Our historic (school)house: when truth is stranger than fiction

When talking about mystery novels with The Dear Man a few years ago, I commented that one of the tropes is that detectives in books often live in really cool, unconventional houses.

Think Kinsey Millhone in that rockin’ garage apartment that feels like the inside of a boat.

Or Travis McGee, who actually lives on a houseboat.

Or Magnum, P.I. (OK, that’s 80s TV, but stay with me), who lives in the guest house of that grand estate in Hawaii.

Or my favorite literary abode: Scot Harvath’s home in an 18th century stone (former) church and rectory owned by the U.S. Navy. Who wouldn’t want to live there?

Detectives even get amazing office spaces: Walt Longmire has an office in an old Carnegie library, and Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro run their business from an old church belfry.*

It was one of those things that I thought only happened in books.

Until it happened to us.

We bought an old schoolhouse.

Actually, we bought half of it. There’s an 18-inch-thick brick wall that runs right down the center of the place, and we’ve bought the side we loved best.

The school was built in 1906—and while it’s been remodeled, it still has serious old-building character—and we get to live in it!

I love love love old houses. All my life (except during college, library school, and the first year after) I’ve lived in old houses, and I love their charm and their quirks and their history. Ever since childhood, I’ve adored sitting in my old house and thinking about the former residents reading the newspaper and finding out about the sinking of the Titanic. Or women winning the right to vote. Or the end of a war.

It makes me feel connected.

With this place, it’s an even twistier path to the past, because we’re envisioning students and teachers and the principal, living out their school days here. The other night, we were talking about “duck and cover” during the Cold War and I said, “Oh my gosh. They did that right here.”

So when it comes to listing my favorite things about this house, I get stuck. There’s the history, there’s the delight of living in a school, and there’re those brick walls, and the floating staircase, and the 8-foot tall windows, and the original doors and transoms…

We’re flat-out in love with this place. Sometimes we just sit and gaze at it. Often we don’t want to leave.

What’ll actually launch us out of the house: We’ve made an appointment at the local historical museum, where we’re gonna dig into our schoolhouse’s history. We’re hoping to find photos.

In the meantime, we’ve got a little chalkboard that says Comfort and here we are… reading and cooking and watching the cat and decoding the secrets of our schoolhouse and talking about all the things…

It’s no mystery where you’ll find us.

So tell me…. Has there ever been a point in your life when you’ve said, “I thought this only happened in books…”


Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone series)

John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee series)

Brad Thor (Scot Harvath series)

Craig Johnson (Walt Longmire series)

Dennis Lehane (Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro series)

4 thoughts on “Our historic (school)house: when truth is stranger than fiction

  1. *screams in delight* THAT is AMAZING!!!!!!!!! I’m beyond jealous. All my life, whenever I’ve been in a school, I’ve picked out what room would be my bedroom if I lived in it like a house (my 8th grade classroom in my grade school, my French classroom in my high school). I love unconventional buildings used as houses, so I’m absolutely in love with the fact that you live in a school. Enjoy every second of that gorgeous home!!!

  2. Stephanie — I so agree! I continue regularly (even after several months of living here) to burst into applause upon entering our home. Thanks for the good wishes for a happy home!

    I love that you used to envision which classroom you’d live in. I have a long history of envisioning alternate spaces as houses, too — I used to convert our Fisher Price parking ramp into a house, and it was always fun to decide where to place the living room.

  3. Oh my gosh! I was kind of sad when I heard you’d sold that sweet little house you so generously had us visit. I assumed you’d bought something newer because, as a person who lives in an older house, I know how constant repairs can grate on a person… And a bank account. But this? THIS IS SO COOOOOOOL!!!!!!!!! I love that you found such a magical corner of the world to share with your pizza partner! I love that you’ve taken stewardship of such a great building. This makes me unreasonably happy! Side note: I’ve been thinking of you a lot lately because that copy of Dear Zoo you gave tiny fetal Sammers is one of his absolute favorites right now.

    • Oh, dear Katie, thank you for the good wishes! We’re so fortunate to have landed in a place we love. And I’m glad to remain part of the old house sisterhood.

      What makes me unreasonably happy: hearing that Sam (known around these parts as “The Most Adorable Baby in the World” — cuz #samspam is a constant delight) loves Dear Zoo. I can’t wait till he starts reading it to you.

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