Tracing My House’s History

My sweet little cottage

Three years ago, I bought a house. A cottage, really. A lovely craftsman-style bungalow.

My sweet little cottage

The previous owners (I’ll refer to them as “M & S”) had restored it from a state of near-condemnation and added a master suite on to the rear of the first floor. Despite the addition, their growing family demanded more space and they sold the house to lucky me.

Harris Brothers Model 1502 RenderingDuring their renovation process, M & S had identified the house as a Harris Brothers kit house built around 1930. They even included a rendering of the house from the Harris House Beautiful catalog in the online listing. After purchasing the house, I wanted to know more.

First, I found several versions of the Harris Brothers catalog online. Kit houses were popular during the first three decades of the 20th century. You picked your house from the catalog and the company shipped all of the materials, precut and ready to assemble, via train. Most companies offered some level of customization for the plans, not unlike by a new home today.

Harris Brothers Model 1502 floor plan

My house is Harris Brothers Model 1502, also known as “The Grove.” Originally, the downstairs had four rooms: living room, parlor, dining room and kitchen. A staircase in the dining room led to two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. The house was 26 feet square. As I already mentioned, M & S added a master suite onto the back of the house, along with a powder room and laundry/mud room. They also opened the kitchen and parlor into one room, creating a combined kitchen and breakfast room.

Next, I did a title search using the deeds recorded at the Clarke County Courthouse. Deeds are indexed by the names of the sellers (grantors) and the purchasers (grantees). The grantors of one transaction are the grantees of the previous transaction for the same property, so you can work backwards from one index to the other to identify the chain of a property’s ownership. For each transaction, the index lists the deed book and page where the deed is recorded.

Here’s what I discovered in the title search of my house:

M & S bought the house in May 2011. They were the 7th owners of the house. From 1944 to 1984, the house was owned by the Trustees for the Parsonage of the White Post Charge of the United Methodist Church. The trustees purchased the house from John E. Hawkins in March 1944, and that deed is the first to mention a building on the property. Hawkins and his wife Julia had purchased the property in June 1927 from Charles Elliott and there is no mention of a building on the property.

So, if John and Julia Hawkins purchased a vacant lot from Charles Elliot, when did they build the house? For that information, I consulted the county’s real estate tax assessment records. Tax assessments were done at the beginning of each year and the records are alphabetical by last name. Valuations are divided between the value of the land and the value of any improvements (buildings). The 1927 assessment records, with Charles Elliott as the owner of the property, show no improvements on the property. The 1928 records, however, with John Hawkins as the owner, indicate that a house had been built the previous year.

So where do I go from here? I’ve done some preliminary research through U.S. Census records and Virginia vital records (available on on John Hawkins and his family. I’m hoping to find Hawkins family members still living in Clarke County. I’ve also reached out to the Methodist Church, in hopes that they may have some records of who lived in the house when it was the parsonage. I’d love to find historic photos of the house.