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A pilot’s house |

A pilot’s house

When Elizabeth Turner Platt went looking for a house in the early 2000s, she wanted one that, as she says, “fit me and my interests.”

She was ready to leave Davenport for a smaller town, and when she toured a brick house built by a riverboat pilot around 1860 in LeClaire, “it just seemed to all fit,” she said.

She appreciates the home’s history, and she likes how it provides a comfortable backdrop to all the things that have attached themselves to her through her many years of living, things that were used, taken care of and valued, like pottery and peach crates, butter churns and books.

Her home is one of 19 historic properties listed in a new guidebook created by the Buffalo Bill Museum that provides short histories of the sites, including 10 private homes and nine commercial buildings.

Hers also is one of four Suiter homes in the brochure, Suiter being the name of a long-time LeClaire family that started out as river pilots and most recently became bankers.

Platt’s home lives up to its 157 years. No open floor plan here. When built, there were four rooms on each floor, and “they were small rooms,” she said. “That’s just the way they lived.”  

For heat, there were two wood-burning stoves on each side of the ground floor, and the upstairs was warmed by the rising of that warm air.

The walls are double-bricked with an air space in between for insulation, but nowadays that makes hanging pictures tricky.

Instead of closets — there isn’t one in the entire home — occupants hung their clothes on hooks. And they may have had “wardrobes,” or large wood cabinets in which to store clothing an accessories. Platt has three, including one on the first floor, used as a coat closet.

The floors are made of planks of locally cut lumber, and they have been refinished to a shiny patina, with scrapes here and there. This might be called a “distressed finish” in a new home, but in this house, it’s the real thing, not an affectation.

Originally there would have been no indoor bathroom; rather, there was an outhouse up the hill from the back door, Platt said. When a previous owner remodeled, a bathroom was tucked in under the stairs, where it remains today.

The home also didn’t have a kitchen, as was common in the early days, because in the summer they added a lot of heat to the house and, with a fire burning much of the time, posed a danger. Instead, then, people built free-standing kitchens, like a garage, out back.

At some point, though, that kitchen was removed and an addition was built onto the back of the house. You can easily tell where, because one of its walls is the brick of what had been the outside.

It’s in the kitchen that Platt has really put her stamp. Instead of installing modern cabinets from a big box store, she has opted for a combination of storage options to give the feel of an earlier time period.

There is an open shelf, a free-standing dining room cabinet, her dad’s old work bench and two wall cabinets crafted by a carpenter, but faced with doors that were salvaged from vintage kitchens.

All the countertops are wood; two of them are salvaged from a bowling alley lane.

In building the back wall of the kitchen addition, the builders used the limestone cornerstone from an old church for the header over the back door. It reads, “Anno Domini 1846,” or “in the year of our Lord, 1846.”

 With its original dirt floor, the home’s basement really speaks to the 1860s.

Finally, there is the absence of a garage. “It was the first thing I was going to do, and I’ve never done it,” Platt said of building a place for her car. “You learn to live without things.”

The roof of the home was deteriorating when Platt bought the house, so she replaced it with standing seam steel, an investment that won her an award in 2006 from the Scott County Historic Preservation Society.

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