This Old House


Years ago, before I moved to (then) working-class Somerville, I lived in an historic district in central Connecticut; most of my neighbors lived in lovely, expensively-preserved, eighteenth century homes. I did not. But even though I did not own an old home  I somehow absorbed enough knowledge of Old School architecture to be able to spot historic houses in my new, gritty, densely-populated neighborhood.

Back in the day, I could also easily spot whenever one of my Somerville neighbors did any kind of home improvement. It was easy! Just as carefully as my historic-district neighbors worked very hard and spent lots of money so as to not reveal that anything about their historic house had been changed and that every colonial detail had been carefully preserved, my new neighbors made darned sure everyone knew when a window or porch had been replaced by not making the slightest attempt to match style or color or materials. “I’m brand-new!” these home improvements seemed to shout.

Nowadays, Somerville is upscale—which means, among other things, that plenty of people with deep pockets have bought homes in the ‘ville and, you guessed it, have spent oodles of $$ to restore their homes to look like what they’d looked like when they were new. (In most cases, the 1860’s) And, yeah, It seems I’ve retained an authentic and historically accurate sensibility from my Connecticut days because, I admit it, I admire what these folks have done.

But: there’s an old, old house around the corner from me, probably built about 1825, that is currently being renovated and, I’m guessing by the sloppy workmanship—leaving windows open or broken for weeks, propping sheets of plywood against holes in the walls, for example—is owned by people with not much money and who’ve spent no time at all researching that house’s history. (I could be totally wrong about this, of course.) And those homeowners will, I’m guessing, put in fancy new windows and doors, paint it in a color never seen in the 1825, make it into the home they want, a home that reflects their 2014 taste. (Or, perhaps, what they imagine will sell in the current super-hot real estate market in this neighborhood right now.) So who cares what it looked like when it was new?

But maybe that history—American history—never did and never will mean much to these homeowners. Besides, history does not equal holy. Let’s not forget that when that house was built, for example, slavery was the status quo. Indeed, a block away from that house is “Bleachery Court,” now a park and skating rink, but in 1825, that land was covered with a factory that bleached, yes, cotton. (The North has plenty of slavery-related history, of course.)

So, yes, I’m sad that an historic house has been gutted and its charming roofline radically altered and its story, to to speak, silenced. I’m sad that a daily reminder of the people who lived in my neighborhood so many years ago has been destroyed. I think reflecting on that past every time I walked by that house made my own life a little richer. I also know how expensive preservation is. And that holding on to the past simply because it’s the past is nuts.

So I’m hoping that, like a pay phone turned into an art installation, something just as delightful as that historic house will take its place.

(But I’m not counting on it.)






Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. Dear Patricia,

    Hi, there, Patricia, my dearest and precious white sister! Wow, what a very interesting, fun, and astute blog post article which you have so, so very graciously and generously composed, as well as your other very super ones!!!!! I loved this!!!!!! I, too, like you think that many, many houses have such a rich and varied history and so much great historical value. So much can be gleaned just from thoroughly looking at a house and enjoying the sheer beauty of these houses and letting our imaginations roam freely as we try to figure out what stories do these homes have to tell. It is just such an interesting and a fascinating endeavor. Often, when I observe houses, with my very active imagination I wonder about who is living in these homes and what is their story, and I wonder about all of the other folks who have lived in these homes and what their stories would be. As well, I often wonder when the homes were built, and what kind of histories and stories are so sacredly stored within the very memories and stories of the beautiful inside and out children of God who have graced these homes with their presence. I am like you, sister, in that I don’t want the trend towards modernity and being contemporary to erase the glorious histories behind these marvelous homes. I kind of think too much modernity and being contemporary can at times be carried too far, Sister (SMILE!!!!!!!0

    The histories involved so gracefully with homes is indeed very important-I agree with you so, so very much and so very wholeheartedly, Patricia! Houses and the persons who did dwell within them making a house a home do indeed have so, so very many multifaceted stories to tell in all of their magnificent and splendid ways, sister. I, as you do, Patricia, think it is so much fun to critique houses and to learn what stories are behind their very grand frames. I thank-you, thank-you, thank-you so, so very profusely, my dearest and precious Christian white sister who you are so, so very much, Patricia, for making this great and very relevant connection in your blog post article about how at one historical sight it had been the location of a factory that made cotton that the slaves worked so hard over in their heinous slavery and oppression.. Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you, sister, for mentioning this and bringing this to light-this is also a strong and an important part of history as well and needs to be brought to light and very often so like you have so, so very graciously and generously done, Sister! You are such a dear and special, true blue sister to me and to other black and nonwhite persons as the superb and empowering white anti-racist and ally in your allyship and activism who you are so, so very much, sister!!!!!! You do my very heart so, so much eternally blessed good, and you just keep me keeping on, Patricia, and keep my very heart, soul, and spirit from never ever giving up! And I will for always never ever give up on wondrously wonderful white persons, especially white women who I love so, so very much and cherish as the lesbian black woman who I am, and I will for always have complete confidence in and love for white persons that white people can indeed heal and recover from racism, and learn, grow, and find themselves in the very process. I truly think and believe with all that I have that we can move away from racism and that as a common beloved human family and community that we can work together in unity toward racial reconciliation and healing in our shared humanity. I will for always have this hope and faith, and a very for always positive optimism that things can and will get better for I am an eternal optimist, Patricia, my white sister who you are so, so very much!!!!!!!!

    Patricia, you are for always my eternally blessed gift and my very blessing, and your marvelous and stupendous blog post website, and your very fine and excellent articles, and responding to your sparkling articles provides me with such immense and immeasurable joy, pleasure, enjoyment, and blessings, sister! You are my inspiration as my white sister and my white anti-racist and ally in your allyship and activism in solidarity and to other black and persons of color!!!!!!! I truly appreciate you and value you, sister, as well as your other very grateful and appreciative readers!!!!!! What a very powerful witness you provide, not only as a Christian woman, but as white anti-racist and ally!!!!!! Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you for always, my dearest and precious Christian white sister who you are so, so very much!!!!!!! You are just the greatest and the best, Patricia!!!!!!

    Very Warmly and Sincerely For Always, my sister, Patricia, and Blessings and Even More Blessings To You For Always, my sisterfriend,

    Your Christian lesbian black sisterfriend in solidarity For Always, Sherry Gordon

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.