The House Recyclers
“We weren’t born with silver spoons in our mouths,” says Lucille Duwa. She stands in the shell of the two-story farmhouse where she and her husband raised their children. In the rooms around her, workers are tearing out floorboards and removing doors. “LeRoy and I don’t like to see things that can be used get destroyed,” she adds.
Parts of Mr. and Mrs. Duwas’ 1870s-era home are being salvaged by Friends of Historic Preservation (FHP). The Duwas no longer need this large, old home, as they built a smaller home beside it in March. Volunteers are saving what they can of the house’s architectural features to take to the FHP’s Salvage Barn. The ultimate goal is for these treasures to be recycled into other projects by new owners.
Lucille and her husband, LeRoy M. Duwa, bought the four-bedroom house and the Johnson County farm that it sits on in 1962. They raised four children on this land near Sharon Center, Iowa, and wanted to remain here after retiring.
But the century-plus house was drafty and cold. Even with new, custom-made windows, they were unable to keep warm. During their final winter in the house, they closed off most of the rooms. “We were living in only three rooms during the day and sleeping upstairs in the cold at night,” Mrs. Duwa says.
The couple agreed they would be better off — and far more comfortable — if they built a new home next to the old one. But that presented a dilemma: How do you get rid of an old house? They determined they had three options: move it, burn it down, or tear it down.
When a young man they knew purchased a neighboring acreage that had a dilapidated house, the Duwas offered him theirs — for free. They made just two requests: He had to have the house moved, and he had to fill in the hole of the foundation once the house was gone. This was the ultimate neighborly “good deal,” as he needed the house, and they needed to get it off their land.
That sounded simple enough after a house mover promised his company could “move anything.” But the Duwas’ 1700 sq. ft. house turned out to be nine feet higher than the utility lines. The cost of moving the house a mile and a half would have been $45,000 by the time the lines were removed and then replaced. The neighbor was extremely disappointed and reluctantly declined to take the Duwas’ home.
Burning It Down
Another option was to offer the house to the local fire department. This would help the firefighters, by giving them an opportunity to practice their skills in a controlled burn. It also would help the Duwas to dispose of the bulk of the house without loading up the landfill (and being charged by the pound for waste disposal).
But the firefighters would have two critical challenges to deal with: The Duwas want to save the garage that is attached to old house on the east end. And, a few yards from the old structure on its west end sits the new house. Burning the old building without harming either of the other two would be too risky.
Tearing It Down
The logical choice for the Duwas was to tear the house down. They contacted the Salvage Barn, which is temporarily located at the Johnson County Landfill The Salvage Barn accepts for resale “gently used” architectural items of historical interest. The idea of salvaging some of their home’s distinguishing features was in perfect alignment with the couple’s philosophy of reuse.
Helen Burford, director of the Friends of Historic Preservation, contacted fellow members of FHP in Iowa City for help in removing the valuable antique features of the Duwas’ house. FHP volunteers carefully dismantled interior doors and tongue-and-groove pine floorboards that are at least 125 years old. Meanwhile, a local Amish family purchased and removed the 18 new windows. Other items are being salvaged by friends of the couple.
In the basement, FHP volunteers discovered 10″ x 10″ oak plates supporting the outer walls and two matching beams supporting the interior. They were surprised to discover that the wood was hand-hewn with an axe, and two of the older ones appeared to have been chiseled with an adze.
These beams apparently predated saws and may have been reused from an even earlier building. Volunteers speculated that the beams likely predate Iowa’s statehood in 1846.
“The incredible thing about salvaging from older homes is that you never know what you will find,” said Mike Haverkamp, FHP board member.” An 1870s home with hand-hewn beams under it that would seem to pre-date settlement of the area, how did they get here? Who made them? So many questions we’ll never know the answers to!”
Because the Salvage Barn is a 501(c)3 corporation, donations are tax deductible. The Salvage Barn will provide the Duwas with a complete list of everything FHP managed to salvage. If the total is over $500, the Duwas will receive a tax deduction for “recycling” these pieces of their old home. And some other home- or business owner will recycle them into another project, extending their life for a while longer.