The Davis Homestead

By Eilene Lyon

Genealogy is about discovery: discovering your ancestors, discovering history, discovering your cultural identity, discovering new family.

Anticipating a uniting of the Davis clan in Latah County, Idaho, in late June, I undertook a special project. Though almost everyone gathering in Moscow was in some way connected to Melville C. and Sarah R. (Livengood) Davis, I had not met any, except four.

In years past, a small branch of the family held reunions at the Sterling and Clara (Ransom) Davis farm just a few miles from town. This time, family history was the focus and we reached out to other branches of the family – people descended from Sterling Davis’s siblings. I’ll write more about that event in a few weeks.

My job was finding the family homestead in rural Latah County. From BLM records, I knew where Melville and Sarah Davis established a homestead in 1886. Three of their sons also homesteaded on adjacent and nearby parcels. I carefully mapped them using USGS National Maps and Google Earth.

Then I went to the Latah County GIS (Geographic Information Systems) website to get addresses for current owners. I mailed five letters, accompanied by the 1902 photo (above) of the Melville Davis house. The people in the photo are Franklin C. Davis, Elmer Davis (both sons of Melville — the tallest and shortest!), and Frank’s wife, Ivy Harrison.

I was pretty certain the house no longer existed – and family lore indicated it had been torn down. But I hoped someone might know something about it.

Within a week or two, I received a phone call from someone in Idaho who had known Frank Davis’s sons. While we were chatting, another call came in.

When I called back, an excited couple told me they had bought a house last August and were in the process of restoring and remodeling it. They compared it to the photo I had sent and they were just sure it was the same house they were living in!

The photos (below), taken after they stripped off several layers of siding, convinced me they were right. And sure enough, they are living on the M. C. Davis claim.

Davis Home 2019 - Heather Fisher2
In this photo, you can see the outline of the original porch roof and the size and location of the original windows. (Courtesy H. Fisher)
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Another view that shows the original window outlines on the south side of the house. (Courtesy H. Fisher)

Prior to the weekend of the gathering, I visited the homestead and the owners graciously gave me a tour of the house. An interesting historical note is that the house you see in the 1902 photo is actually two houses joined together. The portion on the right is the original house, with hand-hewn logs undergirding it. The other house was moved to the site and is constructed with milled lumber underneath.

Davis Home 2019 - Heather Fisher3.jpg
This view of the underside shows the substructure of the two main portions of the house. (Courtesy H. Fisher)

On Sunday, June 29, a group of about 25 people headed out to see the farm. We posed in front of the remodeled house and in front of this barn – also believed to be from the Davis era. The last of the Davises moved off the homestead properties in 1913, moving to Moscow, Deary, and other places.

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Barn on the homestead property, probably built by the Davis family.
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The barn interior shows the structure is made from peeled tree trunks with a sill of hand-hewn logs.

The very best thing about finding the family house still standing after more than 130 years, is the current owners. Many people who looked at buying there would have scrapped these two structures and built a fine new residence – wealth is moving into that area.

Instead, people who see value in old things and their history, who are determined to save these buildings and breathe new life into them, have bought the old homestead. (They also share a hobby of restoring classic cars.) In coming years, the land will be productive again, as well.

We Davis descendants are grateful for their loving restoration, and we wish them all the best in their “new” forever home.

Last, but not least, a couple gorgeous northern Idaho sunsets:

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Feature image: Melville and Sarah Davis house. (Courtesy University of Idaho Special Collections) Photo restoration by Val Erde.

36 thoughts on “The Davis Homestead

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      1. Yes, it is of stone. I have researched the house extensively for a book I am writing. There is actually a small church (chapel) inside the house that dates to before our family owned it. The house as it stands, was built in the early 1300’s but was the site of a Roman stable during the reign of Claudius and later a Medieval boarding house and stable. The newest addition to the building is dated at 1606. I am currently trying to get permission to do a foundation analysis.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. How fortunate that you were able to locate your family’s homestead, and new owners are restoring it! I need to put more time into looking for the location of the Jonathan Brown homestead in Candia, NH, since I live in a neighboring town. I have pictures of it from the 1920s, and it was in serious disrepair. I expect that it’s been torn down.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s quite an impressive house both before and after. I hope they enjoy it, it looks like it could quite happily stand another couple of hundred years of living within it. 🙂 Oh – and thanks for the mention.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Well this warmed my heart for sure! How wonderful that the new owners care more about restoring the old building than just tearing it down and building a new. And how wonderful that you got to see it! What a great post – (and wow, those sunset photos are fabulous!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel bad that the rest of the family didn’t get to see the inside, but it seemed like asking a lot to have a couple dozen people trooping through the owners’ work in progress. The sunsets were all amazing while I was there.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, your story and photos are just fascinating; how wonderful, as you pointed out that the new owners recognize the value of the buildings and the character of the property!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve pretty much only lived in Victorian properties since moving to the UK, since that’s what most of the housing stock in London is, and thought they are horribly draughty, the high ceilings and tiled fireplaces almost make up for it. Of course, there are plenty of horrible older properties as well – having spent the past few months house hunting, I’m all too aware of the bad ones!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. How fantastic, both finding the house and learning it’s being restored!
    Curious – what are their plans with the barn? It looks cool just as it is, but I suppose it wouldn’t be safe to leave it that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They jacked it up and put it on blocks to level it, and there are some cables stabilizing it. The money to put in a foundation and do repairs is probably way down the road. At least it shouldn’t fall over in the meantime.

      Liked by 1 person

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