The Folly of a Free Farmhouse: A Brief History of How We Got Here

The “free” 1890 farmhouse before we started work on it. And boy, did it need work!!

I tell this story so often, how we got here into this project with this farmhouse, that I decided to write it down. So here’s the history behind this farmhouse folly…

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to live in an old, two-story farmhouse, surrounded by ancient apple trees, horses, and garden beds teeming with vegetables. After a lifetime of unexpected twists and turns, disappointments and distractions, such a house became a real possibility.

When I first laid eyes on the two-story farmhouse, I saw potential…and land. Lots of land. Almost 22 acres to be exact. What I didn’t see were the rotted out beams, the extensive termite damage, the precariously leaning walls, or the collapsing kitchen floor. Layers of carpet, vinyl, wallpaper, particle board, sheetrock and paint hid more than the history of the house. They hid a history of neglect.

Still, I saw a small home for me and my daughter, old apples trees, and plenty of land for our horses, chickens, cats and dog. Some upgrading and some paint and we’d be good, right? A single mom, long divorced, I’d resigned myself to a life lived alone. Why not be alone in a cute little–very little–farmhouse, raising my own food?

The farmhouse undergoing renovation.

I made an offer based on the value of the land alone, pretty sure the rundown house had little value (and pretty sure I wouldn’t qualify for much more). The sellers accepted my lowball offer! A few months later, I was handed the key to what I then considered my “free” house. Excuse me. Our free house. In the time it took me to work through the home-buying process, I’d fallen in love and gotten engaged. Now I had the house and a partner.

My now husband was as ignorant as I about the real condition of the house. He was also as enthusiastic as I about the prospect of being able to raise our own food, living in the quiet of the country.

Our free house quickly morphed from a 9-week job to going on 9 months now…with no real idea just when we’ll be moving in. Nor is it still free given the cost of materials and labor we’re pouring into it! Although it’s still a very good price, all things considered.

Hubby and helper trying to figure out next step with the rotted out south wall.

Plenty of people consider us foolish. Loads have asked why we didn’t tear it down and get a double wide. Some have offered to knock it over with their trailers. One person offered us a match to torch it.

Is the bigger folly in saving the old structure? Or in tearing it down? For us, our way is admittedly harder, especially given we do most of the work ourselves, fitting it in around work and parenting and the tasks of daily living. But 130 years ago, a family toughed it out and homesteaded way out in the middle of nowhere, building this home in stages and feeding themselves from this land. Given that we have the advantages of electricity and plumbing, power tools and petroleum, we are already wimps in comparison. Still, we see ourselves as following in their pioneering footsteps by saving the house and bringing the farm back to life.

A swing we hung in the apple tree by the barn…so it’s not all work, and no play. šŸ™‚

We’ve had big expenses for things like lifting the house and installing a foundation, but otherwise the costs are for materials, namely lumber. There’s little we can do about those costs, but we do pinch pennies when we can. We scored bargain windows from a defunct construction company. We re-use what we can and we’ve found some used fixtures and lights.

One of my friends joked we’re rebuilding the house using the original as the house plan. He’s not far from the truth. But we wouldn’t have it any other way. As we rebuild the farmhouse, we build the foundation of our marriage. Saving the old structure fits our frugal values. And when we are done, our labors and patience will be amply rewarded.

In the end, we will have a bit of history and a bit of land for a very good price. We’ll have the peace of mind knowing our 1890 house is safe, sound and well insulated. And we’ll have the satisfaction of a job well done, a house well (re-)built and a farm well loved.

No folly there!

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