When Dave and Deb Hanley of Rapid City spotted a small surplus building with rotting wood floors and a charming staircase, they knew they’d found their dream house.
The Hanleys rescued and restored a house that had been shuffled around the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology campus for more than a century. The house was built in 1887 by Theodore Knutzen, a lab assistant at the Dakota School of Mines, who wanted to live close to work. The property on which the house sat later became part of the school’s campus. The school eventually used the house as a place where its groundskeepers could live.
“The School of Mines had moved the house twice,” Deb said. “The house started outside of campus and pretty soon it was in the middle.”
When it was put up for auction in 2001, the house was in disrepair and an obstruction on the crowded campus. The school sold it as a surplus building structure.
“Dave went to look at it and said (to me), ‘Don’t go look at this house. You’re going to want it,” Deb said. “It was vacant. I looked in the front window and saw the staircase. I called him and said, ‘I want it.’”
Despite its rough condition, the Hanleys agreed it had a homey quality — “like being at your grandparents’ house,” Dave said.
The Hanleys purchased it for $2,700, along with an old workshop for $500. Then, the adventure began.
“The search was on to find a lot that allowed us to move a building onto it (and) that was close to town,” Deb said. “This lot (on Clarkson Road) was on the market. All we had to do was ask the neighbors if it was OK. We walked around and showed people the picture of the house and told them what we wanted to do, and everybody signed off on it.”
The couple had the house moved onto their property in January 2002. Dave, who works in automotive repair, took six months off from work and completed most renovations himself.
In 1887, the house consisted of two rooms downstairs, one room upstairs. A kitchen was added in 1903. When the Hanleys bought it, the downstairs and upstairs were each 900 square feet. Making sure the old house fit its new foundation was one of the toughest challenges.
“We had to build the dimensions of the basement to the house, which was not square,” Dave said.
The living and dining rooms, the original stairway and upstairs rooms retain the bulk of the home’s vintage character. “I’ve got all the slanted ceilings upstairs,” Deb said. “There’s still all the plaster. You can still see all the patches over the years as the plaster cracked. I kept that. I like to keep the bones and charm of the house.”
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The oldest part of the house was constructed with locally sawed lumber. During renovations, the Hanleys were also able to preserve original flooring in the living room and dining room, as well as the Douglas fir floors upstairs.
History, instinct and occasional serendipity aided the Hanleys as they renovated the home’s interior.
“We tried to find out what the house was like before (we owned it) when we were redoing the interiors,” Deb said. “I think I just kind of knew what the house needed. I like to mix old with new. … I saw the potential. We both did, even though (the interior) was very stuck in the 1980s. Everything was painted and carpeted and wallpapered. We had to strip it all the way down.”
Many original light fixtures and pieces of the house were lost or discarded over the years. Dave and Deb scoured antique stores and architectural salvage yards to find replacements. Replacing lost colonnades was one of their most remarkable discoveries.
A resident who’d lived in the house decades earlier visited the Hanleys, and it was then Deb learned about the style and size of colonnades that were missing from the living room. The Hanleys later bought exact replacements in Toledo, Ohio — and they were a perfect fit.
Last year, the Hanleys added a great room that connects to the remodeled workshop the couple uses as a garage. The couple also transformed the former laundry room into a butler’s pantry for extra storage. Dave again did the work himself.
The house now is almost 3,500 square feet, which includes five bedrooms, two full bathrooms and a powder room, family room, living room, dining room, spacious kitchen and butler’s pantry, great room and garage.
Beyond saving the house itself, Deb compiled as much history as possible about it. Some records and photos were permanently lost because of a flood at the School of Mines. Deb spent about two years digging through school, tax, census and historical records and photos, copying and collecting all she could find. “When I wasn’t stripping wallpaper, I was researching,” she said.
Perhaps the most meaningful research was the opportunity to meet others who had special connections to the house. Sylvia, an elderly granddaughter of the home’s builders, Theodore and Margaret Knutzen, gifted the Hanleys photos of her grandparents. A framed photo of the house, circa 1913, and photos of the Knutzens now have a place of honor on the Hanleys’ dining room wall.
Though the old-meets-new house is vastly different from the structure the Hanleys bought, one thing hasn’t changed — then and now, it feels like home.
“We lived in five houses before this one and the day we moved in, it felt like we lived here forever,” Deb said.