1846 Homestead Renovation

Sheet Rock, Wallpaper, and Nail Removal


Onions have layers.  Houses do too.  Our house had a layer of trash and a layer of filth we had to deal with before we could begin the restoration process.  Turns out, there were more layers that needed to be peeled away before we could start making true progress.  I will never forget looking at Jerry and asking “how much further down do we have to go before we hit bottom?”  In other words, will there be any house left after we take out all the non-original stuff and after we replace what the rats and termites had eaten?  The sheet rock, wallpaper and nail removal process certainly revealed the original house, but we were surprised at how many layers there were.

After the trash was removed, we started pulling down all the sheet rock.  It covered the walls and the ceilings, of course.  We used crowbars of various sizes and our hands.  We were covered in rat poop and dead spiders.  It was exhilarating.  Every piece removed, I believed, brought us closer to the original house.  It did, of course, but under the sheet rock was several layers of wallpaper and under that paint and nails.  Lots of nails.  The sheet rock, wallpaper, and nail removal process was probably the most exciting thing we had done to this point because there was a discovery under each layer.  And Jerry was super cool about me trying to preserve wallpaper samples as we went even though I know it slowed things down just a little.

The South Pen’s Secrets

We started in the south pen for most of our renovation.  I have no idea why, but it just seemed like the place to start.  We removed the sheet rock and wall paper in here first.  Maybe it was because the sheet rock was already falling off the ceiling.  You have to start somewhere and this was as good a place as any.

We found three layers of wallpaper in this room.  The most recent was a pastel pink with a lattice pattern.  Underneath this was another pinkish paper with a design that is somewhere between floral and a quilting applique.  The most interesting paper in the entire house was the paper we found at the bottom layer.

This paper looks like a course brown paper with a very simple stencil of red flowers and green leaves.  It isn’t a stencil, but a very basic print.  I was fascinated by it.  Everything that I could date would help me write the history of not only the house, but of the family who lived here.  Was the paper an expensive one for the time?  That might indicate the family was doing well financially.  Was the paper original to the house?  If so, it would have been the way the house looked when they bought it.  That was super important to me.  Jerry, bless his heart, helped me peal the wallpaper off, trying to get large enough pieces that I could attempt to date them.

We removed the wall paper in the bathroom as well.  There were four layers of paper in this room.  The top layer was a very bright yellow paper, followed by a white background floral paper.  Under that was light gray grid paper with small flowers and the bottom layer was a brown lattice paper with flowers.  It all came down.


What we noticed in the south end of the house was that termites love paper.  We would later find out that they seemed to love it more on the north side of the house.  There was significant damage to the one-inch-thick board walls in a couple of areas.  One spot we knew we would have to replace boards.  In others, some spackling and sanding would take care of the problems.

Pulling Nails

A problem that presented itself during the wallpaper removal process was the sheer number of nails that were in the walls and ceilings.  Pulling the large head sheetrock nails was easily accomplished (unless the head bent or broke off), but the tiny wallpaper tacks were going to be an issue.

I wanted to remove them.  Jerry said it would take too much time.  I said it would look terrible if we just painted over them.  He said it would take too much time.  He was right, of course.  It did take a lot of time.  One layer of tacks would have been a mess.  Four layers of nails was insane.

We removed every one of them that we could find.  We then spackled the holes and sanded that down before we primed and painted the walls.  It was March, fortunately, and that meant spring break was happening for all of us associated in some fashion with an academic institution.  We spent spring break (that is the five days of break with the two weekends on either side…nine days) removing the nails in the south pen, the bathroom and the center hallway.

Was it worth it?  Yeah, it was.  The walls turned out great and I really believe that it would have looked just awful if we would have painted over them.  I do see Jerry’s point though.  We were bailing water.  With all the things that needed to get done or be addressed, I was pulling nails.  Maybe I should have waited and done this later.  Who knows, but I was so glad that we committed to doing it right and spending the extra time it took to make sure it looked beautiful.

And we did have help with the sheet rock, wallpaper and nail removal process.  Our son, Jacob, came and pulled nails.  That was a pretty tedious job for him and he soon switched to using the orbital sander.  Our daughter, Jillian and her significant other, Mike came up from Houston to help with the house.  During the nail removal week, they threw us a huge curve ball that altered our focus for a bit.


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