Making Up History

I’m busily writing a series of cozy mysteries called The Endurance Mysteries. The first book, Three May Keep a Secret [2014], introduced Grace Kimball, her friends and their small Midwest town of Endurance. In the second book, which will be out next year, one of Grace’s friends buys a Victorian home that is falling apart. This friend wants to restore it to its 1880’s splendor. Because of this plot decision, I had to create a history for this house. Grace researches its history for newspaper articles in the Endurance Register. I had a lot of fun creating a background for the house just as Grace would have found these “facts” through her research. “Making up stuff” is one of the enjoyable parts of writing this series.

The historical district of Grace’s town is near Endurance College, east of the Public Square. This area contains the Endurance College president’s home, several Victorians, and older homes converted into apartments. One is said to be haunted, and most were built in the late 1800s. The college was founded in 1845 by Scotch Presbyterians, and the president’s house was completed in 1859 on the eve of the Civil War. Bankers, presidents of various boards, and money from railroad stock helped build these huge houses.

McCullough houseThe Victorian bought by Grace’s friend is known throughout the town as Lockwood House. (Yes, in small towns the houses are often known by their former or current occupants even today.)

Lockwood House was built by Judge Charles Benjamin Lockwood in 1888.  He was a prominent judge with ownership in railroad stock, a dry goods store, the Second National Bank, a pottery, the brickyard, a lumberyard, several properties in town, and farmland in the country. Much of this he inherited, but some he bought in shrewd deals. Lockwood hired a contractor to build his mansion, and he also oversaw the designs.

Victorian hallwayLockwood House had six bedrooms on the second floor, plus three rooms for servants and a ballroom on the third floor. The beautiful mahogany woodwork was carved by hand (later painted over), and rooms were divided by hand-carved pocket doors. The house had high ceilings and a front and back staircase. A chandelier graced the front hallway, and the first floor contained two parlors, a dining room, study, and a kitchen.  At first the gas fixtures provided lighting, and later the house was converted to electricity.  It had 4,410 square feet, not counting the basement and an attached carriage house on the north side.

Lockwood bought the lot for his house when a farm implement factory moved away from the area in 1880, and it was in a desirable location, about three blocks from the Public Square on a major east/west street. The judge hired a contractor to design and build the house using wood from his lumber yard and bricks from his brick yard. It remained in his name until a water leak in the court house roof destroyed some records, including Lockwood records.

Model TWhen Grace found the ownership trail after the missing, destroyed property books, she had to jump to 1905.  A First National Bank President, Jeremiah Baldwin, was living in the house with his wife and four children. A piece of the original lot had been bought by a neighbor to the west. From pictures, Grace could see the carriage house was gone and a small building was there—possibly for an early Model T Ford.

It appears the Baldwin family lived there until 1917 when the owner was killed during WW I. The widow must have sold the house to someone named Malone, and by then the west entrance into the study was gone and the ballroom was more of a storage attic.  From 1918 to1937, Malone owned it. A doctor, he owned stocks and lost a great deal in the stock market after the crash. Some of the house deterioration happened after that as hard times came with the Depression. It went into receivership with the loaning bank, but it sat empty until 1942.

Then an attorney, Fritz Abbot, bought the house and divided the upstairs into apartments while he lived down. The airport in Woodbury was training pilots for WWII, and many stayed in apartments at Lockwood House while they trained, gradually replaced by the next batch of trainees. The woodwork was painted in the upstairs and the bedrooms shared two bathrooms, a second having been put in on the second floor. The lawyer sold the house in 1950 to a real estate agent, Jim Swensen, who made further changes and rented out rooms to pilots learning to fly in Woodbury for the Korean War. After that, it had two owners, one from out of town who also rented the apartments. By 2010, the house was on the market again, but with no buyers. Over the years it had deteriorated considerably. Grace’s friend bought it in December 2011. By then, on the north side of the house, only the foundation of the garage remained and also some cement slabs that must have been part of the driveway.

Because I’ve always loved history, I usually try to include some in each mystery. This second book, Marry in Haste, connects the past with the present in the small town of Endurance. Tracing the imagined history of Lockwood House was an enjoyable part of writing the second book in the series.

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