Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Old New England Homes

[Veering off my normal technical-only discussion today due to impending hot weather forecast for my part of the world later this week.]

My home in New Hampshire was built around 1850 to replace the run-down old garrison just to the north. The story is that some salvaged materials (bricks, timbers, boards?) from the old garrison were used in the construction of the "new" farmhouse. The garrisons were fortified to repel Indian attacks and abductions in the area into the mid-1700s. My family roots in this area run deep, and numerous ancestors were killed or abducted, especially around the time of the Dover, NH Massacre of 1689. Abductees were typically taken north to Quebec and held for ransom. One of my ancestors was a "heroine" of the Dover Massacre; another declined to return to her abusive husband after abduction to Quebec. There's a lot of history here. Of course, documented historical roots don't run as deep here in the New World as in Eurasia. I recall staying at an old, old inn in Wales in 2006 where one corner of the room was obviously several inches higher than the other.

Like many old New England homes, my home has a borning room. This is a small room just off the kitchen/hearth where mothers would give birth, infants would be tended, and the sick and elderly would be provided solace. The hearth was the living center of the old New England homestead. This makes special sense given the history of the Little Ice Age in North America. My home, although not especially large for the time, has a vaulted brick arch in the basement to support the dutch oven and fireplaces on the first floor. My paternal grandparents acquired this home in a somewhat run-down and unimproved state (no electricity, plumbing) in the early 1940s. My 3rd great grandfather had lived in this same home when it was relatively new. Homes "in town" during the same period would have had better amenities, higher ceilings, grander staircases, etc. compared to rural farmhouses. On the plus side, I have almost 500 acres of conservation land in my back yard.

For the past couple years I've been sleeping in the small borning room off the long, farm-style kitchen. This room has space for a small bed against three walls, a nightstand and dresser. It also happens to be cold in the winter and hot in the summer due to a southeast location and little insulation. Many new homes aren't built to last, but at least they're using a sensible layout and insulation. Surviving old homes were built with quality materials, yet impose compromises for modern living. With a warm weather forecast for later this week, I've decided to change to the upstairs bedroom. I've ordered a small window air conditioner to hopefully arrive and be installed before hot weather strikes on Thursday.

When my grandparents acquired the house, the upstairs was largely unfinished. My grandmother had most of the upstairs built out as a separate apartment some years after my grandfather passed away. The current tenant has been there for almost 30 years. I retain one bedroom at the top of the (steep) front stairs with no upstairs bathroom access. This certainly isn't the house as I want it to be. That said, I have a great tenant and will be gradually making practical improvements. For now, I need to figure what should be moved to the upstairs bedroom to make it habitable. I have a bed, lamp, and nice closet but desperately need a bedside stand and dresser. Longer term, I'd love to figure out either a fix to the steepness of the stairs or a separate upstairs bathroom situation. It's all possible, but starts to run into real money. At some point, I run the cost-benefit analysis as to whether it's better to buy/build the home I want and force renters to deal with the quirks of the old farmhouse.