There’s something about stepping into a building that has been a part of the passing of generations that instills a sense of awe in me. Births, deaths, wars, visiting dignitaries, renovations…on and on. The town I live in is filled with such buildings and one weekend each fall a few of them are opened to the public. This year’s tour took me back as far as 1799. I thought I’d share some of the history.
My first stop was a farmhouse built by the Comptroller of the U.S. Treasury under Presidents George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Originally situated on 872 acres, it was called a road house because it sat off the Great Wagon Road, which in Colonial times ran from Philadelphia through Georgia. (Today, we’d call that an interstate.) Over the years, this house went through enormous changes—additions, property sell-offs, going from a single-family to multi-family dwelling. It seemed to be popular in the late 19th and early 20th century to convert older homes to apartments.
In 1977, restoration began that would return the house to its former self. Research included using the original owner’s papers and documentary photographs. The wooden doors were painted in a style called graining, popular in the 19th century. It mimics a wood grain appearance and takes a skilled craftsman to produce. The attic still reveals the large pegs used to hold the rafters together. According to the owner, during those early years, the dining room was used as a birthing room. Makes me wonder what kind of score they would get from restaurant inspectors.
Today, unassuming, this house sits on a small fraction of the original property surrounded by homes we think of as old, yet are babies compared to this one. It’s nothing like the type of home our current government officials would reside in, but wouldn’t you love to hear the walls talk?
Another home built several years later sits right downtown, wedged between three and four-story businesses on busy Main Street. The Federal style brick home was built by a coach maker. Over the years, the unrestored building has been used for various businesses and residences, including that of a doctor and a tobacco seller. The second floor contained rooms that haven’t been lived in since the sixties (and looked like it). For some reason, among all the history this building held, what caught my attention was the outline of a pay phone that had once been attached to a wall (complete with phone numbers written on the plaster around it). When restoration is done, I hope they leave it like that. In these days of cell phones, that outline in itself has become history.
I hope you’ll stop back by on Friday when I continue this series of historical home tidbits with The Middle—homes built in the mid-19th century. In the meantime:
Question: When entering a historic building has something about it stuck out to you as being odd, or maybe you learned a new term, style of construction, etc?
Some of the background material for these posts was taken from the foundation’s tour brochure.
I love doing this too, Sandy! When I went to an old one-room schoolhouse, I thought it was odd how the woodstove was the center of the room. Nowadays they’re always tucked into a cozy corner…but I bet those kids in that school were grateful everyone got a fair share of the heat!
Can you imagine as a student having to write in freezing weather with just that little stove to warm your fingers? It’s hard to think of living without central heat. When our fireplace (gas) is running, it sucks the heat from the rest of the house. I think I would have been sleeping on the floor right next to the fireplace/woodstove!