When Walls Can Talk

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Old House Musings, Old House History

I enjoy old houses because of their architecture and character, but I also enjoy them because of their stories. When I walk through an old house, I often wish the walls could talk and tell the stories of the families that lived there over the years. I find that I am fascinated by this, perhaps because I am a bit of a history buff, and I live in an area that is so rich in history.

If These Walls Could Talk…

Many of the old houses in my area were built prior to the Civil War, and some date back to the 1700’s. When I look at the houses, I imagine a family gathered at the dinner table discussing the tales that have filtered back from the Wild West, or talking about how bad the winter has been that year, and how cold it is in the one room schoolhouse. Some of these old houses have spanned almost the entire history of our country. A family may have lived there and worried about the future of our country when the Civil War ended. Another family might have talked about this new invention, the automobile, and an adventurous uncle who was thinking of getting one. Then there may have been a family who followed the progress of the troops in World War II and worried about their children who were fighting in faraway places.

Through it all the house remained the constant, perhaps having some rooms added or the interior changed a bit, but for the most part the same house for the succession of families that lived there and experienced joy and sorrow in the old house’s rooms.

Historic Houses around the U.S.

There are old houses around the country where you can actually learn about the families which occupied the home during certain periods of our county’s history. Some of these old houses are in villages or towns which have been restored, so you can experience what life was like during that period of time. You can walk down an 1870’s street in Old Cowtown near Wichita, Kansas. Old houses show how day to day life was during that period of time.

Near Dallas, Texas you can experience life in an 1861 frontier town. There are 13 acres of old houses, retail establishments, and streets which have been restored so that we can experience how life was in the Old West. The area is called Old City Park.

Two places I find very interesting, and I hope to get to, are the historic village in Mumford, New York, and the Ipswich House at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. The reason I find these two places so interesting is because they show the old houses during different periods of time. The historic village in Mumford spans three periods, 1795-1830, 1830-1870, and 1880-1920. As you walk through the village’s streets, you walk from one period into the next, and the old houses which have been moved from all over the State of New York, reflect the periods.

The Ipswich House was moved from Ipswich, Massachusetts and rebuilt in the National Museum. It was originally constructed in 1757, and it tells the story of five families which lived in the house from 1757 through 1945. As you walk through the rooms, you see how life was in 1757 in Massachusetts, and you eventually end up in 1945, and see how life was for a family on the home front during World War II. The exhibits are based on the actual families which lived there, and they discuss the events that were going on in the country, and their lives, while they lived in the old house. I can’t wait to get to there.