Old House, Old Friend

Olga S. Hardman 

Julien Caussin with his two grandsons, Jerome (l.) and Albert (r.) Malfregeot (born in 1910 and 1907) 
in front of his home at 2200 Hamill Avenue. Notice new street car rails being laid on Hamill Avenue. 
Although street cars first came to Clarksburg in 1902, they didn't get to North View until 1912 
about when this picture was taken.   Dog in back-ground is probably Five Cents, so-named 
because when Uncle Danton took him home, his father said he wasn't worth a nickel.

I was born on August 7, 1928, a relatively cool day after an extended heat wave of several days. I came into the world in the house where I now live. My maternal grandfather had moved his family into this house in 1899 when they moved from Pittsburgh, PA, to Clarksburg, WV, to start a cooperative hand-glass plant, the Lafayette. The plant was located at the west end of Hamill Avenue, just 3 blocks from this house.

I was named Olga Frances - Olga, after one of my fatherís sisters who had died at age 16 from pneumonia, and Frances, after my father himself whose name was Frank.

My mother had just celebrated her 29th birthday on July 27, 11 days before my birth. My father was 33 and Marie, my only sibling, was a very excited 7 year old on that 7th day of August.

After the death of my maternal grandmother, Maria Boulanger Caussin, on December 11, 1920, my mother, Leah Caussin, inherited her family home. Her father, Julien Caussin, had died 3 years earlier in 1917.  And so it was that when she married my father, Frank Stenger, they continued to live in this wonderful old house that had been built in 1899.

Although neither of my grandparents lived to welcome me into the world, I have a sense of their spirit as I fulfill my own destiny in the same house where they laughed, cried, and loved.

The house has undergone many changes over the years. It was built by John Howard and was the first house in this area of North View. At that time (1899,) North View was called Pine Grove. My grandfather carried my mother into this house when she was 6 weeks old in September, 1899. After renting the house for 3 years, he bought the house for $1,400.00 cash in hand, as the land book states, on June 26, 1902, from the Pine Grove Manufacturing, Land, and Improvement Company. The house sits on 2 lots on the corner of Hamill Avenue and 22nd. Street. For many years the second lot was left vacant and served as a playground for me and my friends.

The upstairs of this house served as home to several other French and Belgian people as they emigrated to the United States. In 1900, Louis (Bugs) Schmidt and his wife rented the two rooms upstairs. Two of their children, Dick and Germaine, were born here. The Schmidtsí later built the two-story house on the corner of Hamill and 21st. Street.

Around 1905 or 1906, Emile Castiaux, his wife, and their daughter, Marie Camelia, (later Mrs. Frank Aucremanne, Sr.) lived in the upstairs. Marie Camelia was about 12 years old then. It was fairly common at the time for immigrants who came to the United States to provide housing and other assistance to those who arrived later. The Castiauxís had come from Belgium and the Caussinís had come from Aniche, in the north of France just across the border from Belgium.

Occasionally, a fire-brick mason from Indiana came to Clarksburg to rebuild the tank of the Lafayette plant, which was always shut down on May 30th for the summer. Because of the high temperatures required in the brick tank to make the glass, it was necessary to rebuild it every year. It was done during the summer months since it was too hot for the glass makers to work in the summer heat anyway. The travelling Hoosier was an excellent mason and was in great demand. He would only come to Clarksburg, however, if he could live with the Caussins because Maria Caussin was an excellent cook. So periodically, during the summer months, the upstairs was occupied by the fire-brick mason from Indiana. 

During the early 1900ís while my grandfather Julien was President of the Board of Directors of the Lafayette plant, the board held its meetings in the kitchen of this house. Since the Caussins did not own enough chairs to accomodate everyone, the board members each carried empty nail kegs up from the factory to sit on during the meetings.

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Danton Caussin and his sister, Leah (my mother) in 1918 when he was 22 and she was 18.
They both grew to adulthood in this house.  My mother continued to live in this house after 
she married my father until her death in 1974. Both my sister and I were born and raised in this house.
Danton left his boyhood home to establish his own home when he married Mary Dixon in November, 1920.

At the end of the lot on which the house stood, there was originally a red barn (build in the early 1900ís.) The Caussins always had a cow or two, although I do not remember that. I only remember it as "the red garage." I think it was the year I was born that my father purchased a Dodge touring car and kept it clean and shining in "the red garage."

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My father, Frank, my  mother,  Leah, my sister, Marie, and I in the side yard. 
Notice red barn on the right, converted to red garage by this time (around 1935)

In 1937, my father built a two-stall garage with an apartment above on the spot formerly occupied by "the red garage." The first occupants of that apartment were Jerome Malfregeot (son of my Aunt Clarice and Uncle Augie) and his wife, Bernadette Hardman Malfregeot and their only child, 3-year old Mary Ann. Also in 1937, the wood flooring of the front porch at 2200 was replaced with concrete, the basement was enlarged and the floor concerted, and the exterior of the house was covered with gray asbestos shingles. In later years, the shingles were painted green and then beige.

I recall many pleasant memories in the basement of this old house. When I was very young, my father kept peeps (newly-hatched chickens) in the basement until they were big enough to withstand the temperature in the "green shed." An incubator sat in front of the coal furnace which kept the basement, as well as the rest of the house  warm. I delighted in watching my father water and dispense mash to the little balls of fluff. 

My father had hung a swing in the basement for me and I remember swinging to and fro as I talked with my mother while she did her weekly ironing and seasonal canning in the basement. In the "new side" (enlarged in 1938) of the basement there were stationary tubs, an old cook stove, and the Sellers Hoosier Cabinet which has now been refinished and rests upstairs in my kitchen.

At the end of the vacant lot adjacent to the alley, there was a small building (about 5í x 6í.) We always referred to it as "the green shed" because each time it was re-painted, the color was always the same dark, utilitarian green. "The green shed" was built in1910 and served many functions over the years. I first remember it as a chicken coop. When the "peeps" were old enough, they were moved from the basement to the "green shed" where they regularly deposited their eggs. We always had fresh eggs for breakfast and often had fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, or stewed chicken for Sunday dinner. 

After my father quit keeping chickens, the green shed was cleaned up and became a playhouse for me and my friends. It was there that we cut up pounds of dandelions for dandelion soup and all kinds of imaginary delicacies. 

Later, the green shed became a dog pen for my fatherís hunting dogs. My father and all his brothers were rabbit hunters, so they all had hunting beagles. I remember Sue, Prince, Tom, and Jerry. I am certain there were many others that I do not remember. The abode for all of them was "the green shed."  Except, of course, for the family pets which always stayed in the house with the us. The French people in general seem to have a special affinity for dogs and we always had at least one.  I remember Beauty especially, since she lived with us for 13 years while I was growing up.

In 1950, I moved into the garage apartment with my husband, John L. Hardman, and began having our family of three boys. It was then that the green shed became a play house once again, this time for my own children.

Garage apartment as it looked in the 60ís. The back porch (l.) was enlarged in 1950 
to accommodate the move of my Stieff baby grand piano into the apartment. 
The front porch (r.) was enclosed in 1956 to provide a bedroom for my 3 sons.

A beautiful lilac tree stood at the lower end of the vacant lot. It was here that many young swains serenaded their girlfriends in the 1920ís. We have a picture of Fred Stenger, cousin of my father, sitting near this lilac tree playing his ukulele. 

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These children were neighbors and friends of my early youth.   Many became lifelong friends. 
Picture was taken in the side yard at a birthday party.   They are (l to r:)  First row: 
JoAnn Daugneaux Faris, Bill Newbrough, Shirley Fernandez McCall,  Jules Malfregeot; 
Second row:  Robert Stenger, Jean Stenger, Jim Reymond, Olga Stenger;  Back row: 
EllaJean SomazzMina Stenger Payez, Betty Caussin Armistead, and Henry Petitgirard.

During my teen-age years, we had great fun playing badminton on this vacant lot.On the upper end of the vacant lot, just below the green shed, my father had a small garden. This was the same area where my grandfather had a much larger garden and my son, Mark, has his garden today. The same wonderful fresh vegetables came from all three gardens, although the size of the current one has diminished somewhat over the years.

Mary Alonso Fernandez, mother of one of my girlhood friends, Shirley Fernandez McCall, told me that as a little girl, she loved to pick up horse-manure to put on my grandfatherís garden. ( Her father, Roman Alonso, had come to America with many other Spaniards to work in the glass, as well as, the chemical industries.)  I can only assume that my grandfather enlisted the neighborhood "kids" to gather this great and plentiful fertilizer for the garden, their most abundant source of food. Mary told me that her mother always chided her about this practice and told her that nice girls simply didnít do such things. Mary, however, said, "But I always loved doing it, because afterward, your grandmother would take us into the kitchen, wash our hands and sit us down at the kitchen table for some of her wonderful galettes and cold fresh milk." "That was such a treat that I didnít mind picking up horse-manure at all."

Mary also told me that there was a "meat wagon" that circulated throughout the neighborhood, selling meat. It usually stopped on the corner of Hamill and 22nd. Street, where the neighborhood ladies would gather to buy their meat for dinner. The meat wagon also stocked liver, heart, kidneys, sweetbreads, and other such "innards" which the "American"people didnít eat. The foreigners, however, (Spanish, French, and Italian immigrants) delighted in such delicacies. Since the "meat man" couldnít sell these products anyway, he gave them to the "foreigners."

When my mother died on Mothersí Day (May 12, 1974,) I inherited this wonderful old house. For the last 24 years, I have delighted in maintaining it and accommodating it to my needs.

In 1983, I had the green lattice-work surrounding the back porch replaced with screen, old concrete replaced, and carpet laid on the back porch floor. The perimeter of the property was surrounded with split rail fence, the house was painted and shutters were added to the windows. 

In 1986, because of my impending hip-replacement surgery, I had a bathroom added to the first floor. Because of the space required, we had to use the old formal dining room for the additional bath. It was made large enough to include space for the washer and dryer, which I later had moved up from the basement.

In 1988, I had a music studio added to the side of the house. (It is located on the once vacant lot and is attached to what was once the parlor and is now my bedroom.) For the last 10 years, I have given piano lessons and taught Solfege in this studio. 

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When I retired in 1988, I had this studio added to the house.  I have since given many 
piano lessons and taught many Solfege Classes herein.

My mother, Leah, with her brother-in-law, August Malfregeot, and his son, Jerome. Picture taken on the 
Hamill Avenue side of the vacant lot in 1914. Cottage visible in back-ground is the house Julien built for 
his daughter, Clarice, and her husband August Malfregeot - later occupied by Julien, Jr. and his wife, Margaret Coulson Caussin and their family, Burdine, Arthur, & Betty.

When Clarice, the Caussinís older daughter, eloped with August Malfregeot, Julien was incensed that they had dared to marry without his permission. He was determined to have the marriage annulled. His attorney was John W. Davis (a candidate for U. S. President in 1924.) Since Julien could not speak English, he enlisted as his interpreter his younger son, 14 year old Danton. Uncle Danton told me that after the attorney had listened to grandfatherís plea about annulment, Attorney Davis told him to "go home and help those kids get a good start in life." "Build them a house," he advised. Julien followed his advice and built a cottage for them on the two lots beside his own home. (Visible in the picture above.) On the following Sunday after the visit to John W. Davisís office, Maria Caussin cried with joy when all were reconciled and the newlyweds came to dinner. 

My home as it looked in the late 60ís. Those concrete steps were literally demolished in 
the terrible winter of 1978 when our world remained covered with ice for the entire month of January.

Besides the "joie de vivre" that held sway here throughout the years, the ugly sting of death naturally presented itself also. As was the custom at the time, both Julien and Maria lay in state in the formal parlor of this house when they died in 1917 and 1920 respectively.

On February 25, 1964, 3 days after her 43rdbirthday, my sister, Marie, expired in the dining room of this house. I watched my father embrace my mother with great grief as they watched the life slip from their first-born. Marie had fallen victim to bone cancer 2 years earlier and we cared for her as she lay confined to a hospital bed in the dining room. Despite our awareness of her impending demise and her great suffering, our joy in each other never left us. As she lay in her bed unable to move and my mother and I stood at each side of her bed, the 3 of us sometimes laughed so hard we could hardly get the draw sheet changed. The 3 of us shared secrets, stories and jokes and became closer than ever during this sad time in our lives.

The French have a reputation for being Epicureans and my ancestors were no exception. I have often wondered how my grandmother and my mother were able to prepare such wonderful meals in the original kitchen of this house. There was absolutely no counter space. During the big renovation of 1937, my father added a counter top, some corner cabinets above and some cabinet space with drawers below, across the west end of the kitchen. But even that was very small according to todayís standards. When I moved into the house in 1975, I replaced the kitchen sink with a larger one and added a dish-washer. In 1992, I had the kitchen built-in with countertops and several oak-cabinets. 

I had the original slate roof replaced with shingles in the early 1990ís. By then it had endured over 90 years of wind, rain and snow, as well as countless days of sunshine and blue sky.

To commemorate the 100th year of this old house in 1999, I have just had all the windows replaced and the exterior covered with pebblestone-clay-colored vinyl siding and cranberry shutters.

This old house has been a peaceful haven, comfortable and beautiful in ways invisible, for all the years four generations have dwelt here. Within these walls there breaths a spirit of love which undoubtedly emanates from my courageous, generous, and loving ancestors. 

Over the years, I have noticed that all the children of the Julien and Maria Caussin family have exhibited an "attitude of gratitude" for everything. I must have inherited, then, my own sense of gratitude and thanksgiving for having been born into such a wonderful family. I only know vicariously what good and magnanimous souls Julien and Maria were.

(Written by their loving grand-daughter, Olga Stenger Hardman)

The house as it looks now after its current renovation. (1998)

The house December 12, 2012, after renovations 
made by Mark Hardman.


      © 1998 Olga S. Hardman