Chris Bewick was tearing apart a ceiling in a second-story room of his South Hill Victorian when he heard an unexpected sound. “Crunching glass,” he says. It was February and Chris, along with wife Staci and their two young boys, were nearing the halfway point of a major restoration of the old home they purchased in August 2001.
Confused by the odd sound, Chris slowed the pace of demolition.
“There were these glass plates,” he says, describing the old-fashioned photo-negatives he uncovered. “So I started being more careful with the stuff that was coming out.”
It wasn’t long before Chris realized that the items he had found—several glass photo plates, pages torn from old books and magazines, wall calendars, gum wrappers and other vintage ephemera—were not hidden in the ceiling, but in the floor of a third story room above.
There, in an area under the eaves, the Bewicks discovered a loose floorboard covering what they think was the boyhood hiding place of a long-ago occupant.
“It was some kid’s stash, and this was his little hidey-hole up here,” Chris says.
The “stash” was comprised of old flash cards, pages torn from magazines, turn-of-the-century art prints, a page from the children’s book “Little Black Sambo,” and a packet of tiny gold stars used for trimming girls’ dresses, among other items.
But the glass negatives, along with three wall calendars from the Winchester Rifle Co. that date from 1899 to 1901, turned out to be the most telling finds.
Intrigued by their “treasure,” Staci had the negatives developed. A half dozen black and white prints revealed Victorian picnics by the river, two small children swinging in a hammock on the home’s original front porch, and a handful of interior photos of the Bewick’s house in its heyday.
One of these shows an image of a young boy sitting beneath a Winchester Rifle calendar – dated 1900 – with two toddlers on the floor at his feet. A Christmas tree is faintly detectable in the background.
“We think it’s the same calendar,” Chris says.
“And that was the boy who had the hideout,” Staci adds, pointing to the impish-looking child in the picture.
The Bewicks note that the dates on the calendars track with the historical data that has been done on the origins of their Victorian. Built in 1892, the house changed hands once before the turn of the century, when a physician named Doolittle and his family purchased it. The Doolittles and their three children appear to have occupied the home until the 1940s, when it was converted to a four-plex rental.
One of the snapshots shows a party of what appears to be several inebriated people gathered for a group photo in one of the main-floor rooms.
“We can’t really tell which ones are the Doolittles,” Staci says of the photo. “But they look like they knew how to have a good time.”
The Bewicks say they plan to glean what they can from the photos as they continue to restore their house. For example, the photo of two children in the hammock on the front porch is a treasure all its own.
“[It] shows our original front porch railing, which we are really excited about, as it will help us in our restoration,” Staci says.
In addition, the Bewicks will have a chance to see just how much their treasure is worth when they take the three calendars — all of which appear to be in excellent condition — to the upcoming Antiques Roadshow 2007 event at the Spokane Convention Center this week.
As for the little boy’s secret place, the Bewicks say they plan to finish the area around the loose floorboard, complete with a door so their boys can enter and exit.
“They can use it as their hideout,” Chris says.
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