Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Profitable Reflooring Job, 1887

Winthrop, Massachusetts
If you have ever done any home renovations - or if you just like a good treasure hunt - you will appreciate (and envy) the lot of Victorian home renovator Ellen Tewksbury of Winthrop, Massachusetts. Winthrop is a suburb of Boston, and is one of the oldest towns in the United States, dating back to 1630.

Back in 1887, Mrs. Tewksbury decided that it was high time that the rather run-down and dilapidated Tewksbury estate got an Extreme Makeover. I think that this was the Tewksbury-Wyman house, which, according to the Winthrop Historic Commission*, was built about 1800. In other words, it was high time Ellen starting thinking about putting in new floors and doing a little painting and patching. This was long before the days of This Old House and the many resources we have nowadays for renovating homes, so Ellen was pretty much on her own.

Now of course she wasn't going to do the work herself, being a Victorian lady. She hired several people to work on various parts of the old house. An old lady* - her name, unfortunately, lost to history - was set to work on the carpeting. After she dealt with pulling up the old carpets, hired men would be installing some nice new wholesale flooring, of course.

But the old carpeting lady discovered a loose floor board. And since I am imagining that she was familiar with the more suspenseful kinds of Victorian novels, she knew at once that a loose floor board might well lead to an interesting discovery. In the late 1820s, Mormon founding father Joseph Smith concealed the Golden Plates, on which were written the future Book of Mormon, in a box under the floorboards of his parents' log home. And in 2000, a huge Viking treasure was found under the floor boards of a 9th century Swedish house - hidden there by a 9th century Swede. So finding a loose board during the Tewksbury house renovation was the sign, perhaps, of something interesting.

Indeed it was. She reached into the hole in the floor and pulled out a mysterious package covered in "mildewed brown paper from which the strings were falling." And in the package was a stack of bank notes - no less than twenty $100 bills, which had been concealed under the old wooden plank floors for a very long time.

You won't be surprised to learn than Mrs. Tewksbury was quite delighted and put her $2000 windfall straight into the bank. Perhaps she even used the money to help in her renovation project - which would really prove the point that installing excellent new flooring in your house can really pay off.

"A Long-Hidden Treasure Found," New York Times, Sept. 13, 1887.
Winthrop, Winthrop Historic Commission (Arcadia: 2002), p 15.
 "Viking Treasure is Discovered After 11 Centuries Under the Floorboards," David Keys, The Independent,4 Sept 2000.
"Golden Plates," Wikipedia article, see here.
Images from Wikimedia Commons.

*A working class old lady, that is to say - one who didn't own any large houses, herself.


Mike said...

Wow! According to the inflation calculator I used, she found the equivalent of $47902.50 under those floorboards! And I thought the 1950s & 1960s magazines and bottles I found in my crawl space years ago were great!

Lidian said...

Mike - Really? That is amazing! Lucky Ellen...Still, I think your 50s and 60s bottles and magazines are a GREAT find :)

VelmaDinkley said...

I'm a bit disappointed,though, that the money went to the lady with the budget to get her floors re-done, rather than the old lady who had to hire herself out pulling up old carpeting.

Residential Brokerage Manager Philippines said...

wow,i do wish i can also find something like that on our floorboards.