PETERBOROUGH — John Young was at the lumberyard last Wednesday morning when he got a text from Jeff Morgan. The contractors were renovating a kitchen in an old house on Pine Street, and Morgan urgently told Young to return to the site.
“You gotta come look at this wall,” Young recalled Morgan writing.
Young’s first thought was something had gone wrong, and he raced back to the home. When he saw what Morgan had found, he immediately called homeowner Joe Rusin.
John Young Contracting was in the process of gutting the kitchen when Morgan had pulled down two layers of drywall to reveal a Parisian street scene wallpapered across two walls. As he looked more closely, he realized there were dozens of figures, carefully cut from color photos and glued into the scene.
A woman smiling out from where she sits at the café, a young couple on the steps of the pharmacie, a boy perched on a rooftop — altogether 45 faces peered out from the walls of the breakfast nook.
Rusin wants to learn more about the people in the photos — “Especially the kid who’s got the crab sweater on, I love that one” — and has shared the photos on Facebook in the hopes someone might recognize them.
“If it was me [on the wall],” he said, “I would love to at least come and see it or something. That’s why I put it out there.”
He first shared the photos to a Facebook group called Our Old House, where it had more than 8,000 reactions and 550 shares as of Tuesday afternoon. He then posted in the Peterborough community Facebook page to see if any locals recognize the people.
Kayti Sullivan commented to say her father, Horace Gilbert, had put up the wallpaper in 1958, but not the photos.
Debra Belcher reached out to Rusin to say she recognized her father-in-law and his mother, Ken and Emily Belcher.
The house was built in the early 1800s by Jonas Loring and passed through different owners for about a hundred years before being bought by Dora Spalding, according to a 1997 article in the Monadnock Ledger. Spalding commissioned many additions to the house, the article says. The kitchen where the photos were found was one of those additions, according to Rusin.
Rusin and his wife, Kara, bought the house in 2019, and they live there with their two children, Nikolas and Khloe.
Using archived newspaper articles and old documents — including copies of deeds — he’s found at the house, Joe Rusin has been able to piece together the history of the property. The next owner of the house after Gilbert was Richard Morse, Rusin said, and he believes Morse’s family was most likely the ones to add the photos to the wall.
George Grimshaw bought the house in 1975 and lived there for 20 years, Rusin said, adding that he invited a neighbor, Andy Peterson, who has been in the area since the 1980s to look at the wall, but Peterson didn’t recognize Grimshaw in any of the photos.
Future visitors joining the Rusins for breakfast may not find the work of art on display in the nook, but that’s not to say it won’t be there at all.
“It doesn’t quite fit the décor with what we’re doing with the kitchen,” Rusin said, but he and Young plan to preserve the Parisian street scene as best they can — maybe adding photos of the Rusin family and Young to the scene before wrapping it all in plastic and building a new wall over it.
They want to leave it like a time capsule, Young said, lying in wait for the next contractor who renovates the kitchen.
The new walls won’t go in until they share the discovery with the Monadnock Center for History and Culture. In the meantime, Rusin and Young will continue trying to find the descendants of the house’s former owners.
Both men said they’ve enjoyed unearthing the stories of the property.
“It’s always cool when you’re able to open these old houses like this,” Young said.