The Renovation Process
The Wild Plum Station turned 100 last year. Not every building can say that! Most small towns in Montana have lost their vintage buildings to fire, or worse, to the notion that newer is better. (Think panelling in the 70s, fluorescents and drop ceilings.) Ask any contractor today, and I think you’ll find general agreement that modern construction leaves something to be desired. Pine can’t hold a candle to the heart fir our virgin forests once grew.
That’s why when we bought the Plum in 1999, we knew we’d found something special. It had the original tin ceiling tiles and fir flooring. The three skylights were what sold me! Sure, it would take some work, but the walls were still plumb, the structure was intact. I never did learn much about the laborers who built her, but I always assumed they were Europeans who had brought their skills from the Old World. We had no idea, though, it would take as long to renovate as it has. It’s been quite a process. I took a lot of photos.
Obviously, many of the original materials had been acquired locally, but some would have been shipped from “back east.” Montana of 1912 was a distant backwater, without proper roads or communication systems. One of the old-timers told us she remembered when her family came here in 1910… in a covered wagon, no less.
The stone walls are 19″ thick. They used local stone and aggregate in four foot concrete forms. You can see the imprints of the wood in some places. There are seven chimneys made of brick. To this day, wood is our primary heat source.
The small addition to the east is stick frame construction built in the 30s, and was used originally as a pool hall. Later it became the town’s post office, until the 70s when our current one was built. We refer to the room as “the post office.”
Here’s a funny story we were told. When Mr. Jeannot was building the place, he wasn’t able to get water rights to the irrigation ditch that ran through the property. What did he do? He build the place right over the ditch! Seriously. In my studio, we found two small brick arches down at grade level. A river ran through it, indeed!
We’ve done the renovation in stages, determined largely by our financial situation and level of gumption at any given time. We painted the exterior trim and the post office front many years before we finally got round to the masonry. It took about a month for three of us to patch the stucco. Then it took a couple more weeks to paint. I call it “Dixon Melon Orange!” We’re going to give it another coat this summer or next. I’m considering a mural… we’ll see how it goes.
The yard has been a labor of love. Generally, I spend about a month each spring planting a garden and perennials. We have a number of apple trees… and plums, of course! Italian plums, though, not wild plums. They still grow down by the river, and are about the size of cherries. I’ll be planting cherry and pear trees next week. They’re inside right now keeping me company as I write this.