Why I Love Old Houses

Posted on: May 11th, 2012 by Scott Austin Sidler 11 Comments

When I was a kid, my parents lived in an old Colonial house built in 1759 in the Catskill Mountains of New York state. The house was incredible for a kid! There were secret hiding spots everywhere -- from the stone cistern in the basement, to the hidden attic door in my closet.

I loved learning about the home's past from my father as he slowly unearthed its secrets. The small town we lived in was apparently incorporated at a meeting in our house that George Washington himself attended. The property line was marked by a centuries-old, sturdy, dry-stacked stone wall. All fun stories and bits of history. But the stories that I discovered myself were the most intriguing.

One time while I was mowing the lawn I noticed a flagstone peeking out from the grass. Curious about what it was doing there, I cleared away the grass to find it was rather large. I proceeded to poke around the area and see what else I could find. I soon came across another flagstone laid in line with this one just a couple feet away.

I continued my excavations and after awhile had uncovered a flagstone path that started from the back of the house and led out about 75 feet before my mom made me stop. I never did find out where that path led, and sometimes I still wonder about it today. Where did it go? Who put it there? When? How long had it been buried? I was like an explorer uncovering uncharted territory and it was exciting. I wanted to know! I still do.

Old houses tell a story. They have a history. There is something about running your hand down a banister that generations of people have held in their hands for centuries. It gives you a sense of place and time, and a perspective on where you fit in this huge, sometimes impersonal world. You are a part -- a small but important part -- of a much greater story. 

My parent's house has stood there, unmoved and mostly unchanged while the world has changed around it, from colonial struggles of a home on the frontier to a small and burgeoning nation. People living in that house lived through the birth of a nation, the struggles of the War of 1812 when our nation's capital was burned, and the Civil War. They watched as horses and buggies turned to cars and trucks. The world grew up, and the inhabitants of that house watched it all through the wavy glass of its old windows.

A history book contains pictures and stories of what life was like in years gone by -- but those stories are locked within the boundaries of the binding. A museum displays actual artifacts from these times, but they're roped off and safely guarded behind glass.

But walking into a historic house is like stepping back in time and being wrapped up in the pages of that history book, being a part the of the history. As tactile beings, the ability to touch and interact with pieces of history is the most profound way to connect to the times and places they came from.

Each historic home I work on has its own story -- and though I may make my living as a carpenter or tile layer or glazier, I'm really just a reader of homes. Stepping into each old house is like opening a new book. And as I read, I learn more and more until I feel comfortable enough writing my own chapter: leaving my mark along with the artists and craftsman of the past whose work I respect so greatly, and hoping that my own meager contribution will be of a quality they deem worthy of inclusion in their book from so long ago.

A version of this blog post first appeared on The Craftsman on April 24, 2012.

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Scott Austin Sidler

Scott Austin Sidler

Scott Austin Sidler is the owner of Austin Home Restorations in Central Florida, and spends his time blogging about all things preservation, salvage, and historic on his blog, The Craftsman.

General, Reflections

11 Responses

  1. Aili

    May 14, 2012

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CtNp2YjLwc You will be very amused by this song: Why Southern California Wants To Be Western New York.

  2. Carla

    May 14, 2012

    You said exactly what I think about old houses. They are magic, and I wouldn’t live anywhere else, despite the upkeep ;-)!

  3. Crystal

    May 14, 2012

    I feel the same. :)

  4. April Johnson

    May 14, 2012

    Wow Scott! I couldn’t have said it better myself. Historic buildings are the most interactive artifacts of the built environment. They cause us to ask questions and be filled with wonder. Stories and lessons can be approached in an inter-disciplinary way from history, to the social sciences, to humanities, to mathematics and engineering!

  5. Why I Love Old Houses | Jabez Bacon House

    May 14, 2012

    […] Why I Love Old Houses. Share this:LinkedInTwitterFacebookStumbleUponEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  6. J Stevens

    May 14, 2012

    Years ago when painting a bedroom we uncovered a patch of old cowboy themed wall paper that would have been in a boys room in the 1920’s. My twin sons who would have been 6 or 7 at the time were facinated by that wall paper and ask question after question about who the boy would have been and what he was like and where he was now. I couldn’t give them any answers but it was fun for them to use their imaginations. Living in an old home is definately a love hate relation ship but this article reminds me why my wife and I love the 105 year old house we have called home for the last 21 years.

  7. Matthew

    May 15, 2012

    Amazing article! I feel exactly the same way. I love history that I can touch and smell, not just pictures printed onto paper or artifacts behind glass. I like to see it, imagine it become a part of it. This is why I want to spend my life restoring historic landmarks in America. My dream is to restore at least one landmark in each US state.

  8. Aubrey

    May 15, 2012

    Love, love, love this article! In our area they keep building houses and leaving the old ones to rot and eventually to be torn down. It breaks my heart. I love my old house, and though it’s a little work, it is so much more fulfilling to make it into our home than just designing and building over and over again.

  9. Ed King

    May 17, 2012

    ME TOO !

  10. Michael J. Boonstra

    May 17, 2012

    Wow, I thought I was the only one in Central Florida interested in restoring old houses, lol! Just kidding, I know there are a few of us out there. Great post, I completely agree which is why I keep buying old houses and fixing them up. Was happy to find out about your business. I am over in Brevard County 45 min East of Otown, do you travel for work? P.S. I spent summers at my grandparents farm in Madison County, N.Y. which dated from 1792 and which is where I first developed my interest in history and old houses.

  11. Scott Austin Sidler
    Scott Austin Sidler

    May 18, 2012

    Wow! Your comments have been amazing! So glad that you enjoyed the article. It’s something very dear to my heart and it’s always good to hear that there are others who had the same experiences as me in their own old house.