Spiritual Preservation

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Old House Construction, Old House Musings, In The News, Old House History
W.J. Apr. 20, 1880

W.J. Apr. 20, 1880

National Preservation Month is winding down, and hopefully with all of the preservation and old house functions that took place across the country this month, a few more people have seen the light about the importance of saving old houses and buildings that are important parts of our country’s history. Those of us who are old house enthusiasts will see preservation month end and preservation summer begin. However, I did think discussing a comment I got on my Preservation by Recycling blog post earlier this week would be a good way to end preservation month.

Preservation of Spirit

Iris commented on how using parts from old houses was a way of preserving the “spiritual DNA” that existed in a home, and by saving and recycling the old wood, the lives that had been a part of that wood were preserved. In a few sentences she managed to convey the emotions I feel when I walk into an old house, or run my hands across a stairway banister or fireplace mantle that is 100 years old. They are the same emotions I tried to express about old houses in past blog posts.

As someone who has been around home building and construction most of my life, I can appreciate the historic architecture of old houses. I can look at the detailed exterior and interior trim work and realize how hard and long a craftsman worked at perfecting it. I marvel at the wood floors, the solid wood doors, and the true divided light windows with imperfections in the glass. But another side of my personality thinks about the many meals prepared in the kitchen, the many families that might have gathered around the dining room table in the evenings, or sat around listening to radio shows at night. I think about the children who played in the bedrooms, and I imagine what they might have been when they grew up.

So I think Iris hit the nail on the head and expressed what I often feel, better than I ever could. Preservation is just as much about the spiritual part of our country’s history and people, as it is about the old houses and buildings.

Old Houses’ Family Histories

I found several articles concerning old houses that retain a sense of their former inhabitants’ “lives preserved.” The Parish House in Virginia City, Nevada, was built in 1876 and is rich in memories. The home’s basement stairs still have the painted initials of one of the first children to live in the home, “W.J. Apr. 20, 1880.”

An old house in Cincinnati, Ohio was built in 1860 and the same family lived in it for the first 121 years it stood. Children grew up in the home, and one of those children raised his family in the same home. The family that lives there now has a painting of the original family playing croquet on the lawn.

And then there is the old house in San Francisco that was once prepared for a visit from the Crown Princess of Romania in 1915–except she never arrived, if she was ever actually supposed to.

In my mind, the spiritual history that occupies an old house and the materials that are a part of it are just as important to preserve as the old house itself.


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  1. 5 Responses  to “Spiritual Preservation”

  2. Aug 29, 2011
    That is really great Marie, I wish I had something like that in my house. I haven't really left anytime of record like that, and the house's past occupants didn't either. There is no doubt in my mind that in 150 years a family will look at those marks and wonder about the family who once made them.
  3. Jason
    Aug 29, 2011
    As a realtor, I get clients all the time that want an old house. In fact more people request old houses, than demand new ones. There is just something special about living in a house that has an aged history and feels anchored on it site(with mature trees and other historical signs)
  4. Aug 29, 2011
    Took a drive to Virginia City over Memorial Day weekend to see the Parish House. The house is not open for tours, but they have a fascinating radio museum in the basement, and the present owner has spent considerable time documenting the history of the old house on the Web site, for which you have a link in your blog (http://www.radioblvd.com/ParishHouse.html). I was able to persuade him to let me see the child's initials on the basement stairs, even though it's technically off-limits to visitors. Yes, I agree with Jeremy. Virginia City has a lot of history and many old houses and buildings have been preserved. Literary buffs will also know it as one of Mark Twain's old haunts.
  5. Jeremy
    Aug 29, 2011
    There are some epic houses in Virginia City, I've been to that old mining town, a lot of history there. There is a really beautiful Victorian house on one of the streets and a really cool church a few blocks down. I suggest checking it out if you want to see some old parts of Nevada!
  6. Marie
    Aug 29, 2011
    My kids are grown and moved on at this point, but in my house (150 years old) there is a special reminder of my children. In the walk in pantry, on the wall, are pencil marks of my children's heights recorded at various times in their lives. I have repainted the pantry, but would never erase these markings. I hope that in another 150 years, some one else is living in this house and appreciates this visual lineage of the children that once snuck into this pantry for treats from the cookie jar.