They stand near the side of the road or highway a grim testament of what was, a bleak reminder of the past, some might even say an eyesore. Like everything, it is in the eye of the beholder. But those hulks of once proud houses knew the joy of families, the pride of ownership and the satisfaction of a builder.

I like to think of all of these things when I pass by. Who built that home for the family, was it the first sided home after living in a log cabin? Did the owner build it himself, or have a friend, neighbors or others help? Today the siding may be falling off, the roof may have holes where weather has worn away the shingles, or rust has whittled away the nails, allowing the still good slate roofing to slide to the ground. Foundations may be crumbling, floor joists, beams and gables failing. Windows may be rotting, allowing glass to slide out and break, trim boards hanging haphazardly, the whole house listing to the right or left depending where its key rafters or floor joists are rotting and letting go.

These homes were built to last and many have been there for well over 150 years. But, once the families moved away the degradation began. Once the love and care given to a home left, the house started falling in disrepair. How many families have lived there, voices raised in joy, screams of delight, raucous laughter, perhaps even tears of sadness, grief and despair, the whole gamut of human emotion? They saw brides being carried over the threshold, heard the cry of newborns, they witnessed the last breath of the dying. They watched children go off to school on their first day, watched them leave when grown up to start lives of their own. I like to think of those things when I see these houses.

Many are proud testaments to unbelievable carpentry, hardwoods taken from nearby forests, such as walnut, white oak, curly maple, and knowledge and methods of building little known today. Broad stairways of solid oak lead upstairs to bedrooms that housed large families. Wallpaper still shows on the walls, huge flowers, shapes and colors of another time. Closets were not the norm as most rooms held large armoires or cabinets to hold clothing. Sometimes, as in my family homestead, there were two stairways leading to the upstairs. The upstairs was completely divided into two sections, one side for the boys, one side for the girls. Since there were eight children, five girls and three boys, it worked well.

I think that the song written by Stuart Hamblen, “This Ole House,” says it all. Houses that rang with laughter, houses that knew children, houses that were home and comfort when the storms of life tossed and tumbled them about. It was said Hamblen wrote that song when he came upon a old prospector’s cabin in a remote part of the Sierra Nevada in California. The miner was dead but, his faithful dog was still guarding the premises. Hamblen wrote the song as a tribute to the old prospector. Over the years I’ve watched many such homes being torn down and ravaged to make way for farmland or urban growth. Some of them were almost too good to tear down and had many unique architectural features irreplaceable today. Once in awhile you will see one that has been empty, refurbished and renewed with a real family living again within its walls. It makes me glad to see that happen. Nowadays few people can say that they were born and will die in the same home, although there are a few that do; few people live in the same home for their whole lives. But, that was once the norm.

If you are like me, often in dreams, you revisit those houses of your youth where you grew up and played. They will always stay in your memory, caught in time, just as they were the day you left them. If you have one of these old homes, chances are you know the value of the past and admire those hardwoods and carpentry skills used in its structure. You value the substance and sustainability found in those homes. You admire the intricate woodwork, the stair railings, the hardwood floors that withstand the tests of time and many footprints. You value the work of your ancestors in keeping the old homestead cared for and loved. And, it’s hard work.

All houses need upkeep, but older homes seem to have a few more problems. But, I think that few of the homes built today will withstand the test of time as many of these old houses have. So as I pass by on the roadway, I don’t just see the ruins of a house, I see what was, I see the glory of its past days. I remember the families that called it home and can almost hear the voices calling out in the mists of dusk, children catching fireflies on the lawn, families gathered around the hearth or table with heads bowed and hands clasped as they thanked the Lord for his bounty. Perhaps its glory days are over, but someone, somewhere, remembers.


Jeannine Roediger has lived on a family farm all her life, first as a farmer’s daughter and now as a farmer’s wife. She writes weekly for the Times Bulletin and enjoys gardening, quilting, cooking, bird watching and writing.