Friday, November 25, 2011

A Southern Wedding, Sugar-Creek Style!

Last weekend I attended the wedding of a dear family friend, and her wedding decor was country-chic. Two of the old doors from THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK were centerpieces at the wedding, and I must confess that it was the prettiest little wedding that I've ever seen. I wanted to share the beautiful day with y'all... the wedding might not have been at Sugar Creek, but Sugar Creek certainly made an appearance at the wedding!

This door is usually occupying the space between our kitchen and the future laundry room... but it looks beautiful here, too!

This door holds the key to my heart!

This lovely green door is usually hanging out between the kitchen and the breakfast room, but it's right at home in a southern wedding, too!

Blue Mason jars were the vases. Notice the antique keys that went along with the theme of "key to my heart."

The head table... isn't it lovely!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Elevation Renderings by LESTAR MARTIN

We met with Architect Lestar Martin last month, and he was very excited to show us the completed architectural renderings for THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK. Here are a few of the elevation renderings... this should give you a thorough idea of what the ole' dog-trot will like like post-renovation. But before you scroll down to the fantastic renderings, let me once again say that Lestar Martin is a genius. He really is.

If you chose to restore a historic home, I cannot stress the importance of finding someone like Lestar to take a look at your home pre-restoration. Lestar went through THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK with a fine tooth comb, and when he was finished he gave us details about the house that we could never have learned on our own. He worked to design a hidden staircase, to include closets with very little disturbance to the original walls, and he gave us so many money-saving suggestions for the renovation that he literally paid for his own services. And even more importantly, Lestar's excitement over the architectural significance of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK was positively uplifting. He told us at least a dozen times, "There's no way you can be as excited about this house as I am." Lestar gave us literature on how to restore our historic windows, and happily pointed out that old windows can be very energy efficient when they are properly restored. He designed the Heating/Air Conditioning Systems to cool the entire house with minimal ductwork, as there is no ductwork in place and we will be starting from scratch. These are just a few of the details that he pointed out to save us big money on this project.

I remember the first time that Lestar Martin came to SUGAR CREEK. I walked through the house with him, and I was pointing out my ideas for the renovation every time we turned a corner. Lestar finally grinned at me and said, "That's fine, but let me come up with my own design first. Then if you don't like it, we'll make changes." When he met us a week later with his vision of the restored dog-trot, I abandoned my previous thoughts entirely. And believe you me, I'm not the kind of gal that gives in easily. But Mr. Martin's ideas were brilliant, and my own ideas, however well thought out, didn't hold a candle in the wind next to his.

So without further adieu, I give you Lestar Martin's Elevation Renderings of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK. Click on the images to view a larger version of the renderings. And remember-- a brilliant historic architect is worth five times his weight in gold!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Vera Taylor Oden's Memoir: SECTIONS XVII and XVIII

This posting contains sections seventeen and eighteen of twenty-one sections that describe life in Sugar Creek, Louisiana prior to 1902. If you haven't read the post about the significance of VERA TAYLOR ODEN's memoir, click here.



One great concern of Mamma's and Papa's was the distance from a doctor. The nearest doctor was six or seven miles away. To send for the doctor a man would have to ride horseback to ask him to come, and then perhaps find him off on a call. It might be several hours before he finally arrived. There was one summer when Papa was very ill with high fever. Dr. Jarrell, our nearest doctor had done what he could without success, so he asked to have Dr. Thornhill come from Arcadia to see him. They finally pulled him through and Mamma and Papa always had lots of of confidence in him after that.


The mail carrier used a horse and buggy and must have had trouble at times with bad roads and weather. He came about twice a week. There were no rural mail boxes, so the mail was delivered to the post office and the people had to call for it. Of course everybody looked forward to the arrival of the mail carrier when they would receive letters and newspapers. I don't remember receiving any advertising matter except calendars and almanacs.


The earliest newspaper I remember was "The Atlanta Constitution," possible because most of the families around there originally came from Georgia. I think the Uncle Remus stories were first published in that newspaper. Other papers we got were "The Texas Farm and Ranch," "The Dallas News" and "The Homer Guardian Journal." All in our school wrote letters to "Aunt Sallie" and "Cousin Pearl" who edited the children's pages of "The Texas Farm and Ranch." What a thrill it was to see our names in print. I also remember "The Youth's Companion" more of a children's magazine, "The Comfort" a cheap little home magazine and "Thee Delineator."


For those of you who do not know me, I am a journalist by trade. So the idea of Mrs. Vera writing in to a magazine as a very young child is especially thrilling to me. I'd love to get my hands on a late-1800's copy of "The Texas Farm and Ranch." But for now, this digital copy of a late-1800's Delineator cover makes me smile. I hope you enjoy looking at it as much as I do... who knows. Maybe a copy of this very issue arrived at the post office across the street from THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK.

On a side note, I found this information on Dr. Francis Marion Thornhill from an online source. It gives us a little perspective on the Dr. Thornhill that Mrs. Vera writes about in her memoir.

Bio: Francis Marion Thornhill, M.D., Bienville & Caldwell Parish Louisiana
Source: Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northwest Louisiana
The Southern Publishing Company, Chicago & Nashville, 1890

Submitted by Kay Thompson Brown

Copyright. All rights reserved.

Arcadia, La

Dr. Thornhill is a man of decided intellectual ability, is ever ready to obey the call of all classes, and is in truth a physician of thorough learning and experience. He was born in Caldwell Parish, La., September 10,1850, and was third of a family of seven children-six sons and one daughter--who are named as follows: A. G. (married and resides in Texas, where he is engaged in
farming), Joseph J. (deceased), Francis M., J. C. (married and resides in Texas, where he is also engaged in agricultural pursuits), Louisa (married Orin 0. Gray, who is a farmer of Caldwell Parish), W. H. (resides in Caldwell Parish), C. P. (is the youngest and also a resident of the last-named parish). The father of these children was a native of Mississippi, born in 1816, was fairly well educated, and is now a successful agriculturist. The mother, whose maiden name was Matilda Blackburn, was also born in the Bayou State and was educated in the common schools. She is also living.

Dr. Thornhill received the rudiments of an education in the common schools, and then attended academy about two years before commencing to read medicine under Dr C. C. Meredith, at Columbia, La., in the fall of 1868. There he remained until 1870, and in October of that year he entered Tulane Medical College now, but at that time it was called the University of Louisiana. There he completed the full course of medicine in this far-famed institution, which has a national reputation, graduating in a class of seventy-five in March, 1872. He then at once began practicing at his home in Columbia, La., and remained there in 1882, during the noted flood year, when the whole surface of the parish was under water. There he established a large and extensive practice, but not a paying one, so he wisely changed his base of operations and located in Arcadia, La., in 1882. Here the Doctor has resided since, and he stands today, not only one of the leading physicians, but a liberal-minded, public-spirited citizen.

The Doctor was married, January 26,1874, to Miss Anna Meredith. a native of Caldwell Parish, La., who was educated in the female seminary. Only one child was born to this union and that died in infancy. Dr. Thornbill has always been a Democrat in politics. But he has never been a bitter partisan. He has aimed to support men of principle and honor. He is one of the directors of the Arcadia State National Bank, and is a man full of energy and determination. He is a Master Mason of Arcadia Lodge.

Like a few others of the prominent men of Arcadia Dr. Thornhill started out in life for himself with limited means, but he had the push and determination to succeed in whatever he undertook, and he now has a large and lucrative practice. He also has a full line of drugs, and is doing well in this business. He is a land owner, and is not only the owner of his residence property, but owns his place of business as well. Mrs. Thornhill is a member of the Baptist Church in Arcadia, La.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Have you ever heard the expression 'HOT TO TROT?' We definitely have, and we definitely feel very 'hot to trot' after a long weekend of painting at SUGAR CREEK. Of all the projects we've worked on so far, this one had the biggest impact-- both on the overall look of the house, and on our energy levels. By the time we left SUGAR CREEK last night, heading for our full-time home, we were so exhausted that we had the giggles. My neck ached from painting three coats of white paint on the wooden ceiling, and my arms were hanging from my shoulders like limp noodles. But you know what? The TROT looks like brand new again, and it was definitely worth the effort.

You're probably asking yourself the question, "What the heck is a TROT?" It's the long, open ended hallway that dissects the center of historic dog-trot homes. The trot is usually long and thin, and in the rendering below I have colored the area a nice beige to separate it from the other rooms. These TROTs are the architectural details that separate dog-trot homes from all other historic houses. And ours is a rare jewel because she has been enclosed (and completely protected from the weather) since the 1940's. Take a second to look at the rendering below so that you'll know exactly what I'm talking about when I say TROT.

A pre-renovation sketch of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK.

Now that you've familiarized yourself with the location of the TROT itself, I'd like to give you a peek at what the TROT looked like before we began working at SUGAR CREEK. Below is a photo that I took during our first weekend at SUGAR CREEK. Isn't she gorgeous! Hubby and I both recognized that with just a bit of sanding, painting, putty for nail holes, and a lot of elbow grease, the TROT could shine up very nicely.

Now bear in mind a couple of details as you're looking at the photo below. Hubby and I must remove the staircase that is clogging up the open-aired TROT, but we can't remove this staircase until we build another one to replace it. (The new staircase will begin in the living room, with most of the staircase being hidden behind a new bathroom wall.) So we are painting around the staircase until the day comes when we remove it and expose the original wooden walls that are hiding behind it.

The TROT pre-renovation.

On Saturday evening, hubby and I arrived at SUGAR CREEK and began scraping the peeling paint that was covering the TROT's wooden walls and ceilings. This process took quite some time, as we took proper precautions to protect ourselves from any lead paint dust/residue. After all paint chips were removed and the floors were thoroughly scrubbed to remove dust, hubby and I crossed our fingers and began to apply the first layer of white paint to the walls and ceiling. We had originally wanted to sand the walls down to the original wooden texture and forgo paint entirely, but after much research we decided to seal the painted walls with a fresh coat of white paint instead. Here I am, standing by my trusty ladder during Saturday night's paint chip extravaganza.

Me (Jackie) in the pre-restoration TROT of the house.

It took three coats of exterior paint to cover the wooden walls and ceilings, but it was worth every single minute of the 30+ man-hours that we spent on this project. I wish you could see our handi-work in person. These photos simply do not capture the beauty of the hallway, which is almost impossible to photograph with the old staircase still in the TROT. The crisp white, painted walls of the dog-trot are absolutely beautiful. And we're loving the satin finish of the paint... it's just shiny enough to look new and sleek, but just matte enough to leave you wondering if the paint is original, too.

Notice that we did not repaint the very end of the dog-trot where the door and windows currently sit. We're removing this section entirely, and replacing it with a set of all-glass French doors and windows that will match the original nine over nine window panes that are found in the rest of the house. We already have the French doors... now we're searching for wavy-glass window panes to use in the new front door/window construction. But that, my friends, is a project for the future-- we have ten rooms to scrape and paint before it's time to work on the new entrance to the TROT. And on a side note, we chose to paint the TROT with EXTERIOR paint because we will have the hallway open on as many days as possible from here on out. We love the breeze blowing through the center of the house, and we're no longer worried about the potential threat of lead paint dust as the wind carries through our home. Six points for Team Lewis, despite the fact that this was probably the most difficult weekend of work so far.

Did I mention that restoring a historic home is not for the faint of heart? You should never try to do something like this unless you look at the project as something more "fun" than "work." Otherwise, you'll go crazy. Hubby and I have come to realize that a historic renovation does not take brilliance, it takes determination. Truth be told, it's not difficult to restore windows, sand wooden walls, paint trim, etc... it is simply time consuming. But hubby and I are looking at our weekends at SUGAR CREEK as an opportunity to do something productive with our free time. Instead of lounging on the couch and watching television, we're bringing an old house back to life again. And there are few things in life more rewarding than saving a beautiful piece of our local history.

After photo of the painted TROT.

After photo of the painted TROT.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


A few weeks ago, I decided to paint the kitchen ceiling. I spent an entire day scrubbing the original wood, then busied myself with painting the first coat. Next I applied the second. I let that dry for an hour or so, and then I applied the third. And then it occurred to me that I hadn't quite achieved the new construction look. The beautiful boards looked much better than before their makeover, of course, but they still seemed to be missing something. There was a mysterious brownish-red color that was seeping through the paint, and I suddenly realized that I had not applied primer before painting. The old wood stain, or perhaps old kitchen grease, was bleeding through the new paint. It wasn't the look I had been going for, but there was something charming about the effect. It almost looked like the ceiling had been painted long ago, which would be completely plausable in such an old home. So after much thought, I decided to help the ceiling fully achieve the "I was painted one hundred years ago" look. Over the course of the following week, I did a little internet research on aging techniques and came across the theory of the tea-stain. And after looking at a few dozen examples on the internet, I decided to go for the gusto.

On the morning of the great tea-staining event, I boiled water in a kettle, poured it over tea bags and made a very thick, blackish-brownish-redish-colored soup. Hubby, kiddos and I loaded up in the mini-van (hey-- don't judge me-- they're really handy) and we headed out for SUGAR CREEK with my pitcher of soupy tea in the front floorboard. Hubby unlocked the house, and I carried the tea-soup into the kitchen. I climbed my trusty ladder with the warm bucket of tea (that had begun to look like a mixture of slop and burnt Coca-Cola) in hand and then followed the internet instructions. I lightly squeezed the excess moisture out of the tea bags, then began to "paint" the ceiling with the blackish-brownish-redish-colored soup, using a tea bag as my paintbrush. The effect was absolutely PERFECT. The beautiful colors of nature appeared, and Mr. Lipton himself couldn't have been prouder. There were golden golds and coppery browns, shimmering yellowish-reds and a hint of goldish-beige from the coat of paint I had applied the week before. The tea-stain was the most beautiful painting technique I had ever attempted, and I was incredibly proud of my accomplishment. Here's a photo of the tea-stain, but make sure to read the remainder of this posting-- because unfortunately for me, there is more to this story.

A section of the kitchen ceiling that had been tea-stained. The golden tea-stain was absolutely beautiful.

It took me almost an hour to apply three coats of the tea-stain, and in the moments after I finished my hubby called from another room and begged me to help him with his window-restoration project. I quickly found myself up to my eyeballs in paint thinner, putty, and glass window panes, and I completely forgot about the tea-stain until a few hours later. "I'll be back in a sec," I said to hubby when I remembered the kitchen-ceiling project, and I ran into the kitchen with a smile on my face. My eyes opened wide as I stared up at my most recent project, and my heart broke into a million pieces. The tea-stain was completely gone. It dried and soaked into the painted wood, never to be seen again. I raised my hands to my mouth, covering my disbelief as I realized that I had wasted an entire hour of renovation time. And just as my hands neared my face, I noticed that my knuckles were brown. So was the skin around my fingernails, and the creases where my hands join my forearms. The ceiling had gone through the tea-staining process without so much as a hint of color to show for it. But I, well, I hadn't been so lucky. It took three days for my tea-stained hands to return to normal.

I now own a gallon of Kilz primer, which I will use to cover the entire kitchen ceiling. I suppose I could research other ways to antique-finish the painted ceiling, but I'm not going to allow myself to goof on this particular project again. I suppose there was no real harm done, unless you count the self-inflicted wound to my pride. I did learn a few important lessons, though. Number one, PRIME BEFORE PAINTING antique wood. Number two, tea-stains shouldn't be applied over PAINTED wood. And number three, there's a reason that southern women DRINK their tea instead of PAINTING with it!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Our Future Kitchen

Wooden walls. Wooden floors. Wooden ceiling. Wooden doors. I guess the theme of the current "kitchen" in the dog-trot is wood. But one day soon, this room will serve as Grand Central Station in the Lewis house.

Here is what she looks like as of today....

And here is a photo of a modern kitchen that *almost* looks like our kitchen post-restoration.

So what must we do span the gap between the two? Here's the game plan.

1) new electrical wiring. (to be completed by a professional.)
2) expand doorway between kitchen and living room, creating a cased opening. (hubby)
3) drywall the wall between the kitchen and living room, leave remaining three walls the original wood.
4) install new flooring, as the old flooring must be removed due to deterioration.
5) remove old windows and replace with two BRAND NEW windows. We're restoring fourteen of the original windows by hand, so don't judge us for making this decision. (haha)
6) install "new" kitchen cabinets and countertops, built to match the one original kitchen cabinet that remains intact.
7) have the old ceramic farm sink (that we were given by a dear friend) refinished and installed in custom cabinets.
8) paint, paint, paint.
9) paint some more.
10) purchase and install all new appliances.
11) have a dinner party in celebration of our accomplishment.

So that's the plan in a nutshell. Believe it or not, we hope to do most of the work ourselves. Call us crazy, but we're actually enjoying the time we spend working at SUGAR CREEK. And it's a good thing, too, because there's PLENTY of work that needs to be done!