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Posted by on Sep 28, 2015 in Featured, History, Nature | 7 comments

This Old House: It’s Having A 300th Birthday, But There Won’t Be A Celebration

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On rare occasions, history bequeaths us an opportunity to live in an old house that speaks deeply of its rich past, an experience that is far more common in the U.K. and Europe than the comparatively young U.S.

I had one such opportunity in the 1980s when I lived in the John Evans House, a gem of an architectural crazy quilt in a secluded valley north of Newark, Delaware near where Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon drew their famous line. It is where my children were born and spent their early years, a rather isolated existence for youngsters who didn’t have any place to ride their bikes, needed to be mindful of not getting too close when playing near the woodstove in the winter, and had to be driven to town to trick-or-treat on Halloween. But even at their tender age they appreciated, as we grown-ups certainly did, the sublime beauty of the house and its surroundings.

The John Evans House is 300 years old this year, but there won’t be a celebration.

This is because the U.S. is different than our cousins across the pond in another way. We simply don’t particularly value our past. While the occasional old pile gets razed in the U.K. and Europe, old houses typically are revered, maintained through the ages and restored as necessary, while here too many old houses are just a wrecking ball away from a highway interchange, shopping center or burger joint. Or worse, die a slow death from neglect, which is the fate of the Evans House.

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  • I am from the Pacific North West and when I lived in Europe for several years what amazed me the most was the the age of things. An old house here in the Portland area is 100 years old and most of those have been remodeled to make to make them more energy efficient and earthquake resistant.

    • DdW

      We took a visiting English relative to an antique auction in a nearby town a few years ago.

      He had to chuckle at what we call “antiques” here: stuff “a mere hundred years old.”

      Of course, we are a much younger country.

  • DdW

    You are so right about Europeans taking much better care of their heirlooms.

    I loved your beautiful albeit sad CODA at your blog and I hope you don’t mind me quoting it here:

    The memories came flooding back on a recent day when I stopped by to pay my respects to the John Evans House, as I always do when I’m in the area. The valley, on the cusp of summer and autumn, was brilliantly sunlit and songbirds heralded my presence, as they always do.

    The roof had been more or less in place, if a little leaky, on my previous visit a year or so earlier. But on this day the house sat forlorn and very much neglected. There was hideous graffiti on some of the first floor plywood boards and the roof and attic dormer windows were collapsing inward. Vegetation had overtaken and seized the back of the house, covering the windows from which we watched the sun burn off the mist over the creek on many a morning, slowly but surely assisting in the team effort of time and neglect to pull down and eventually transform to rubble an irreplaceably beautiful house and monument to local history.

    I wept, and don’t believe I will ever be able to go back.

    • shaun

      Don’t mind at all. Thank you, Dorian.

    • Brownies girl

      Dorian, if you haven’t seen “Trip to Bountiful” — look it up. 1985 movie with Geraldine Page – I saw it in the theatres, and then bought a VHS copy of it, alas now there’s not VHS player available anymore, at least to me. I loved this film, made me remember all my roots and the houses we lived in in all those years, which seemed like forever, but only spanned about 7 years …. but roots are so strong.

      I went back a couple of years ago, to see if I could find what we called “the old wooden house” a falling down old house we moved into and had to stuff newspapers into the walls to keep the freezing winds out — found where it was, now a huge field, filled with corn growing tall, waving in the breeze. I forced my way through the stiff corn plants, up where the lane way used to be, just to see if I could find where the foundation was, where the porch was, the clothesline, the old well, the garden and where we buried Lassie, our border collie who got hit by a car out on the road. Couldn’t find any of it — so just sat down in the corn and cried. I was 11 and 12 when we lived there, but the attachment is still so strong. Why is that, I wonder.

      I have my own house now, here in the inner city, been here 20+ years now — perhaps this place will have that same kind of hold on me when I have to sell and leave — but somehow, that old wooden house, from decades ago, with its great old kitchen with a wood stove, 4 tiny bedrooms upstairs, falling down porch that we used to sit on, watch thunderstorms roll in over the tobacco fields and smell the ozone from the lightning, and it’s really bad leaking walls from the northwest wind — it’s etched on my memory — and it’ll never leave. I look at that photo of the old John Evans house, and my chest aches. I honestly believe houses contain the spirits of all those who lived there — so sad when they’re no longer there.

      • DdW

        Hi BrowniesGirl,

        You might have meant those comments to be for Shaun, but I identify with them, too.

        I have re-visited my childhood homes (two of them) in Ecuador after some 40 years and have experienced similar feelings, hard for me to describe, but you have done a fantastic job.

        Have taken note of the movie — I am sure one can get it in DVD format. Will let you know.

        • Brownies girl

          Thanks Dorian, and thank you too Shaun for your wonderful words – yes, I meant them for you too Shaun – sometimes this threading thing confuses me. Your words put me back in a place for a few minutes — stuff just pours out. Bless you both!

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