When we think of structures that have stood the test of time, we think of stone structures or structures made out of hard woods that are able to weather the elements, but sometimes a structure defies the normal expectations, as stands the test of time against all odds. There is a house in the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada that is the perfect example of that kind of structure.

A local saloon owner named Tom Kelly decided to build a house in 1906. Unfortunately, lumber was scarce in the area at the time, so the innovative 76-year-old saloon owner decided to use the materials at hand to build his house…bottles. Not many people would have come up with such an idea, much less have the ability to carry out the strange design and actually make it a house. An estimated 50,000 beer, whiskey, soda, and medicine bottles were used to build the structure, and amazingly, it is still standing today. Tom Kelley was 76 years old when he built the house that took him almost six months to complete. Thankfully he didn’t have to drink all the alcohol in those 50,000 bottles. The bottle house also sports a “garden” of sculptures made of broken glass including miniature houses, bottle ropes, and a host of other “glass treasures” that would probably qualify as junk to most of us, but they seem to fit the bottle house perfectly.

There was a period of time when the house was in some disrepair, but amazingly it was things like needing a new roof that caused the disrepair, not broken bottles in the structure. In 1925, Paramount Pictures wanted to use the house in a movie, so as part of the deal, they restored and re-roofed the house. The house, which really is pretty cute, was given to the Beatty Improvement Association for maintenance as a historical site. That might be part of why it still stands today, but the work that went into it originally was a big part of the house’s ability to stand the test of time.

Louis J Murphy leased and maintained the house as a museum that he ran with a woman named Bessie Stratton Moffat until he died in 1956. Later, a man named Tommy Thompson and his wife lived in the house, while maintaining a museum and a relic shop. How unique it must have been to live in such a house. No, it’s not a big house, and probably doesn’t have a monetary value that would rival today’s market, but its value really lies in a different area. The house fit the Thompsons, however. Tommy was a musician, who worked playing the accordion in the saloons in Rhyolite back when it was a boomtown. Evan Thompson maintained the house for a while after his parents died. He is the last person to actually live in the house, but he finally moved on, living in Pioneer, Nevada now. Once again, the bottle house stands empty, no longer in use, but still as resilient as ever.

Grandpa playing the violinOn the back of the violin is a name, Allen Spencer. I assumed that it was carved lovingly into the wood by my great great grandfather when he was young. I have no way of knowing just exactly when it was written, but it would seem like something a child would do. Grandpa was born in 1826, and died in 1883, and as near as I have been able to find, the violin might have been made in 1866, which would mean that my great great grandfather was 40 years old. No matter how old he was when he engraved his name into the violin, the length of time the violin has been in our family tells me that music to some degree has been in my family for several generations. That violin was handed down from my great great grandfather, to my great grandfather, William Malrose Spencer, to my grandfather, Allen Luther Spencer, to my Uncle William Malrose Spencer II, who passed it on to my dad, Allen Lewis Spencer, with the request that we keep it in our family. We have had several violinists in our family, my sister Allyn, and my daughter Corrie, to name two. The violin is in great condition, and has been well used throughout the years.

My grandfather, Allen, enjoyed jamming with his brother-in-law, Albert, who was playing the accordion. I can imagine that their jam session was a lively time, as those two instruments don’t usually go together. Nevertheless, when a couple of brothers get together and try to outdo each other in their play, and from what I have seen of these two brothers, they liked to joke around. They always seem to have a twinkle in their eyes in the pictures I’ve seen. I have a feeling that the brothers could be…maybe a little mischievious.
Grandpa's Violin
When we received the violin, it occurred to me that this was a pearl of great price, so to speak. Maybe the name engraved on the back reduces the value in the eyes of an antique dealer, but it only increases the value to us. So often you have very little that belonged to your great great grandfather…especially when he died 73 years before you were born. That is the real thing that gives it value to me and my family. This was something that my great great grandfather, great grandfather, grandfather, my uncle, and my dad all took pleasure in, and something my mom, my sisters, and our families will all take pleasure in for years to come…because it was my great great grandfather’s violin.

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