Monday, October 4, 2010

a bit of history~~

The first few weeks we lived in this old house were both wonderful and difficult. The biggest issue for me was that I have a touch of vertigo and the height of the bedroom ceilings took some getting used to. I'd get up in the morning and have to touch the bed frame until that little bit of dizziness passed; then take a few cautious steps until I adjusted to the confines of a 100 year old house that was nothing like the very open modern house we'd spent the previous 13 years in. It took about 2 months for me to be able to just get up and get moving in the mornings. Dallas, who has inherited the family's tendency for vertigo, had much the same issue.

The downstairs (with its small rooms) didn't affect my vertigo but I sensed that it could very easily have caused a claustrophobic feeling but for two things - the back porch had been converted into a mudroom with three large windows and the original front porch had been converted into what would be my office essentially adding an openness to the floor plan that hadn't always existed. I remember telling my mother that I wouldn't have been able to live here otherwise.

Our original intent in buying one of these old houses was to do a complete restoration to what it would have looked like when it was built; actually living in this one quickly made us realize that that would not be the path we would take. The hardworking farmers who built this house would actually have spent very little time inside it; it sheltered them from winds and rains but their days were spent outside working the fields by hand and selling their produce to diners and shops and at roadside stands and the sun going down found them seeking their beds and not spending the evening hours watching T.V. If they did relax in the evenings, it was likely on one of the three porches (maybe there was even a fourth that we don't know about) to escape the summer heat of is unlikely that they sat inside a house without an air conditioner even during the extended days of spring, summer and early fall. Rooms were built for function, not comfort...they were built for easy heating and catching the breezes, and holding the light for as long as possible...not for inside living anymore than absolutely necessary. Enclosing those porches were modern touches and ones that I needed to remain intact despite our original intent.

The office, as I've written before, was actually the front porch and entry to this house when it was built. The driveway that now runs about 10 feet from that side of the house was a road that cut through the fields in those days. Sometime in the 1940's, the county decided that they wanted to put in a road going the opposite direction from the one the farmers used and so they used eminent domain to take some of the property that ran beside the house for that purpose.

The four families whose land they were taking fought it for a couple of years, but in the end the "man" won and the new road was put in. The three farmhouses most affected were then not facing the road. Only two of those farmhouses still stand today - ours and our farmer across the street; and both of them had front porches put on what used to be the sides of the houses. Ours went on pretty quickly after the road went in, but the farmer across the street only added his within the last ten years making do prior to that with the changing out of a "side" door to a more formal front door and stoop.

Although many of the old farmhouses had staircases to the second story on the outside of their homes, for some reason, our farmer had the staircase put inside. You entered the house from one of two exterior doors - doors that now lead into our kitchen on the one side and our living room on the other and then there was that window that we just uncovered that looked into the dining room at the foot of those stairs.

That old front porch and entry was simply designated the side porch and entry by our builder/farmer until the wife was an elderly widow living with her son. When her health began to fail and she couldn't make it up those stairs, they enclosed the old front porch to make her a downstairs bedroom. It was a simple job requiring only that one wall be built and although that wall was added, she never slept in that room. When her son died several years later, her grand nephew bought the house, covered the exterior siding with sheet rock and added four large windows to the exterior wall and used that room as a TV room; they left the original front porch floor in the room and covered it with area rugs. And the old stoop is still right where it always was giving us a glimpse of what used to be.

The room is an odd shape since it was a small front porch - its 9 x 16 - long and narrow and most folks who visited us were confused by its placement and its shape...they sensed that it used to be something else, but couldn't quite figure it out. And so we'd tell the story of that strange yet comfortable room and we planned to rip out that sheet rock and expose the history of the room - and almost seven years later we've done it. It is what it is - a former front porch, enclosed to suit the needs of the families that have lived here - with the siding and that window now exposed you know what you are walking into ...... and it is I think, actually my favorite room in the house.

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