It was August of 2008. We had our house on the market, and told ourselves we wouldn't buy anything until our house sold, but then we found Old Win.
By this time I had my routine down:
(1) check the county sheriff's website for the list of past sheriff sales
(2) find properties in locations we could live with
(3) check how many of those properties had been bought back by the bank
(4) take this list of properties and go to the county auditor's website to determine if any of the remaining properties met all of the following conditions - more than 1 story in height, at least 80 years old, minimum three bedrooms
(5) if any property was still in the running I then went to Google's satellite map view to see if the property really was in the country, or if it was surrounded by 5 acre plots filled with ranch or manufactured homes
Obviously, by this point there were not many properties remaining. But there was a house on Old Winchester Road that looked like a possibility. It had been bought back by the bank in June, 2008 and as of August had not yet been listed with a realtor. According to the auditor it was a two-story, four-bedroom home, just under 2000 square feet, two porches on the south side of the house, lot just under 2 acres, surrounded by farmland. I decided to do a drive by.
She was easy to find, the only house on that stretch of road. The unmowed lawn encouraged me to pull in the drive, and what I saw brought an immediate smile. She was nestled among trees, with an old apple orchard just north of the house. The profile and lines of the house were proud and true, in spite of the obvious ravages of vandalism and neglect. I ventured from the van up to the shaky porches and pressed my face against the storm doors. And without even stepping foot inside I knew I was hooked.
That night I mentioned the place to Charles and told him I thought it looked very promising. So the next day he pulled in the drive and walked around for a look. And he noticed one thing I hadn't - the combination lock on one of the front porch doors was open. The upside-down 'U' on the lock had not been pushed down into the mechanism below it, so although it was holding the door closed it was not locked. Charles had actually opened the door and looked inside, but then closed the door and left it exactly as he had found it.
I was already in love with what I could glimpse through the windows, so the knowledge that a door was unlocked was tempting indeed.
So by dusk the very next day we were back with the kids, my mom, one of my aunts, and several flashlights in tow. Honestly, I'm not the breaking-and-entering type. (Honestly!) Charles was hesitant too, but in the end he and my mom went into the house, with our daughter riding on her grandma's shoulders. (To this day, Cecilia refers to Old Winchester as "The House With the Creepy Closets.") My aunt and I waited in the yard, terrified that a sheriff's deputy would pull in the drive at any minute. Once in a while we would see a flashlight beam reflect in a window, but finally they came back out and again closed (but didn't lock) the door behind them.
"It's rough," my mom said with a broad smile on her face, "but you would love it, Kim."
We stood in the yard while Charles and my mom tried to sketch the floorplan on a scrap of paper. They didn't have too much trouble with the first floor, but when they tried to sketch the second floor they got confused. In the end they settled on describing the upstairs as "really neat" but gave up on sketching its layout. They did agree though on the following: two staircases, original built-in cupboard in the kitchen, gorgeous original woodwork, all wood floors, lots of closets, walk-up attic. But they also agreed it was rough, rough, rough. And they agreed that there was evidence the most recent residents had been raccoons. "But you would love it, Kim," my mom repeated, still smiling.
....to be continued (Part 2 here)