Saving Old Houses through Social Media

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Old House Musings, In The News, Old House History
Teen Works to Save Old House Helen Keller Once Lived In

Teen Works to Save Old House Helen Keller Once Lived In

I freely admit to being behind the times when it comes to social media. It takes a lot to persuade me to change my ways; I continued to buy records and cassettes for ten years after CDs became popular, because I was sure they were just a passing fad. I’m not on Facebook and I don’t Twitter, and the only times I have been on You Tube have been to watch videos of old concerts or animals, so I was a little surprised to read about a thirteen- year-old boy who is using social media to help save an historic old house. Maybe it’s time for me to get with the program.

A Facebook Petition for an Old House

Ian Toy lives in Suffolk County, New York, which is on Long Island. As he walked to the beach he often passed an old house that had seen much better days. The old house was constructed during the 1920s and was built in an architectural style known as Bavarian. Ian liked the style of the empty house, and when he did a little research, discovered that the cottage had been occupied during the summer of 1936 by Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan. Annie Sullivan passed away that autumn, so it was the last summer they spent together.

The old house was occupied until the 1960s when Suffolk County purchased it, and evidently allowed it to fall apart for the next fifty years. The old house is on park land, and if there was ever an excellent candidate for the historic old house curator program I wrote about several weeks ago, this seems like it might be it. When Ian found out that the old house might be torn down, he decided to personally wage a preservation campaign to save it. There is a petition that can be signed on Facebook to help save the house–”Save the HELEN KELLER HOUSE in Southold, NY”–and Ian is featured on You Tube explaining why the historic old house deserves saving. Ian’s social media campaign seems to be working, as Suffolk County is looking for money in their budget to restore the home.

Preservation Savings

I am still amazed by the number of high-quality events that took place throughout the country during National Preservation Month. There were a lot of workshops that stressed the importance of preserving old houses and buildings as a means of saving a part of our country’s history. Many preservation organizations sponsored lectures or published articles discussing methods for the restoration of old houses so that they can become more energy-efficient in their old age. Greenovation.TV’s Matt Grocoff wrote a very interesting post on this subject on OldHouseWeb.com’s blog. Bob Yapp took a slightly different approach to preservation during the lecture he gave at an historical preservation workshop in Rapid City, South Dakota. Sometimes preservation can be a way to save money rather than spend it. Restoring the wood siding on your old house and maintaining the home’s original look by painting it can be less expensive than installing new vinyl siding.  Even if you paint it two or three times over the course of thirty years, you may still have saved money over installing the new siding. And the restoration of your old windows can also be less costly and save more energy than installing all new windows in an old house.


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  1. 6 Responses  to “Saving Old Houses through Social Media”

  2. Aug 29, 2011
    I'm not sure that the old house could be considered historic because Hellen Keller stayed there, Weird 1. I think it's more an issue of a historic and somewhat ground breaking teacher/student relationship reaching its end at the home. That summer at the Long Island house was the last time that Hellen Keller and Anne Sullivan spent working together after an almost lifetime working relationship.
  3. Aug 29, 2011
    I loved reading this. We have an old home from 1923. It was in shambles when we got it. People were telling us to stucco over the siding or to just replace it. Our mailman told us it had not been painted in 29 years. The siding was so warped and sad looking. I am glad we didn't listen to anyone and went with our gut. We saved up some money had someone come and restore our siding. Was it the easy thing to do? No. Was it more expensive? Nope. We would have spent more money residing the whole thing. Luckily we found someone with the patience to make it look beautiful. People have stopped and congratulated us and it feels good! Take a look if you get a chance. Sincerely, The House Stupid Missus
  4. Weird1
    Aug 29, 2011
    Does the fact that Helen Keller stayed at a home once really qualify it as historic? This seems like a stretch.....................
  5. Jeremy
    Aug 29, 2011
    Don't under estimate the power of Social Media! Albeit a lot of it can be bogus with the millions of "how-to's" but sometimes people will just run with a certain idea or cause and it catches on like wild fire. Glad to see this was a good cause that caught on to help this epic old house!
  6. Marie
    Aug 29, 2011
    Social media has come a long way in a short time. It is not just a tool for checking up on old friends or connecting with new ones, it can be a powerful force which unites people of common values, who are geographically isolated.
  7. Aug 29, 2011
    As a former Long Islander and lifelong admirer of Helen Keller's indomitable spirit, I immediately jumped on the social media express by signing the petition through Facebook and sharing the Facebook fan page on my own FB profile. Hope it helps the cause for preserving the old house.