Friday, June 4, 2010

Flora Herndon’s New Home

Today’s news is that we had a small ceremony this afternoon here in the Munichburg neighborhood of Jefferson City: We got a new neighbor!

Today, River City Habitat for Humanity had its dedication ceremony for the group’s latest “local build,” at 801 Broadway. I mentioned this project before.

This is not the “usual” kind of Habitat for Humanity house, and we’re so glad for it. Instead of the blah, modest, drab, new little homes they’re, well, kinda notorious for, this time Habitat renovated an existing, and quite historic, structure. Even though it’s still pretty modest.

I really hope they see this as a success, because I really do believe that a great many older homes—like this one of stone and brick—have more going for them than newer frame constructions. They’re just more solid. Not to mention their charm and historic character.

So hooray! This project was completed with the hard volunteer labor and generous financial contributions from a number of local groups: the Carpenters’ Union Local 945, the Central United Church of Christ (which is just up the hill), the Old Munichburg Association, and, of course, River City Habitat for Humanity.

The building they rehabbed was in sad shape, like so many of them are here in Munichburg, where sturdy homes are rented out repeatedly but are never appropriately maintained. I wish I had a “before” picture to share with you. (Hint: if one of my readers has a “before” picture, I would love to post it—giving appropriate credit to the photographer, of course!)

At the short dedication ceremony, Walter Schroeder, the president of the Old Munichburg Association (yes, and he’s my dad, too), gave a brief history of the house and its various occupants over the years.

Probably the most colorful part of its history was as a local outlet for fresh produce. In the thirties and forties, the Knabel family sold great quantities of cabbage, green beans, peaches, and tomatoes to the neighborhood women, who were accustomed to buying in bulk and “putting up” these vegetables. (Spiced peaches! Home-canned tomatoes!)

As Schroeder talked, I pictured the front porch of this house covered with bushels and crates of green beans, peaches, and tomatoes, and big heads of green cabbage. Maybe red, too.

Schroeder told the gathering that he grew up only a few blocks away, and that his family didn’t have a car during those years, so he and his brothers would be sent to fetch vegetables at the Knabel grocery with their red wagon. (There’s another picture, huh?)

There is more—for instance, the entire south part of the house, an add-on to the original little building, was constructed in the early 1900s using stone salvaged from the old Missouri State Capitol building, which burned in 1911. People were encouraged to pick up the stone for free, because it saved the state from having to pay to have it removed from the site. (Thus, there are a whole lot of old homes here in the center of town that incorporate that limestone from the old capitol.)

So the rehab was intensive. Again, I wish I had some “before” pictures for you. Suffice it to say, they had some real challenges in finishing the upstairs rooms, with the slope of the roof, dormers, and the width of the stone walls in creating the window openings. They had to get really creative to make functional space out of some of it.

Indeed, they entirely got rid of the old staircase—which was too steep to be up to code—and added a staircase on the back of the house, enclosing it as a new addition.

Inside, you can see the old stone exterior wall as you ascend the staircase. A window from a second-floor bedroom “opens” out to this stairwell. But instead of being “weird,” this is actually pretty cool.

So today there was a brief open house, then a short ceremony. Frank Newell, the president of River City Habitat for Humanity, spoke first. Flora Herndon, the recipient of this house, looked on, all the while holding on to a single white balloon.

Then Schroeder gave his brief history (you know he could have talked more, but he valiantly kept it reasonably short!), and then Rev. Steve Buchholz of Central United Church of Christ led the group in a short prayer of blessing.

Then, Marlene Medin of Habitat for Humanity presented Mrs. Herndon with the keys to the house, as well as the “owner’s manual”—a copy of the Bible.

And then it was Flora Herndon’s opportunity to speak. She thanked everyone for their generous contributions to the project, and expressed the joy she has upon being able to live in this home. She invited her daughter to come and stand by her. Her daughter, she said, also lives in a Habitat home.

She concluded her remarks by announcing that she would like to dedicate this home to her oldest daughter—she didn’t say anything more about her, other than her name, so I don’t know the story—and at that, she opened her hand and let go of the white balloon. It was an emotional moment as it sailed up into the sky.

And that was the end of the ceremony—all that was left was to take pictures of the Herndon family in front of their new home!

Welcome to Old Munichburg, Mrs. Herndon!

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