As I traveled down the streets of my childhood recently it was easy to return to the past; paper routes, yards that I mowed, basketball in this driveway, football in that yard. Imagine houses with yards big enough for the kids to actually play football, houses that were designed to fit the lot properly; a large house on a large lot or a small house on a small lot. Houses that people bought not with a 5 year plan but a lifetime plan, a house they wanted to leave to their children and so on. The occupants of these homes were indeed my friends and many as close as family, we played together, went to school together, and many of us remain friends to this day.
Unfortunately my memories are outliving the houses as one by one they are being removed for newer versions and our history is being left behind with them.
History is a funny thing, it can bring us great joy and at the same time great pain, a glimpse of the past and a lesson for the future. It can teach us the stories of who came before us and teach us the evolution of our times.
The depression era houses were constructed by the old European master craftsmen, everything built on site without the aid of power tools. Old country techniques that used the natural surrounding and the forces of nature as a guide; plaster that cooled in the summer and north or south facing houses that utilized the predominate wind for cooling and heating. Many of these houses stand today like beacons from our past inviting us to learn from those that came before.
Prior to World War 2 houses were built primarily with all wood often including the foundation; you could order an entire house from the Sears and Robuck catalog and it would be delivered by rail ready to assemble. Many of those houses remain today referred to as kit houses. A reflection of the times they often were adorned in Victorian trim and were built by the owner. There was no such thing as central air conditioning , dish washers wore shoes, and the clothes dryer was a rope in the back yard.
As the war effort went into full swing in the 1940’s builders had to find alternative and resourceful ways to build houses. Standard building materials were being used in the war effort and the work force were off fighting, so concrete houses and innovative engineering became the norm.
Often when looking at remodels, I get caught explaining to a younger client that most things were planned around wars, weather, and railroads. That many towns were built a day’s horse ride from each other and what is a highway today was wagon trail first.
It’s not uncommon that we will find notes, scribbles, and old newspapers buried in the walls of the old homes we’re remodeling. These pieces of the past are pure treasures and can never be replaced. Little time capsules teasing us to look deeper. Through wars, the great depression, disasters and boom times our past is there for us to see, reminding us where we came from and when we got here.
And so our history becomes a victim to the times as we tear down the old and replace with the new; like an old tree that is blown down by a storm or a vacant lot that is now someones home. Time goes on and we go with it, but wouldn’t it be nice if occasionally we took a step back and saved a piece of the past.
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