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.