Adding another layer of old house history

By: Shannon Dauphin Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old House Musings, Old House History

Old houses don't just have history. They have layers and layers of stories, countless dramas lived out within the walls. Some of those stories are documented by letters to friends and family, tidbits written down in a journal, the occasional newsworthy mention in the local papers, photographs in old frames, or simply the oral histories that pass down from one generation to another.

Perhaps that's why it is such a treat to add your own touch of history to an old house. It feels wonderful to know that you are making your mark in such a way that adds to the richness of that house's history, leaving yet another story to be discovered by those who will come later.

Leaving a mark

I like to think that I have left my own marks of history on the homes I have loved. The old Victorian in Tennessee certainly still bears the marks my children left on the wall before the new wallpaper went up -- anyone who removes the wallpaper in the future will be treated to crayon drawings run amok. On a board underneath the stairs in my first house, you will find a handwritten note. I scribbled it there, on a romantic whim, in the summer of 1998. I did the same thing in my grandparents' house, sometime around 1987.

The old Georgia rambler has more than a few marks of my time there, including more drawings under wallpaper, a photograph tucked behind a brick in the fireplace mantel and a piece of molding around the door that seems to fit at first glance, but at second glance seems -- well, just slightly "off." That's because I tried my hand at carving it myself, and almost got it right.

With all this love of history, it made sense that when it was time to move into a new phase of my life, an old house had to come into play. It was within the walls of a gorgeous 1859 Victorian mansion that I fell in love again. Though we didn't leave a physical mark on that beautiful house, we did leave a very clear footnote in the long history: On a stormy evening one year later, we were married in the grand ballroom.

Old house, new memories

The only light was from the multitude of candles in the room, a reminder of a time when electricity wasn't available. The original hardwood floors were worn to a soft shine and cool underneath my bare feet. The old grandfather clock in the hallway ticked steadily along as it had for over a hundred years. On the walls were photographs, grainy images taken during a time when such photographs were exceedingly rare, the first owners of the house staring down at us from the gilded frames.

One day in the distant future, someone with a keen interest in the beauty of that old house will dig into the history of it. They will eventually find a copy of a marriage certificate, filed away with other documents that tell the story of the house. I like to think that they will pull out that yellowed paper, look at the names, try to imagine our tiny wedding, and wonder what our life together must have been like.

One thing is certain: It began with a mutual love for that beautiful old house.