Peterborough kitchen renovation opens window to the past

  • Home renovations at 59 Pine Street in Peterborough revealed two walls with painted murals and photo collages that were likely installed sometime in the 1960s before being covered up. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Home renovations at 59 Pine Street in Peterborough revealed two walls with painted murals and photo collages that were likely installed sometime in the 1960s before being covered up. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Home renovations at 59 Pine Street in Peterborough revealed two walls with painted murals and photo collages that were likely installed sometime in the 1960s before being covered up. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Home renovations at 59 Pine Street in Peterborough revealed two walls with painted murals and photo collages that were likely installed sometime in the 1960s before being covered up. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Home renovations at 59 Pine Street in Peterborough revealed two walls with painted murals and photo collages that were likely installed sometime in the 1960s before being covered up. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Home renovations at 59 Pine Street in Peterborough revealed two walls with painted murals and photo collages that were likely installed sometime in the 1960s before being covered up. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Home renovations at 59 Pine Street in Peterborough revealed two walls with painted murals and photo collages that were likely installed sometime in the 1960s before being covered up. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Home renovations at 59 Pine Street in Peterborough revealed two walls with painted murals and photo collages that were likely installed sometime in the 1960s before being covered up. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Home renovations at 59 Pine Street in Peterborough revealed two walls with painted murals and photo collages that were likely installed sometime in the 1960s before being covered up. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • This photograph donated to the Monadnock Center for History and Culture in 1968 appears to show the wall and mural intact in the dining room at 59 Pine Street. Photo courtesy Monadnock Center for History and Culture—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/28/2021 10:19:10 AM

All Jeff Morgan was trying to do was tear down some drywall to renovate the kitchen at 59 Pine Street in Peterborough. As it turned out, his prybar opened up a window to the past – and the past was looking right back at him.

Morgan and his co-workers at John Young Construction had already unearthed some unusual wallpaper as they demoed drywall at the stately brick home once known as the Grimshaw House. So when he approached the north-facing wall to tear down the four-layer drywall and open up some space, he did so with caution.

“We found some weird wallpaper in here before,” Morgan said, “so I thought I’d just hit a little hole to see if there was any wallpaper behind it, and we saw a tree. I’m like ‘Oh, how bad is this one going to be,’ and I started taking it off and started seeing the scenery, so I took my time.”

The drywall came down, and the scene was revealed – a Parisian cityscape, trees lining a street dotted with little red-and-white cafe umbrellas. An interesting find in its own right, but upon closer inspection, Morgan saw there was more than just the painted cityscape. Vintage photo graph cutouts were pasted here and there on the wall, populating the street scene in a mixed-media effort; here a couple sitting outside the “pharmacie,” another pair of figures peeking out from painted-on windows.

“I’ve uncovered a lot of cool things in my years, but this is right up there,” said contractor John Young, who was first on the scene after Morgan sent him an urgent message to rush back to the jobsite. Morgan was no stranger to unearthed finds in old houses; just last year, he’d discovered a time capsule in a Francestown home, but he said this one was like no other.

“Someone left this on purpose, so it was really cool to rediscover and not destroy it at the same time,” Morgan said. “Most guys would have taken a sledgehammer to it.”

A careful pry into the south-facing wall revealed a second Parisian cityscape, this one even more densely populated with vintage photos. Both the work crew and homeowners Joe and Kara Rusin, who’d purchased the home in 2019, agreed – they needed to find out who, exactly, was in the photographs, and who put them there in the first place?

The Grimshaw House, as it was once known, has had a storied history atop Pine Street, where it was originally built between 1815 and 1820 for a hatter named Jonas Loring, according to information from a Monadnock Center for History and Culture exhibit about the home. The spacious home, with multiple entrances and a private elevator, changed hands many times over the years and even served as guest quarters and a meeting space for Franklin Pierce College in the 1990s, but it was generally a family home; the Rusins supposed the photos planted in the cityscapes were family and friends of one former homeowner or another, and set out to find out who.

Joe Rusin posted photos of the mural on Facebook, where it quickly took off in the nationwide group “Our Old House,” with nearly 900 shares and 900 comments as of Tuesday evening. Commenters marveled at the discovery and some of the quirky inhabitants of the tiny town, like the besuited man holding two mammoth fish or the young fellow with a regrettable crab-themed sweater.

“The fish guy got a lot of play,” Rusin said.

The photos gained momentum locally, as residents past and present weighed in with memories of the home and racked their brains for just who was depicted in the photos. Rusin was able to get in touch with former owner Horace Gilbert’s daughter Kayti Sullivan, who confirmed that her father had put up the wallpaper in the 1950s but had no recollection of the photos being added.

“I would be thrilled if one of these guys came forward and said ‘Hey, that’s me!’” Rusin said.

At the same time, Roxanne Loudin of the Monadnock Center for History was conducting her own research into the photographs.

“I tend to dive pretty deep down rabbit holes to try and find information,” Loudin said, “so it’s been pretty neat.”

Loudin tracked down all the Monadnock Center’s historical documents regarding 59 Pine Street, including several old property deeds and information gathered for the 1997 exhibit. Then, she happened upon a clue – a photograph from the collection of Florance Morse donated to the center in 1968 that showed one of those kitchen walls, complete with mural and photos. The Morse family bought 59 Pine Street from the Gilberts in 1962 and lived there for 13 years; given the apparent age of the photos and the clothing depicted, the artwork is likely narrowed down to one or both of those two families.

“It was all age ranges and different times,” Loudin said of the photos. “You could even tell by the clothing, over time they added photos to [the wall]...If we could ID some of these people, they might not even have these photos themselves.”

Both Loudin and Rusin were still searching for answers this week, about two weeks after the discovery went public. No matter what happens, that little slice of history will be preserved. The wall which was originally planned for demolition is to be removed intact and donated to the Monadnock Center, and Rusin plans on preserving the other wall and leaving some sort of documentation for the next residents of 59 Pine Street. The wall will be covered, perhaps with some sort of viewing port cut out, Rusin said, to leave that window to the past open.

“I’m willing to bet you that’s what happened the first time around,” Rusin said. “I’m willing to bet someone came in here to redo this and couldn’t stand to take it down.”

Before they cover it up, the Rusins plan on adding a few photos of their own, some family members here and there – and the John Young Construction work crew on the roof, immortalizing the men who unearthed the treasure.

“It’s amazing,” Morgan said, “I can’t believe I found something like this.”


Jobs



Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, your source for Peterborough area news.


Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

20 Grove St.
Peterborough, NH 03458
603-924-7172

 

© 2021 Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy