13 Things I've Learned from Living in an Old Farmhouse
We think our home was built around 1832. Over the years and while doing re-construction, we've found dated newspapers used as insulation in the walls, and spacers under the floor boards. Some of these dates go back to the early 1830's. The oldest date we found was an ad for the 1832 Detroit World's Fair. It also included part of an ad for heroin as a pain tonic.
The construction and the dates of similar homes built in the area were from the 1830s as well. The man who built our home (or at least owned the property according to the plot maps) is buried in the cemetery down the street with his two wives. And his birth and death dates on his headstone line up with that timeline as well.
We believe that the original home was much smaller and included only three rooms; the kitchen, the dinning room and the laundry room. The construction in this part of the house is much, much older than the rest of the house. The living room and the upper level probably date around the early 1900's. The original molding and the window construction suggest that. Then later, the sun-room was added in the 1980s.
I love our house. I love the history, in fact I've always dreamed of living in an older home with a story. But there were things I had to get used to:
1. Don't take heat for granted.
The area that we live in is quite rural and natural gas was not available until 2016. Because propane is so expensive, we used to heat our home with wood only. And it's a lot of work to keep the house warm in the winter. Especially an old home with zero insulation and leaky gaps in construction. We now have natural gas hook up, but I remember those chilly winter mornings all too well.
We would collect wood all summer, then split it in the fall and carry it down the basement to stack against the wall. Every morning I would put on my heavy robe, let the dog out, make coffee and get the fire going. I found that a good stacking method of the proper material works best. I would start with dryer lint, then paper, then cardboard and kindling. I'd get that started and stack on a few small boards, then move to the larger ones. Once the fire was going, I'd close the door to the furnace, and push in the dampener. I would feed the fire again in about 4 hours.
2. If you have an upstairs bathroom, cherish it.
Our bedrooms are upstairs, but there is no bathroom. I've gotten somewhat used to it now, but when we first moved in I gave myself several bladder infections from holding it too long. There were a few too many "bumps in the night" and I was terrified to come downstairs by myself and pee. I've slowly got used to the sounds the old house makes, and several night lights help.
3. The scientists are right, glass is in fact a liquid.
And our old windows prove it! I'm so glad that all the previous owners left the original windows in the front of the house. Some of the panes have been replaced over the years, but some of them have the original wobbly, rippled and running glass. Some have the circle where the glass maker removed the cylinder. The cross bucks have several coats of old paint, which has rounded off the molding cut pattern and the putty needs to be replaced. They're terribly inefficient in keeping in the heat, but we've embraced the plastic sheets that you blow tight with the hair dryer. It works pretty well and allows us to keep a bit of historical charm.
4. The realization that people have probably given birth, died and laid out for funeral services in our home.
That's what they did in the 1830's. I sort of love this about the history of our home, but it creeps me out just the same. I often lie in bed at night and wonder how many children were born in this bedroom. We're fairly sure that the original owner's wife died in child birth. So...that's...interesting.
5. Our home once had people living in it that looked and dressed like this.
6. And this was their car
7. Our home was built before electricity, running water and the Civil War.
8. Our home was built before Michigan became a state
Michigan became a state on January 26th, 1837
9. Everything is crooked...everything
Whenever we do home repairs Zach gets out the level, and we hold it up to the wall, and then we laugh and laugh and eye ball it. Our home is so crooked that when you try to build things level, it looks wonky juxtaposed to the rest of the wall...trim...doors...windowsill. We have a saying around here "just make it look right."
10. The walls are made of everything but drywall
Well...there is some drywall, but there's a lot of plaster and there's a lot of wooden slats with horsehair plaster. There's lots of newspaper (as I mentioned above) and old elaborate wallpaper, mortise and tenon beams and even tree bark on the rough-cut basement floor joists.
11. The people who lived here used a lot of blue and white pottery.
And evidently, they liked to throw it around the yard! We find shards of blue and white pottery every time we turn the earth. Without garbage services they probably buried broken dishes around the property. But it's EVERYWHERE! Maybe they used it as clay pigeons and shot it for target practice? Frisbee golf?
12. They were farmers too and they plowed the land with horses.
We find horseshoes everywhere too....really old ones. And Lots of old metal pieces of ancient farm equipment.
13. We've come a long way in society...and yet, we haven't
I wonder what the people who lived here before us would think if they could re-visit our home. The road is still a dirt road, but the vehicles that go up and down are much different and much faster. There's the noise of television and the light of electricity that fill the old house in the evenings. There's a washing machine and stove that heats with the turn of a knob.
But much of it has stayed the same.
The sound of animals in the barn. The sway of the grass in the hay-field. The mist that comes off the pond and fills the property with fog. The sweet familiar poetry of Grace before dinner. Loving, laughing, crying, praying...the human experience.
And that's why I love our old crooked home. I love that so many memories have been shared within it's walls and we are able to be a part of that legacy.