“Why don’t you just tear it down”? is a question I hear a lot these days about our farmhouse project.
This oft-asked question comes from passers-by, the mail carrier, casual acquaintances in town…even the subs lifting the farmhouse asked essentially, “Why bother?” as they did the job.
My family and close friends don’t ask this question, however, because they know me…that I’m more likely to re-use something still functional than cast it aside in favor of something new. Most of my clothes come from Goodwill and my dishes are hand-me-downs. My truck is 20 years old. Plenty of thrift store finds have found a home with me. And last week we made our first farmhouse purchase: a used ceiling light. I seem to be wired to prefer the old to the new.
Plus I–and now we, now that a fiance is part of this adventure–honor the families that came before us, and all of the history that the old house has seen. That has evolved into one of our biggest reasons for restoring, not destroying, this old house.
And our house is ooooold! Think about it: Our house was built only 25 years after Lincoln was assinated. Women wore corsets and would not have the vote for another three decades. That farmhouse has stood there through two world wars, plus Korea and Vietnam and now Iraq.
We take so many things for granted today and it has made us soft. Not so in 1890! The first family to live there had no electricity, no running water, no radio, no TV, no car…no bathroom! No hot showers with your choice of spray or ice makers built into a fridge. No frozen foods. In fact, no store-bought food at all, only store-bought ingredients.
But they did have drive, determination and guts. What’s not to honor about that?
In a way, we are following in their footsteps. The house sits on a mere 21 acres now, a fraction of the original 160. But it’s a homesteading venture for us just the same. We too have big hopes and dreams. We too are building a future, a small farm that we hope will make us somewhat self-sufficient in food production, and more focused on things that matter, like faith and family.
And maybe we are only the newest family to stake our dreams on this house and land. I consider the many generations who there before us, and I am humbled, thinking on all the loving and living and dreaming and dying that tiny house has seen in 132 years. The stories would fill volumes. Imagine how many meals have been prepared and shared, how many Christmases have past and changes have come about in the kitchen, society, the world.
Peeling off sheetrock to find the layers upon layers of wallpaper and newspaper you see in these photos reminds me time and time again of these generations and those bygone eras. And as a woman, I relate to the wallpaper, the striving to make a house a home, to put one’s mark on it and make it a pleasurable place to be with color and pattern–and food and love in large measure too. I can’t stand in that house without mentally putting my own mark on it, envisioning the colors we’ll paint the walls and the way we’ll set up each room.
As we strip off the layers and repair the damage of the years, the farmhouse renovation has grown beyond fixing up a free old house to make it livable. It has become a labor of love. Love for each other as we work side-by-side towards our future. Love for the house and the history it represents. And love for the land it sits on, land we hope to make productive once again.
Why don’t we tear it down?
Why would we?