Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Little Bit about Elgin, Tx

By the bye, note that I've added a link to the right to is a DIY online community where you can post questions and get answers. I've put some of the blog materials on my account there. Now back to our regularly scheduled program.
Proud to be the Brick Capital of the Southwest
I thought we'd take a break from the usual around here and do a little profile of Elgin, Tx.

First of all, its location:

We're located at the green arrow on the right. Austin is on the left.

It's about 20 mi. east of Austin on Hwy 290, past the wildly proliferating suburb of Manor. (That's "MAY-ner," not "Manner" for you out-of-towners. And, while we're on the subject, it's "EL-ghin," not "EL-jin," which is east of "BURN-it" not "Burn-ET" and north of "BARE" not "Bex-ar" County. That's just how it is.)

The Handbook of Texas Online says that the town of Elgin was founded in 1871 by the railroad a few miles up the road from the settlement of Hogeye, Texas, (also known, less colorfully, as Perryville), which it subsequently absorbed. The town's Hogeyean roots, however, are recalled in Elgin's annual Hogeye Festival, which, to the relief of all concerned, does not involve eating any hog's eyes whatsoever. The new town was initially named "Glasscock" until someone thought the better of it and named it after a Poobah of the railroad company, one Robert Morris Elgin.

According to the Elgin Chamber of Commerce, the railroad was originally supposed to run through McDade, now a modest hamlet to the east of Elgin, but was somehow deterred by a big flood.

By 1884 Elgin had its first brick manufactory, as well as a broom factory, cotton processing, and the beginings of a profitable coal mining industry. The Elgin Courier, founded in the 1800s, is still in print. The one brick plant eventually swelled to three, and they remain in operation today. However, somewhere along the way Elgin opted to base its claim to fame on its sausage rather than its bricks and changed its slogan from "The brick capital of the southwest" to "The sausage capital of Texas." Two popular BBQ joints (Meyer's and Southside) still export competing lines of sausage to the rest of the state, with an annual combined production of 3 million pounds, according to the Elgin CoC.

Nevertheless, as a happy result of the large Hispanic population in town, your best bet for eats may well be Mexican. The strength of the margaritas at El Maguey has to be measured on the richter scale, and they boast excellent, toasty, flavorful tortillas as well. (Our realtor warned us against this restaurant, albeit in vague terms. After a few sips of your margarita, however, you won't care--or notice--if they're serving you grilled Chihuahua--it's just darn tasty). Guadalupe, on 290, is also a solid choice.

Current Elgin Stats
The City of Elgin also has a website. Among other things, they list Elgin's three annual festivals: Western Days, The Hogeye Festival, and the Chilepepper Festival.

Their community plan ("Envision Elgin") includes efforts to improve the mediocre ranking of the school system, to preserve and enhance the delightful historic downtown, and to promote regionalism (which seems to mean looking for cooperative solutions to regional infrastructure issues).

(The chart below, from, gives some sense of how Elgin schools are doing.)

On a related note, graphed the results of the 2004 presidential election. Correlation? You decide.

Trulia also gives a handy table of Elgin's financial stats. To be fair to Elgin, while it is below both Texas and national averages, it isn't very far below--it's easy to misread the graphic below and think that we're practically a 3rd world country. We're actually just a little south of average.

Elgin's financials

...and now for some good news. Elgin has very low crime rates both compared to its county and to the state as a whole. We may not be rich or brilliant, but we're honest, darnit. And safe, which, joking aside, is a valuable asset.

(By the way, if you have trouble reading the charts, click on them to see a large version.)

Elgin's low crime rate

Trulia also shows the breakdown of home age in Elgin. How you feel about this stat probably depends on your perspective, but I think it's GREAT. We have a higher percentage of old houses (i.e., built before 1950) than the county or the state. Which is why, unlike Manor, Elgin has a lovely old town feel. And it's why Matt & I were able to buy our ducky little 1910-20 house. It's also why we wanted to move to Elgin as soon as we saw it.

Elgin has lots of delightful older homes

We can also learn a little about the ethnic background in Elgin from Keep in mind that one person can have multiple ancestries--the numbers won't necessarily add up to 100.

For an even more thorough exploration of available data, there is It tells us, for example, that Elgin is 4.7 square miles, with an average of 1,852 people per square mile, which is considered fairly low.

In addition, city-data has some very nice climate charts. The long and the short: it's hot and humid here. I can tell you from personal experience, however, that it is moister than Austin--the trees in old town Elgin are much taller and more robust than trees in Austin.

Real Estate Issues
Eh. We're not doing so hot. Mind, that's why Matt & I were able to afford Elgin in the first place, but we didn't want the prices to continue to decline, as indicated in this chart from

On the bright side, according to trulia's data, the price falloff is really confined to very high end houses--$600K or more. On our more modest end of the scale, there is only a tiny decline. And hey, that means lower taxes anyway, right?

The data below is just pitiful--from 10 to 50 days on market in a month?? There aren't even 50 days in a month! Are we selling in some sort of time warp? I suppose what's likelier is that the quantity of homes sold in Elgin is so low that it's easy to send the numbers into precipitous declines and equally dramatic elevations.
On the other hand, while overall home prices have declined, price per square foot has slightly... increased? Does that even make sense?

And finally, here's trulia's more explicit breakdown of home values in Elgin--bear in mind that these are asking prices only--not selling prices. 2-bedrooms have absolutely nose-dived. But 3- & 4-bedrooms are enjoying a slight increase. What the hell? Once again, my special little demographic (we have three bedrooms here at the hacienda, thank you very much) isn't the one in trouble, but I do think it's peculiar all the same.

On a further real estatey note, the City of Elgin site also pointed out that Elgin is the fastest growing city in Bastrop County:
1850 single family lots platted
3340 single family lots conceptual
176 duplexes platted

So I don't suppose those home values will be bouncing back any time soon. We weren't planning on moving anyway, and any return is a better investment than the renting we had been doing throughout our 20s, so I'm not too despondent.

Next in the series: the coolness of downtown Elgin, and definitive proof that we're miles worthier than our competition for Austin ex-pats and retail outlets, Manor.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Vital Stats

There are a number of, well, numbers that I'm going to need to be able to access as I make purchases for the house. Just so I always have them handy, I'm going to put them here.

In addition, I'd appreciate it if my friends and relatives who like antiquing could keep an eye out for antique 5-panel doors (doesn't have to be oak--fir or pine is just fine) for us. Our house came with one original 5-panel door (at right), a smaller, plainer version that leads to a closet, and another 5-panel door that had been modified to hold a glass pane where two of the panels used to be. The rest of the doors in the house are a uniform hideous cheapness--dinky little hollow things that feel like they're made of cardboard. Why anyone would replace a lovely, solid-wood door with that ghastly flimsiness, I cannot guess. Anyway, we'd like to replace them back again.

I'll put the dimensions we're looking for below. If you come across any for a reasonable price (less than $90--I've even seen them for as low at $55 online), I'd be very grateful if you'd give me a call. We probably won't be able to afford more than one at a time, so this will be an ongoing project.

Similarly, we're looking for nifty antique door knobs. This house, which has 8 interior doors downstairs, has only 1 original doorknob (see left). We adore old doorknobs--so much personality!--so we'd like to replace the dismal modernities with something a little older and more interesting.

I'm not very picky about these, just so long as they're old and don't have paintings of pheasants on them. They don't need to match each other or anything. I do prefer dark metal finishes, however. The house is from ~1910-1920, so knobs from the early 20c would be ideal. I don't think we'd want to pay much more than $35 for a door knob. Again, if you see anything you think I'd like, please let me know. Thanks antiquers!

Master bath hardware: 8 knobs, 2 pulls

Air intake vent - 14 x 30"

Bathmat - max. 40.5" w

Dining room - ?

Kitchen - ?

Master bed - ?

Study - ?

Master bath - ?

Guest room - ?

Guest bath - ?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

In Which We Plumb (a little)

We celebrated our return from vacation by finally installing our new vanity top in the master bath. You'll recollect that we had torn out the old counter (at great personal risk) a couple of entries ago.

There was a little lull between destruction and construction, but this evening we got after it. Since our vanity (big shocker) is a non-standard size, we had to order a custom top. The cheapest custom top was cultured marble, so that's what we got. It's not corian or granite, but I think it looks rather nice.

We also took the opportunity to replace the faucet, which was charmless and worn, with something new, gleaming, and stylish. We got a Price Pfister--ooo-la-la! In the grand scheme of all things faucetty, it's pretty chintzy (apparently, patrician types think nothing of shelling out upwards of $350 for a simple faucet), but by my standards it's all sleek and stylish, with its demode brushed nickle finish.

In any event, here the shiny new prettiness is. In the picture below, Matt's smearing the silicone caulk into any crannies. (Interesting side note: silicone caulking is the gooiest, stickiest, messiest caulk I've ever encountered--it's so oozy, yet adhesive. Yech.) Much remains to be done in the bathroom, but it's mostly a bunch of cosmetic stuff.

Progress continues to be made, comrades!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Incredibly Productive Weekend

The Vests came up to lend a hand around the house, and my word! they put the kaibosh on--well, lots of stuff, actually.

Super-chic Minimalist Valances

Ladonna helped (we're loosely defining "helped" here as "did all the work while Melanie looked on and occasionally said, 'Can I do anything?'"--a role that suited me down to the ground. NB: In my defense, I did make breakfast--mmmm, migas with homefries!) turn the red cotton/linen panels from our old kitchen into super-chic minimalist valances for the new kitchen.

The project was complicated by the fact that the two windows have casings (I think Chuck called them "fascia"?) of differing widths, and by the fact that we were winging it sans pattern. The resulting perplexities account for the slightly manic look on Ladonna's face in the picture below.

Ladonna, celebrating the first completed valance

What you cannot tell from the above picture is that my stylish, minimalist valances have a single, stylish, minimalist pleat down the middle:

Valance with attractive box pleat

Nifty, no?

Both valances, installed

Now I get to go out and buy a bunch of red doo-dads (candles, vases, &c) to sprinkle insouciantly around the kitchen to tie the nutria-and-red theme together.

New Outlets
Meanwhile, Chuck and Matt worked on adding some outlets to the living room. Here is why this operation was necessary:

"Electrical work" à la Matt & Mel

The one wall on which it is logical to put one's entertainment center is a wall that contains no outlets whatsoever and is framed by doorways, making extension cords a somewhat inelegant solution.

When we asked Chuck's advice on the subject, we were delighted to hear him say (as he does with reassuring frequency), "That is NO PROBLEM." And then it got very technical with romex and breakers and boxes and so forth. He & Matt decided to run some of this romex (which resourceful Chuck fortunately had a stash of) in the crevice between the bamboo & the walls, underneath the quarter-round. You can sort of see it in this picture--a yellowish line running along the baseboards, hooked into the outlet to the right.

During their excavations, they discovered interesting things about our house.

For example, the baseboards are actually rather thick pieces of lumber--there is no wallboard behind them. Instead, the wallboard sits on top of the baseboards, making them look much thinner than they truly are. The wallboard, therefore, doesn't get anywhere near the floor--it starts a good 10 inches up.

In addition, there is a horizontal piece of wood running behind the wallboard/baseboard juncture. This means that we couldn't run the romex up inside the wall to a receptable installed on the wallboard--that piece of wood was in the way. So they had to install the outlets in the baseboards instead--not ideal, but better than no outlets at all.

Dating the House
Matt & Chuck also got to take a look at how the wood was joined. It used a "shiplap" join, which Chuck described as an ancestor of tongue-and-groove joints. Because of this, he thinks our house probably actually dates back to the early 1900s, not to 1935, as all of the legal docs say.

Chuck finds a shiplap joint.

Interestingly enough, we've had other bits of evidence that point in that direction. For example, our next-door neighbor, 80-some-odd-year-old Mr. Merreck, was raised in this house, which he says his parents bought in 1920. At the time, he says, it was a farm house surrounded by several acres of gardens. He also says that the current study and master bath were just an L-shaped porch in that day, that the mudroom was a hall, and that they drew water up from a well underneath the back porch.

But our other next-door neighbor to the south, who apparently works on historical homes here in Elgin, says that he thinks it's even older than 1920. It was Matt who had the conversation with him (so I don't know the details), but apparently, he's basing his opinion on something to do with the windows. Would like to learn more about this.

Après Chuck, le déluge

We also mentioned the fact that we had concerns about the air conditioner drip pan upstairs, which didn't seem to be draining properly. Matt had been planning to tackle it with a plumbing snake this week, but Chuck decided to get on it right away (which was probably the right decision). In a small miracle of preparedness, he happened to have an air compressor with him, so he and Matt first blew out the primary and secondary lines, then washed the primary out. Violent, algae-colored gushing ensued.

Here, too, we learned all kinds of stuff. For example, the wee little pipe by the kitchen door is our secondary line (when it drips, we need to get up into the attic and clean out the primary). The pipe by the mudroom has been disconnected and serves no purpose (Chuck theorizes that is was the original secondary line, but as people stopped using the mudroom as an entry, they weren't able to keep an eye on the line, so they disconnected it.) The primary line is under a rock. Yes, that's right, it's under a rock. Odd place for it, I would think, but I'm no civil engineer.

That broken piece of paver covers the hole where the primary line exits.

The pipe is buried, and under the rock is where it empties itself. Whatever. Anyway, it's all cleaned out now, so here's hoping for the best.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Blood & Gore

We work and work...what does this house want from us? Blood?


That's real blood! Not paint! Ow!

It turns out (Mom & Dad, you probably shouldn't read this bit--skip ahead to the next picture), flying tile shrapnel is sharp!

Our new countertop came in ahead of schedule, so replacing the tile hideousness in the bathroom got bumped up on our priority list.

We had researched the subject online and in our various home repair books and were ready to go to town. However, none of them mentioned anything about safety goggles or closed-toe shoes. I suddenly have a whole new appreciation for Common Sense Warnings (à la "Drano is not intended to be applied internally--do not drink!")

Anyhoo. For all you DIYers out there, when demolishing a tile counter, proper safety precautions are recommended.

The counter that was

Step 1 in Hideous Tile Counter Removal is to pry up the metal thingy holding in the sink. (Actually, Step 1 is to disconnect the sink & faucet. Then pry up the metal rim. It's important to do this in the right order.) You need a hammer and a chiselly sort of a tool. Matt had what I think was probably a proper chisel. I had a very hefty flathead screwdriver.

FYI, the red stuff in the sink is not blood. The house was contented with a token (hah! get it? toe-kin!) sacrifice on my part. One reason not to paint your bathroom red is that the stuff gets everywhere.

Very satisfying. Sink all gone.

Step 3 is to chisel up all the tile that is holding the counter on--the edges, the perimeter, and the first row of the backsplash. This is the perilous part. The tile resists, resists, resists, EXPLODES. And tile shards go flying.

Here I am, chiseling away

Matt, making swift progress.

Funny illustration of our different working styles. So, we had removed all the tiles from the perimeter, so nothing was holding the counter to the walls. But then we were kind of stumped as to what to do next. We had a crowbar (love that crowbar, by the way--what a great tool! Hats off to the caveman/woman who invented it), but we couldn't seem to wedge it anywhere. So we decided to kind of loosen things up by banging on the underside of the counter with a hammer. When it became clear that loosening had been accomplished, I started jimmying around with the crowbar and saying, "Okay, you bang with the hammer to my right, and while you do that, I'll lever the crowbar--"

And Matt reached over and yanked up the whole counter top. He don' need no stinkin' crowbar.

Matt manhandles the counter

Et voilà! No more hideous counter. (We still have a hideous backsplash, but we're planning to paint that.) The whole project was surprisingly easy, if messy. Except for unscrewing the sink--that was a pain. Otherwise, not too bad.

Mission accomplished

We have to move the outlet, get some liquid nails, and buy the new faucet before attaching the counter--an adventure for another day.

Still, good work was done here today.
Related Posts with Thumbnails