No, not those old ladies…as far as I know, we’re fine.
What I’m talking about are the lovely old houses of the past—especially the “grand old ladies” of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Kate Hamilton, the central character in my mystery novels, lives in an historic Victorian house in the fictional Ohio town of Jackson Falls.
If you know me at all, you know I’m fascinated with the past—and the remnants of the past. I was eleven the first time I experienced “time travel.” My family was on a road trip out west, and we stopped to see the Cliff Dwellings near Manitou Springs, Colorado. The Cliff Dwellings are adobe structures built 800 to 1,000 years ago by the Native American Anasazis. I was following the tour guide, wondering about the people who’d lived there so long ago, when I saw a clear hand print in the clay. Placing my own hand in the print, I felt an almost magical connection to that unknown person who’d lived so long ago. I was smitten.
One of the things I love about Europe is their respect for the past. Instead of tearing down and building new, they tend to preserve and restore. In England and other countries, history has often arranged its own preservation. The wool towns of Suffolk and north Essex, for example, hit their heyday in the 1500s and 1600s. With the industrial revolution, they experienced a period of decline in which the villages were overlooked, the houses not worth rebuilding. Benign neglect. The result was preservation. The National Trust village of Lacock, “preserved in mid-nineteenth-century aspic,” is the most perfectly preserved medieval village in England, used as a location for hundreds of costume dramas.
The reason I’m thinking about historical preservation today is because of an old Victorian farmhouse I pass almost every day in my car. I wish I could include a photo, but I don’t know the owners and hesitate to publish a photo without their permission. Built along the Olentangy River sometime in the late nineteenth century, it has survived for more than a century. Twenty years ago it was inhabited. Then it wasn’t, and it began to deteriorate. Windows were boarded up. The porch was propped with timbers. I assumed, with regret, it would be torn down or used by the local fire department for a practice fire. Happily, not so. About a month ago, restoration began. I can’t wait to see the final result. Delaware, Ohio, where I live, has its share of historic homes, many the remnants of Carpenters Mills, an abandoned mill and farming town from the nineteenth century.
Somehow my sons have inherited my love of old houses. One of them lives in a lovely restored Arts & Crafts house, built in 1925. The other may be in the market for an old house next year. I can’t wait!
Living in an historic home takes love, hard work, and money. Do you live in one of the “old ladies” of the past? Would you like to?