Here's the end result of today's destruction. The plaster on the right side was a bitch: only part of it was water damaged, and part of it had been repaired with what I think may have been plaster of paris followed up with a coat of the vinyl spackle. Actually a pretty good job for an amateur, but I suspect that this may have been an older bit of work than the left hand side, which was definitely rougher and not well done.
I'm intrigued by the herringbone pattern on the far right. That appears to be original, no clue as to why. And the hole in the side wall is another pain-in-the-ass patch of water damage; the base coat of plaster had lost all cohesion. Luckily the damage seems to have stopped there, though I'm a little concerned by some other pieces that I'm finding along that wall.
Oh, yeah, the fire: After removing the window and ceiling trim, I exposed burned (sooty) plaster. It was washed and painted over with beige paint, then there were a couple of layers of wallpaper (one with a pattern), then an orangy-peach paint, then the kinda-sorta white that's on there now. The fire doesn't appear to have scorched the wood underneath, and I don't see any structural damage, so it was apparently something that was just very smoky. Incidentally, there is much the same in the kitchen, so it may have been a kitchen fire that made it out to the living room on the other end of the house. If so, it must have been a seriously smoky fire because they're at opposite ends of the house. It's more likely that they were separate. This part being next to the fireplace doesn't particularly surprise me, but I was a little alarmed at first.
This weird bracing is only on the left hand side of the fireplace. No idea why. It's actually chiseled into the joists, and may have been additional bracing for the time that the fireplace masonry was originally built. Now it's just a curiosity.
Yes, there is quite a mess to deal with. There will be more mess before I'm through.
I look a little dusty.
I really need to find a way to peel off the old wallpaper. It's coming off of some of the walls quite handily, but in other places it's glued with a permanence that only petrified wallpaper paste can have.