Company Housing was the term used for small, uniform houses built for families who worked in the coal mines and steel mills of Western Pennsylvania during the height of the Industrial Revolution. Built into the hillsides and hollers of Appalachia, they were small and simple, strong and sturdy. I still can't get a nail through the pine floorboards of mine. To this day, they remain scattered in crowded neighborhoods throughout the city.
Photos courtesy of The Coal Industry, Google Books
Original Watercolor by the late Henry Fiore, my collection
Original oil, artist unknown, my collection.
Fun Fact: Almost all Southwestern Pennsylvania neighborhoods are built over abandoned mines. Homeowners are strongly encouraged to buy Mine Insurance, an actual thing, in case their house gets SWALLOWED UP BY THE EARTH WHEN A MINE SHAFT COLLAPSES. No lie.
Photo and caption courtesy of The Mirror
A city apartment wouldn't do, though. I needed a place where my cats, once feral, could roam safely outside in the day (Mouser was fond of playing chicken with rush-hour traffic, sitting in the middle of the road and staring down kind drivers who waited patiently for him to either finish crossing or come around to the driver's side for petting. He's the un-feral one). I needed a place where I could have my own garden, where Buster could bark freely without waking the people upstairs. A place I could paint like the gingerbread cottage of my girlhood dreams. I needed a house.
"Single occupancy cottage, peaceful setting on dead end street with woods, pets ok", read the Craigslist ad. Then, "Carrick". Carrick? "Rough", my friends told me regarding the South Pittsburgh neighborhood. "Trashy" and "Blighted", said their faces. "Affordable", heard my brain. "Unlimited potential". "Blank canvas".
View of the woods across the street. View of my only neighbor to the right.
Shortly after getting settled in and fixing the place up (documented in future blog posts from here to eternity), a handsome young couple came by and asked if the house was for sale. "No," said I, possessive-like. "But we saw it in the real estate listings," they responded, befuddled. "Well, it's NOT", I snorted and stormed indoors. The house had been on the market before I rented it, but surely they'd taken it off now that it was occupied. When another couple came by and inquired, I realized it was, indeed, still listed.
I suspected from experience in other cities that the easy transaction, low deposit, lighting-quick maintenance and courteous staff were too good to be true. Those a-holes! Shenanigans like that really stick in my craw.
Time to make an unpleasant phone call. It went something like this:
Me, all uppity: "Hello, Margaret? I see the house I'm renting is for sale and people are coming by at all hours of the day and night and this is a dead end street and I'm here alone I don't feel safe please call back ASAP."
Also Me, 10 minutes later: "Margaret this is my third call and I really need to know what's happening with the house I can't afford to be displaced and there was no disclosure that it was still listed and people are sniffing around my private space and I can't have people coming around when I'm here all alone call me please."
Me to Rae, 10 minutes after that: "Hi, Rae? I know I'm supposed to just deal with Realty Counseling but no one's getting back to me and the house is still listed for sale and people are coming around in the middle of the night and invading my privacy and I live alone and I don't need these strangers coming around my house I'll be calling my lawyer."
Like I had a lawyer. And by "all hours" and "people", I meant the two aforementioned couples on one Saturday afternoon. I tend to embellish when my panties get up in a wad.
After a round of Mea Culpas to The Gentle Margaret and Rae, it occurred to me that perhaps Margaret kept the listing active to light a fire under me to buy, and light a fire she did.
I loved the neighborhood and I loved the neighbors, who were mostly related and who had grown up there. Everyone had a dog who got out and went on the occasional wild tear, so no one could complain if my Buster did the same. I'd participated in the weekly Happy Hour in Jimmy and Gemma's garage around the wood stove, where Jimmy did all his canning and regularly served up some wonderful thing he'd made from scratch from some wonderful thing he'd caught or grown himself. Last night I had a fish cake made from Red Snapper with extry hot horseradish sauce. They always had Michelob Ultra and homemade shine from West Virginia or his brother's still up the street, which I will never touch again. The shine, not the still. But I digress.
To read about how I went from renting to owning, tune in here next week, or subscribe and I'll send you the link directly!