Have you ever wondered who lived in your house before you? Who else raised a family in your house, celebrated holidays, planted that tree, or even buried their pets in your backyard? I did. I was curious about the history of our 110 year old house – who lived here, who painted the rosemaling on the kitchen cabinet, who wrote “a gorgeous blond slept here” under the layers of wallpaper we removed, and who carried a huge upright piano down to the basement.
A good place to start is to look at old city directories and newspaper entries, and our library has both available on their website! The library has digitized Eau Claire City Directories from 1880-1923. To find them, start on the homepage and click EXPLORE at the top of the page. Then click Chippewa Valley History and then the City Directories link. To search all the directories at once, click where it says “searched at one time”. When I searched by our address, city directories as early as 1908 showed entries, which was interesting because according to the Eau Claire property records our house was constructed in 1910. How can there be a listing in 1908? Curious, I searched the 1908 directory first.
I found street addresses listed just down from “Secret Societies.” Scrolling down to our street and address, I found the name, Joseph C. Culver. Now I could search for the Culver name in the other parts of the directory. He was listed at our address with his occupation as “ v.-pres. of Culver Realty Co.” Immediately below him, was the entry for the Culver Realty Co, with Emma Culver, president. Later I would find out Emma was his mother. There was another entry in the 1908 directory for our house: Sophia Johnson, domestic….he had a maid! So from one directory, I learned the name of the original owner of our house and that he was part of a family business in early Eau Claire history. It also raised the question of when our house was really built.
Another useful resource the library provides is access to old local newspapers. Back on the EXPLORE page, I clicked on Print Archives followed by “Access Newspaper Archive.” This database contains historic Eau Claire newspapers from 1858-1923. I searched by location and then narrowed my search to the Eau Claire Leader. Then I just had fun typing in our address and the original owner’s name to come up with various bits of information. I found an ad in 1907 (three years before our house was supposed to be built):
Wanted: A Competent girl for general housework. Apply to Mrs. J. C. Culver…
And one year later:
Wanted: Competent girl for general housework. Apply at Once! Joseph C. Culver
In 1916, our house is listed for sale by the Culvers in an ad describing it as “Thoroughly modern. Excellent location.”
There is even more information available on the Genealogy page of the library website. It takes some time to look around, but it is fun detective work! For instance, I learned the Culvers moved into our house with a one year old baby, had three children while living here and one more after they moved out. Learning about the people that lived in our house makes me appreciate our home more and the history it has been through. For more information about getting started on the history of your house, This Old House provides a quick and helpful tutorial video.
Have you researched your house? I would love to find out how you did it and what you found out!