parlance) from catalogs. There were a number of suppliers from around Michigan/Minnesota area where they had large forests — where Weyerhaeuser got his start ~1900. Sears did it for many years. In fact a close friend in Jordan, MT (which is the back of way beyond boonies), lives in one — and she showed me the catalog. She said many folks in MT, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri had these catalog houses.
These were popular in plains states where there were no local lumber yards — nor forests. To build a house one would have to order lumber from far off. So a pre-cut house made lots of sense and could be bought for same price the bare lumber would cost — so were a no-brainer—simply shipped cheaply via railroad.
Also, such places not being hot-beds of construction would have no carpenters. These houses are far beyond most carpenter skills let alone simple farmers. I know because one of “hats” I wore during my life was developing, building hundreds of houses in many states. Most of these I designed myself. I can assure you that it is no easy task.
Such pre-cut houses were much more fancy than simple plains folks could produce. Folks who are not carpenters, do not realize how difficult it might be for someone on the frontier to make all the gingerbread and other specialty lumber on houses.
I can tell you that it takes an architectural “eye” needed to conceive of the nooks and crannies melded into the whole. The Greeks and early builders conceived of the “golden numbers” — that must be observed if things are to “look right.” You see in EU cathedrals this brought to high level. That is not so important in a one room 2 x 4 shack so common in PayetteValley.
Making the components for pre-fab is simple to do today because we have such a huge industry where making a turning, or specialty sculpted molding is readily and cheaply available thru catalogs and made cheaply with industrial level machinery. This is the reason why mobile homes are so much cheaper than regular construction housing.
The “prefab” houses used in early PayetteValley have been modified mercilessly over the years. Becoming completely unrecognizable to earlier viewers. As different folks occupied them and as they have succumbed to wear, tear, and the weather–the change is huge. Most of the modifications or repairs have been done by handy-man types who really do not have the skills or desire to do anything in keeping with the originals. To the point that today, they are unrecognizable for what they began. Many have been rented for many years after the original owners died. Renters are legendary for using and abusing what is not theirs.