Sunday, December 5, 2010



A house in a very small town caught my  eye as I was driving down its main street. I instantly knew I wanted to find out more  about this place. I swung around and stopped in front of the house and noticed a sign attached to the  garage.  Sign said: NO TRESPASSING. Whoa, this stopped me dead in my tracks of going up to the door to introduce myself . I happened over to a nearby house and they told me the house was vacant --  and its owner was a lady in her eighties that was now living in a nursing home. 

With these few facts in hand I decided that I could take photos of the house from the street while searching  for clues about the the owner.

Initially, what attracted me to stop was the vernacular form of the house. But now I saw something else. -- it was the sitting porch standing as it probably stood when the elderly woman lived there. 

So, now I was looking at both the early architecture of the place and the front sitting porch. 

Based on the architecture, I put a date on the house as that of the early 1800s, It had not been restored, only preserved. It was an authentic example of a vernacular Federal/Greek Revival house.

So many questions swirled in my head:
--How long had she lived in the house?
--Was this a family home that had passed through several generations?
--Did she know who built the house or the garage or any of the outbuildings on the property?.
--Was it a large house because large families had lived in it?
Many other questions passed through my mind -- too many to write down here. 


Architecture aside, I turned to the sitting porch to seach for clues about the owner. It contained a little bit of interpretive material. 

The woman of eighty plus apparently liked plants as she had several planters sitting on the edge of the porch with remnants of former plants.

She had some old metal chairs that appeared to be there for socializing.


Some old vintage plant stands stood empty on part of the porch. A chicken figure, that perhaps was a planter, sat on top of one of the stands. 

Together the architecture along with the materials on her porch seemed to tell me that over the years she made do with what she had. The house along with the porch artifacts  remained "as is" over the years.  "As is" meaning no changes. 

As an example of the remaining  "as is"  of the house architecture was the original weather-board siding, a few old outbuildings, old tin roof, original six over six  window panes (also called lights), column pilasters on the porch, and a fan light over the front door. 

My conclusion about the elderly lady was that she liked to socialize, loved plants, and liked things to remain as they were.

The over-all ambiance of the property gives one the ability to glance at a "real" historic setting -- not one that has been adulterated with the clean and sterile look of many museums.  The overall place is in context to its landscape -- a small town in Kentucky.

Its like an archaeological dig -- trying to interpret fragments into a viable story. Humans invariably leave debris when they have lived somewhere for any length of time.  The interpretation may not be entirely accurate but is usually fairly close to reality.


  1. Barbara- Now you have me wondering about the house myself. Is there any way you can track down the owner and get your questions answered. I would also like to know more about the old barn board shed/garage located behind the house. How would that building have been used?

  2. A good sized house too. Always fun wondering about old places.

  3. Did she like the house the way it was or did she lack the money to make changes, paint it, and so on? Could be both, but I suspect it was lack of money, and perhaps the inertia of that hopeless feeling of having to made do. I wonder if the kitchen and bathrooms are at all modernized or much as they were when installed maybe 50 years ago. Surely there are stories behind your pictures and your guesses.

  4. Failing tracking down the owner, can you access land title ownership records through local government departments?
    It's a lovely house, full of character :)

  5. Darcy -- I can answer your question about the natural barn board shed as I believe it might be a smoke house? I have found out that smoke houses do not need to be vented -- only that seepage be allowed by the seams where two boards meet. If anyone else has an idea I would appreciate it.

    As far as tracking down the owner -- that is another whole ball of wax. I'm afraid that I do not have the time to do in-depth research on this house. I will leave that to some historic preservation student at one of the colleges.

  6. Vicki this house certainly had volume. I think that is why old house walks put on by historical societies are so popular -- people are curious and like to tour old houses -- barbara

  7. June -- it could be both. But if one just wants to preserve a home the best way is to just maintain it without many updates. This house needed an exterior painting but overall the house was in fair condition -- not anything that the village would condemn. I agree with you that there are probably stories about this property. I wrote a textbook on settlement patterns years ago and realized the multitude of stories contained within just one settlement. Thanks for the nice comment -- barbara

  8. Jayne, I do not have the time to do in-depth research on this property. Right now I am involved in several projects that require research. It would be fun but perhaps some college student can pick up the baton. Thanks for the suggestion – it was a good one – Barbara

  9. Such a fantastic post about a subject that I do love. What a beauty of a structure that looks much like it did back in its day. Looks like a central passage floor plan and the porch is lovely. I also like the way the house has "settled" and you can see that in the roofline. We have quite a few Federal structures in my area of KY, that have been preserved.

  10. Wow, I wonder about the house's history too, but it's that porch, with so many personal belongings still sitting on it, that especially makes me wonder so many things about the lady who lived there. I'd guess maybe she hasn't been in the nursing home very long, and if she still has her wits about her I'd bet she went very unwillingly. I'd like to think perhaps the nursing home is a temporary situation for her while she recuperates from something, but that looks like an awfully large house (and property) for an elderly woman living alone to care for and navigate. So I wonder if she has family nearby, and what, if anything, they plan to do with the place if she's unable to return.

    I love trying to imagine the history and personal stories that go with old houses (and antiques, especially jewelry, dishes and furniture - who made them? Who owned them once and how did they come by them?), and this old place really gets the imagination juices flowing! But I can't help thinking about the fate of its most recent inhabitant. Seeing those formerly used and probably beloved items forsaken on her porch makes me sad.

  11. Barbara,

    I can't help be amazed that it is still intact and seemingly unmarred by modern encroachments and less than savory activities. What a testament to a life well-lived. It's hard to see how large/small it is...have you an estimate of the approx. size?


  12. Tess -- I do visualize "material culture" as "archeological digs". Thanks for the comment. barbara

  13. Farmchick -- Yes I would say it has a central hall plan. The roof line does have a "roller coaster" look to it. Kentucky is great for having all these early houses. Hopefully they will find owners that will preserve them like in your area. -- barbara

  14. Elora -- I would estimate the square footage of this house as between 3000 to 4000 feet. That is a rough estimate of course. The house has a very large two-story ell probably added on shortly after the original house was built as it has an early limestone foundation. There is a small one-story addition on the lower level that probably was built in the latter part of the 1900s as it has cement block foundation and the window are rather late. Thanks for stopping by -- barbara

  15. Laloofah -- I do know from the neighbor that the family looks after the house, If you look at the yard you can tell it has been kept mowed. Really, all signs of who the lady was seem to be on the porch. The yard is barren except for the small outbuildings. I have a feeling that this house is one that has been in the family for a few generations? I don't find it unusual that an older person remains alone in a large old family home. I've known quite a few that have done so. Thanks for the very nice comments.-- barbara

  16. This home was owned by my Grandparents and is now owned by my Uncle. The yard is maintained but it does not appear as though much else has changed. The house appears now exactly how I remember it as a child (I am 30 now). I spent many hours mowing the lawn and doing other tasks, such as installing the storm windows on the front to keep rain out of the decaying windows. The house has 6 bedrooms, a decent sized kitchen and living room, bathroom that was added later. Most of the outbuildings were built by my grandfather except for those that were already on the property when they moved there. I'm not sure when they originally bought the house. The home is definitely very old and very interesting but unfortunately in rough shape. The last time I was inside the home (several years ago), the plaster ceilings upstairs had all fallen. The outbuilding without paint is in fact a smoke house.

  17. Mark -- how terrific to receive your comment especially since you are a member of the family that still owns the house. Your comment gives insight as to how the house evolved such as adding a bathroom, grandfather building most of the outbuildings, and plaster falling upstairs. Identifying the unpainted outhouse as a former smokehouse tells me that they probably had hogs at one time? You have a real historic treasure in your family. Since you are young and write well perhaps you could write a story about your house for the local historic society or a local newspaper. The town is such a charming fragment of history. I thank you for writing this comment and any other info you would like to provide would be appreciated either on this blog or at folk@efolkways.com -- thanks -- barbara