Retro-vations still loom.
I am submitting various stage photos of our progress so those of you going through the same thing won't feel so alone.
Here is the wall with the fireplace just removed. It was bricked right into the wall and support beam. We added support beams to either side of the old beam and tightened everything right up. Then we added insulation as far as we could reach.
We got hold of some 1/4 inch drywall (Thanks Mr. B) and filled in the uneven cracks left over with quite a bit of mud.
It all sanded out just fine and you can barley even tell there was a fireplace there at all. Well..... except for the huge hole left in the floor and baseboards where the hearth was. It is a vast improvement as far as space goes already. Just need to fill it up with some interesting pieces.