Friday, January 6, 2012

Life in a River House

 The purpose of this blog is to tell our story about our life aboard Swing Set, but it's January here in St. Louis, the boat is shuttered up snug in its slip, and there is no work scheduled for her until the weather warms up in a couple of months...and I want to keep my minimal writing skills as sharp as I can so I'll steer off course here a bit.
 As related earlier in the posts about our boating history, we have spent a considerable chunk of our home owning lives taking up residence along the banks of the Meramec River. I thought I would take this slack time to relate some of our history of being River Rats, and why we would much rather live in a home that floats, as opposed to one that regularly finds itself at least partially below the waterline. What follows is some of the more "unglamorous" aspects of living in a river house. The really, really, good parts will be omitted at this time, but may be included in bits and pieces in later posts.

 This is the river house at 92 Opps Lane in Fenton, MO on the Meramec River in 1970, shortly after my dad bought it for use as a summer home. This "clubhouse" as they were called, is typical of the style in which they were built, many of them during the 1930s, as this one was.
When the place was built originally, the lower floor, or 1st floor, was only partially enclosed. Many of the clubhouses didn't have the 1st floors enclosed, but were up on stilts, and with each succeeding flood, many of the clubhouses along the Meramec and the Mississippi Rivers were raised higher and higher on their foundations in an attempt to avoid damage from flood waters.
 This clubhouse was purchased for a mere $9000. My dad got started right away with improvements to the place, and improvements continued on a regular basis through his selling it to us eventually, right up until we sold it in 1999. You can see the stone BBQ pit right out the front door, and the wooden foundation had already begun to be replaced with stone and brick, as you can see on one end of the house. The house had no foundation at all, and my dad dug around the perimeter of the building down below the frost line and put in a hand built foundation of local limestone. He then lined the interior walls with brick up to four feet, and hand built the exterior walls with the same limestone. All of this was done with the intention of providing support for future additions, along with getting the place more "flood resistant", a futile endeavor, as you will see. Each one of those lime stones were hand picked at a local quarry and brought to the site in a little utility trailer. Most of the bricks were "acquired" from demolished homes in the city and trucked home in the trunk of my dad's car. I spent many hours with a wash tub and wire scrub brush "cleanin' those bricks" while my dad was employed mixing mortar and laying said bricks in turn.
 Just to give you an idea of my father's industriousness, that BBQ pit was built originally where you see it now. A few years later when it was decided to build a house addition out over that same spot, the pit was demolished with a sledge hammer and rebuilt 20 feet away. Before the pit was constructed, though, the all important boat ramp was hand dug into the river bank, and the one infrequent luxury that my dad allowed himself was having the concrete delivered in a truck to pour the sections of the ramp as opposed to hand mixing it, as was done with the foundation work. My dad didn't spend any time in bars.
 As I write this, a flood of memories come at me and I feel like I could go on and on with tales about this place and the history of it. There will be more to come later when I tell of our life living in this house, but until then I'll get into the story of our first home, just a couple of doors down the road at 86 Opps Lane in my next post.

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