Deep Roots (Part 6) – Home, Sweet Home

Homes that have been in a family for generations are precious things, in my opinion. They should be cherished and preserved for future generations whenever possible. Too often these days, most families can’t afford to keep these grand old homes; they sell and move on. And sometimes these homes are abandoned and not properly maintained for many years. Such is the case with the home that was once my great grandparents’ and then my grand-uncle’s home. The home where my grandfather was raised.

My great grandparents had three children: a daughter who died in infancy, my grandfather (1902-1941), and my grand-uncle (1913-1999). My grandfather was eleven years older than my grand-uncle, and before graduating from high school decided that he wanted the big city life and took off for Washington, D.C.  Really? When my great grandparents passed, my grand-uncle took over the family farm and the home.

My grand-uncle James, and his wife raised seven children on the farm. In the 1930 Census, my Dad and his brother, ages 3 and 6, where shown living at the farm, as well as living with their mother in Maryland (I will never know why). James’ first wife, the mother of all his children, passed in 1987 and he later married a woman named Loretta. In his Will, Uncle James gave Loretta a life estate in the property, and upon her death the home and land would be divided among his children.  To put it simply, she had the right to full enjoyment of the property for her lifetime, but her rights to the property ended upon her death. But soon after Uncle James’ death, she chose not to live there and moved to Arizona to live with her daughter. Loretta rented out the home for a few years, and you know how that can go sometimes – especially with an absentee landlord. Let’s just say the tenants had no interest in taking care of the place they lived in and left behind considerable damage. This ended up being a very strained relationship between the second wife and the ultimate heirs of the property. They tried to get her to maintain the property from the income it earned (not just from the tenants, but from the leased farmland as well).  She refused. Her daughter even tried to convince the heirs to purchase the property from her mother. Um, sorry, that’s not how it works, folks!

Loretta died a few years ago, and the estate will finally be settled sometime this year. One of my cousins will inherit the “big house,” as they call it, and some of the land surrounding it.  The rest of the farm will be inherited by my other cousins or their heirs. Two of Uncle James’ children have died since he passed in 1999, a son in 2005, and my buddy and fellow genealogist in June, 2013.

The home is a large, two-story, two bath, five bedroom farmhouse that was built between 1920-1925 by my great-grandfather (1865-1936). It has two staircases and originally had a wood burning fireplace in every room. There is a parlor, huge dining room, living room, and one bedroom on the first floor. At some point one porch was enclosed which became the indoor kitchen. The bathrooms were not added to the interior of the home until the late 1940’s. In order to get to one of the upstairs bedrooms, you must go through the bathroom, which they had carved out of the bedroom. All the bedrooms are very large. The woodwork and wood flooring in the home are original. My grand-uncle replaced all the windows in the big house around 1995, which I’m sure helped make it far more energy-efficient.

The home is actually two separate homes joined by a breeze-way. The smaller, older farmhouse was on the property during the Civil War. Uncle James told me it used to have bullet holes in it from nearby skirmishes, and indeed, you could see where they were patched. That home is also two stories, with an enormous fireplace. Everything in this home is original and has been largely untouched for decades. There is no interior kitchen or bath. My great grandparents lived here (until they built the big house), and their three children were born in that small home. One of Uncle James’ sons, my cousin John, later built the breeze-way that now connects the two houses.

These are photographs of the home in 1966, and one taken on my first visit there in 1996.

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These are photographs taken on my last visit in June, 2013.

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These are pictures of the smaller “Old Farmhouse.” I do not know exactly when this house was built, but it still sits on stone pilings. My Uncle James told me they slept on rope beds, and that his mother cooked using the fireplace. Uncle James kept that fireplace smoldering year ’round while he was alive. Here is a great story connected to this house:

One afternoon, after having been gone for the day, my great-grandfather and his family returned home and heard very heavy footfalls on the second floor and could hear a cow mooing in distress. Not believing there could possibly be a cow upstairs, my great-grandfather grabbed a shotgun and cautiously went upstairs. Sure enough, there was a cow up on the second floor of this tiny old farmhouse. My grandfather tied a rope around its neck and somehow managed to get the cow back down the stairs and outside the house (when you see the staircase in the photos, you’ll understand).

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Some of the old barns on the farm.

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And oh yeah, the big house is haunted. One of my cousins told me that he has seen our great-grandmother in his bedroom and in the hallway at night when he was still living there. One night when I slept there I felt the sensation that someone sat down on the bed next to me. The next night I felt someone touch my shoulder in the middle of the night. *Raising eyebrows* When I jumped up both nights, there was no one there.  But that happened to me after my cousin told me his crazy story, so it was all in my dreams, right? Yes. Yes it was.

Haunted or not, I look forward to seeing the house brought back to life.  I am thrilled to see my cousin living there and taking care of it. It needs to be lived in again by someone who loves it. It is such a beautiful place with so much history. And I know, at least for a while longer, it will remain in the family and I can still “go home.” Every time I talked with Uncle James or got a letter from him, he always asked me, “when are you coming home again?”

Soon.

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