Make a House a Home
A modified Greek Revival raised cottage in the King William Historic District, Maria and Fred Pfeiffer’s home, was built for Gustav Blersch, a German immigrant, importer and retail dealer in 1860. But the home has nurtured Maria’s family members for over 115 years from its original half-basement kitchen to its deep front veranda.
The wide front porch steps lead to the original front door and surround with panels of wheel-cut glass that are frosted and etched with vine and floral patterns. Opening to a central hallway – with a ceiling height of thirteen feet – that extends the depth of the house, allowing breezes to cool the rooms on either side of the hall.
In 1871, a two-story rear wing was added, and a bay window extended the original dining room that now is the main living room where the stately Tannenbaum radiates light adorned with vintage glass ornaments. Nestled under the tree, Maria’s diminutive rocking chair holds Ted, her toy teddy bear, with hobbyhorse Go-Go and vintage toy train adding mirth to the holiday decor.
Almost all of the furnishings in their home came from the stately King William home of her great-grandparents, Hulda and Carl Groos. When asked about a particularly grand marble-topped table or framed portrait, Maria replies with a chuckle, “Oh, it’s always been here!”
The Eastlake settee, corner chairs, marble-topped side tables, and platform rocker all bear the same furniture maker’s mark. “When my great-grandmother moved into the big house on King William Street, she had quite a few rooms to fill, and many of the pieces were purchased at the same time,” said Maria.
On the piano that was purchased by her grandparents for her mother, Elsa Watson, is a display of Christmas figures collected over generations. Maria’s father Bill was quite the performer and “would play at the drop of a hat,” she recalled.
The formal dining room boasts a massive oak table with its original set of dining chairs, also from the King William Street home, that can seat up to fourteen guests. Maria’s mother would say, “Let’s have gracious living. Light the candles and dine at the big table.” Most of the time, the family would enjoy a delicious meal around the kitchen table.
A small staircase added in 1871 (when the back wing was added to the home) leads downstairs to the half-basement and the original kitchen. Adapted for modern living, a built-in bookcase holds cookbooks and a display of vintage meat grinders. A granite-clad worktable is at the heart of holiday culinary activities.
This is where the famous holiday Herring Salad is prepared each year with family and friends around the kitchen table. Cousins still come to town and old friends volunteer to chop ingredients and filet herring for the German delicacy.
In a walk-in pantry, a legion of antique crockery bowls stand at the ready to be filled with tart chopped apples, eggs, beets, veal roast, and fresh pickled herring.
“My mother would make it with all of the old German aunts and cousins,” remembers Maria. “It was a special dish that was served on Christmas Eve.”
A door off of the basement kitchen leads to a stone porch that runs the length of the house, exposing the great limestone blocks that support the structure. Maria reflected, “It is an interesting view of the world from about four feet under,” as she gazed across her front lawn with the grand oak trees beginning to send a cascade of autumn leaves across Washington Street.
It is almost time to prepare the herring for another holiday. Schöne Feiertage!
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By John Bloodsworth
Photography by Al Rendon