Restoration of an 1895 Victorian
The Petch House
This is how it looks today
Here it is with the asbestos siding when I first bought it.
This is is after I removed the asbestos siding, but before I removed
My house is an 1895 Victorian in Eureka, CA. With a population of about
35,000 people Eureka is the largest city in Humboldt County. The
city sits on the Humboldt Bay in Northern California a few hours south
of the Oregon border. Eureka was founded in the 1850s as a result of
the second gold rush in 1851 in Northern California. A young Ulysses S.
Grant was the first commander of Fort Humboldt. For the first 25 or 30
years the city was little more than a few muddy streets right on the
waters edge. Logging and fishing quickly became the two primary
industries for the region. In the 1870s the city started a little
housing boom and quickly expanded inland. The local redwood was easily
milled into ornate gingerbread to create some stunning Victorian homes.
Many of these homes still exist today. I've been told that Eureka has
more Victorian era homes per capita than any city west of the
Mississippi. Other cities in the area also still have many of these
great old houses of the same period. Ferndale, CA just south of Eureka
is famous for it's ornate Victorian homes and commercial buildings. In
fact, Ferndale's Main Street has been reproduced in Lego form in the
Lego Land amusement park in So. California.
My house was built for Thomas D. Petch and his family in 1895. Mr.
Petch was the superintendent of The Eureka Lighting Company. The add
below is from the 1898 City Directory. The add states that the
President, J.M Livingston, and Secretary and Treasurer, C.O.G. Miller,
of the company both lived in San Francisco which is about 350 miles
south of Eureka. This leads me to believe that Mr. Petch ran a local
franchise of a larger company. Further research shows that the company
moved at least three times but all with in 5 block area of what is now
Old Town Eureka. Each move seemed to put the company in a more
prominent spot in the city. A sure sign of a prospering business.
The most amazing thing is how much of the original house remains
despite being turned in to apartments. I think I can chalk that up to
the apathy of lazy landlords. When I bought the place the house was
still using the original 1895 pre-knob & tube wiring and plumbing.
It is also interesting to note that every room in the house except the
bathroom had a switch on the wall for an electric ceiling light. The
downstairs rooms all had gas/electric lights but upstairs it was
electric only. An extravagance for 1895 but I bet Mr. Petch used as a
selling point for his business. I can just here him trying to convince
a new customer that they must go with the latest technology and have a
switch in every room. “I have it my house and couldn’t imagine living
any other way”. Probably the 1895 equivalent to high speed internet in
every room today.
Last summer some family was visiting and I took the opportunity to play
tourist in my own city. I had recently gotten a digital camera so I
took lots of pictures of some of the larger Victorian homes and
commercial buildings in Ferndale and Eureka. Most of the photos from
Eureka are within walking distance of my house. This represents a small
portion of the finer structures in the area. I didn't even touch of the
great Craftsman homes in the area from the late teens and 20s. I've
also included pictures of my own home, my current project, the great
redwood forests, and a page of old house related links.
This consists of a series of letters I've written to family members
over the last few years. The letters start at a time when I was first
thinking about buying the house and run to current times (11/2004).
I've edited them only to take out the personal items but the
information on the house is just as I wrote it then. It is interesting
to see places where I was wrong about what was looking at with the
house. Also, how priorities and plans changed.
There are pictures for 3 different projects. Paint stripping the burl
redwood wainscoting, the upstairs bath, and the demolition of the 2
story, 1926 addition.
As I said, my house was built in 1895. I purchased it about 2 years
ago. The original house was roughly 3000 sq ft not including an
unfinished 3rd floor. The house was turned into apartments in the 20s
and a 2 story addition was built on to the left side to add 2 kitchens
and 2 baths. The house had asbestos siding put on in the 40s or 50s
which I have removed -all 5300 pounds of it. You can see a picture with
green asbestos siding on page three of the photo album. The main body
of the house was last painted in the 20s. That is the brown paint seen
in most photos. I will be repainting to the original colors next year.
For the past 2 years I have been ripping, pulling, prying, and
stripping flooring, paint, wallpaper, and anything else that does not
belong in an 1895 Victorian. I've also rewired, replumbed water and
and removed several kitchens and baths in order to restore it to a
single family home. In the mean time I've been buying old light
fixtures, tile and trinkets that I will need to make the place look new
(1895) again. The pictures here were taken over the last 2 years. I
didn't own a digital camera when I first bought the house so there are
no "before" pictures, and I've only finished bathroom so there aren't
many "after" pictures. These are all "in between" pictures.
If you're a fan of ornate gingerbread, fancy cut shingles, turned
columns, and stained glass windows you will love the pictures below.
These are mostly pictures of some of the more grander homes in the
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of smaller Victorian cottages and
craftsman bungalows along with many more larger Victorian homes I
get pictures of. Enjoy!
The link below points to more
pictures of "What I Did On My Summer Vacation". It has nothing to do
with old houses but I thought you might like to see pictures of the
largest living things on Earth. Humboldt County is filled with redwood
trees. A lot of them have been logged but there are a still a few
impressive stands of old growth redwoods left. Many of these trees are
over 2000 years old, taller than Niagara Falls and taller than a 30
story building. They really are very impressive and the pictures don't
do them justice. The reason these tress have lived for so long is their
marvelous ability to withstand fire, rot, and insect infestation. This
is also one of the reasons why so many of the old homes in this area
that were built from old-growth redwood still stand today. My house,
along with many of the old houses in this area, are built from
almost 100% old-growth redwood. One of the trees in the pictures is the
Dyerville Giant. It was estimated to be more than 1600 years old when
fell in a storm in 1991. It was more than 370 feet tall, 17 feet in
diameter, 52 feet in circumference, and weighed more than 1,000,000
pounds. Just think how many Victorian homes you could build out of that
thing. The pictures don't do them justice. They really are one of the
wonders of the world.
Incidentally, the redwoods aren't the oldest tree in the world. That
distinction belongs to the Bristlecone Pine that lives at high
in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Western California and Eastern
Some Bristlecone Pines have been aged to more than 5000 years old!
Aesthetically speaking they are the exact opposite of the redwoods.
Living at such high elevation and for so long they become a squat and
gnarled tree that looks deformed. To be in their presences is awe
inspiring. I wonder what my house will look like in 5000 years? I
wonder if it will even be around in 500 years? I wonder if people will
be around in 500 years. At the rate we're going, who knows.
Finally I've included a page of
old house related links. Many are commercial sites but there are also
some sites for private homes. If you have a site that you will like to
add, whether it be for your old home or anything related to old houses
send an email to OHForum@windsweptsoftware.com