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Dining Room Renovation Surprise

Only two rooms in our 1894 house still have plaster and lath walls. Soon, only one room will have plaster and lath because we are renovating the dining room.

The plaster in our dining room was cracked, buckled, and coming away from the walls in a couple different areas. As we ready the house for sale, this had to be fixed. Also, the room needs insulation and new wiring.

We emptied the room of furniture a couple of weeks ago and Hubby removed the trim from around the doors and windows.

We were hoping to save the trim to reuse, but pieces of it splintered while it was being removed, so that’s a no-go in terms of trim cohesion and our energy.

Stack of trim leaning against a wall of the dining room, from where it was removed. April 2022.
Stack of trim leaning against a wall of the dining room, from where it was removed. April 2022.

We’ll see if there’s a way we can donate some of it, but that may be iffy because we are sure it has lead paint in the many, many layers of paint on the wood. I mean, jeez, the house is over 100 years old. How could there NOT be lead paint?

While Erik was removing the trim, he found a little surprise. It was a letter dated 1938 from someone named Helen to Mr. and Mrs. K. H. Elvig. That would have been Knut Elvig and his wife. Knut built our house. I don’t know who Helen was in relation to Knut, though the greeting says, “Dear Folks,” so perhaps she was a daughter.

Here is the envelope and letter:

Envelope addressed to Mr. & Mrs. K. H. Elvig, postmarked August 3, 1938, found behind the trim in the dining room of the house in April 2022.
Envelope addressed to Mr. & Mrs. K. H. Elvig, postmarked August 3, 1938, found behind the trim in the dining room of the house in April 2022.
Page 1 of the letter from Helen to Mr. & Mrs. K. H. Elvig, dated August 2, 1938 from Redwood Falls, MN.
Page 1 of the letter from Helen to Mr. & Mrs. K. H. Elvig, dated August 2, 1938 from Redwood Falls, MN.
Page 2 of the letter from Helen to Mr. & Mrs. K. H. Elvig, dated August 2, 1938 from Redwood Falls, MN.
Page 2 of the letter from Helen to Mr. & Mrs. K. H. Elvig, dated August 2, 1938 from Redwood Falls, MN.
Page 3 of the letter from Helen to Mr. & Mrs. K. H. Elvig, dated August 2, 1938 from Redwood Falls, MN.
Page 3 of the letter from Helen to Mr. & Mrs. K. H. Elvig, dated August 2, 1938 from Redwood Falls, MN.

Much of the letter deals with home decorating projects, which seems fitting given our renovation of the dining room.

Once Erik had the trim off, I was ready to start removing plaster, mostly because I wanted to see how easy a buckled area above the large doorway into the living room would be to remove.

Plaster removed from the lath around the large dining room door. April 2022.
Plaster removed from the lath around the large dining room door. April 2022.

It wasn’t too bad, though it took a hammer and crowbar to loosen everything aside from the buckled bit. Plaster and lath makes for some strong wall covering if nothing happens to disturb it.

When I looked closely at the plaster, I could see that hair of some kind was part of the mix. No doubt this was part of its strength.

Close-up of broken plaster being removed from wall. If you look very closely, you'll see strands of hair in the plaster. April 2022.
Close-up of broken plaster being removed from wall. If you look very closely, you’ll see strands of hair in the plaster. April 2022.

As I was hammering and crowbarring the plaster off, it dawned on me that I had no hesitation whatsoever in destroying the plaster. That’s because we spent so much time in the early 2000s removing plaster and lath from the rest of the house. It’s not a job you can be timid about. When the walls have to come out, they have to come out.

I’ve ordered a construction dumpster to have on hand before I remove more plaster. I’m trying to do this part of the demo in a controlled fashion so we don’t kick up tons of dust. Note in a photo above that we have covered the doorway between the dining room and living room in plastic. We did the same with the doorway between the dining room and kitchen.

The one room we are leaving with plaster and lath is the living room. This is so the new owners will have a sense of what used to be in the house. Plus, the plaster is still in good shape, so there’s no sense in us removing it.

I don’t think we’ll be putting the 1938 letter back behind the trim, like we replaced the horseshoe we found in the wall above the west kitchen door. How the letter ended up behind the trim is anyone’s guess, but it’s been preserved surprisingly well all these years.

We found the letter behind the trim on this window in the west wall of the dining room. April 2022.
We found the letter behind the trim on this window in the west wall of the dining room. April 2022.

4 thoughts on “Dining Room Renovation Surprise”

    1. Hi, Pam – Yes, I suspected ours was horse hair when I first saw it. Now I’m wondering how they harvested the hair. Was it tail and mane hair? If so, how often did they clip the horses? Did they use the hair of particular horses? What other kinds of products did they use horse hair in? I believe it was also used for stuffing in furniture, so that’s at least one other product besides plaster. Fun to wonder!

  1. I couldn’t resist looking. Helen was Knut’s daughter. She was living with him and his wife Christine when the 1930 census was taken. She was 25 then. He was born in Norway and was 63 in 1930. He died in 1956. He worked at sawmills and lumber yards, came to the US about 1883 according to the census (I didn’t check). Tons more information where that came from but I stopped myself from going down that rabbit hole. Fascinating why the letter was put in the wall. Thanks for your blog. I always mean to comment but then don’t do so. I do enjoy your posts. I stumbled on your blog when there was a link in, I believe, an AASLH blog or some other museum newsletter.

  2. Hi, Peggy – Thanks so much for checking out the genealogical info on the Elvig family. My sister-in-law had the same idea! I’ve been too busy to look it up, so am grateful a couple of folks have for me. It is a lovely rabbit hole to slip into, checking out the census and Ancestry. I’ve done so many times. 🙂

Thoughtful comments welcome.