Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dismantling History

I love old buildings; 
you've probably already figured that out about me.
 Image courtesy of FreeFoto
While to outsiders the Artist and I own this century home, we look upon ourselves more as caretakers, custodians of history if you like. After suffering from neglect and modernization, we're doing our part to conserve this old farmhouse, to ensure that another 150 years from now, it will still be here as a living artifact of rural life and a testimony to those first settlers of this area, who carved a life for themselves out of the vast forest. It's an incredible responsibility and not one that we take lightly. We have our work cut out for us and it will, undoubtedly, be many years before we can sit back and relax with only the thoughts of general routine maintenance on our minds rather than renovations but nonetheless we do it wholeheartedly and we thank our lucky stars for the opportunity to experience this life of ours, in the country.

The country with it's old farmhouses, barns, sheds, chicken coops and corn cribs isn't the only place full of history. The city has it's share too but like old barns that seem to be torn down more often than not, the city also has it's fair share of misdeeds when it comes to being responsible caretakers of heritage buildings. This week, a nearby city to the old farmhouse has been in the news, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.

What do you think of when you think of a city that spawned the Great One, the invention of the telephone and the birthplace of someone as special as, say, my late grandmother? I think of heritage...imagine if that first phone call had never been placed? I think of drama...imagine if the Great One had never been drafted? I think of life...imagine if my grandmother had never been born? There's much more to this city and it's unique history from its Neutral Indian settlement in the 17th century to its ties to the American Revolution through it's namesake Joseph Brant. Volumes and volumes of a rich and vibrant history had been written long before the land around this old farmhouse had been eyed for farming.

In that city, around the same time that the plans were purchased to build our old farmhouse, 41 buildings were built, an eclectic streetscape now home to buildings boasting a ripe old age of 150-170 years. Buildings that predate our country's confederacy, along a street where Alexander Graham Bell once strolled as he no doubt mulled over his work. Buildings that as of this week began to come down.

 Go here to see a wonderful detailed graphic of 'Bell's' streetscape.

The argument, if you can call it that, is that too little interest has come too late, that these buildings have been neglected for almost thirty years and that if they are worth protecting, something should have been done about them years ago. Some say they are too far gone to restore. Some say otherwise. It's easy to blame past leaders, past owners and while, yes, certainly something should have been done about these heritage keepsakes long ago, pointing fingers through a time machine is just an easy way of getting out of doing the tough, unpopular job of tackling restoration.While preservation is always the first choice, restoration should surely be a prize worthy second choice. Not unlike my grandmother, without sounding flippant, once they're gone no amount of money will bring them back.

And while I find all of this disappointing and misguided, what I find truly disheartening is what this teaches our children. We can educate our kids about the three R's - reduce, reuse, recycle but we're not practicing what we preach. We're clearly demonstrating that we continue to live in a throw away society where newer is better and history is not an important link to our future. As my high school history teacher once said, 'How do you know where you're going, if you don't know where you've been? Should I expect more from a city that tore down the building where Bell made his first phone call? Probably not.

~Be well and mindful of your history friends~


City Hen said...

The building we have the coffee shop in is also a historical building. It is protected here in Poland by the "Historical Society". However because of this we are not allowed to do ANYTHING to the building. So we cannot even maintain the building on the outside. This makes me so sad. You are so right, once they get to a certain point they will have to go and we will never get them back!!
Love you!

Mary, Windy Meadows Farm said...

True words, well spoken...they strike a cord with me. I too love old buildings...I've stopped alongside the road to look at old houses and felt so sad that they were neglected...such beautiful architecture from a bygone era. I've stood on the steps of those neglected houses and looked out, thinking about the farm wife that did the same. I've looked at the lilac bushes and lovely flowers struggling to get through the weeds...someone planted them with love, and now they're forgotten. If we keep teaching our children to love old things and the old ways, maybe they will be the ones to have a greater impact. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Connie said...

So heartbreaking to see it all go. If I close my eyes, I can see them all restored and beautiful - the way it should be. We need to take a hint from our friends in the US and restore as much of our Canadian historic buildings and places as possible.

Osage Bluff Quilter said...

I'd be throwing a hissie fit! I love anything older than me. Those buildings could surely be restored, call This old house show.

ain't for city gals said...

At the very least I hope they are not going to just haul every thing to the that would be very sad. In our houses we use so much re-claimed material and we blend the new with the old to create our own history. In the house we are building now we are using some 100 years old railroad / bridge beams ...lots of work to size them down to what we need (we are getting 4 huge beams out of one!!! but so worth it ..they look gorgeous ...hope they decide against tearing down..let us know..

Laura @ Getting There said...

Oh, that's sad. I love old buildings too, and I agree that once they are gone, there is truly no getting them back. A lot of old buildings contain materials (especially large wooden beams) that will never be available again. And then there is the charm and atmosphere that somehow builders can't recreate today. I hope that someone finds a way to save those buildings at the last minute,

Unknown said...

I agree, that history, and the beautiful and unique architecture, can not be replaced. How sad. We were in that town just 2 weeks ago, then drove north to the highway. We did see an old factory that is advertised as being converted to lofts but not that stretch of historical buildings. So many smaller towns can preserve storefronts, surely a city of that size could have done something. Sad indeed.

Leigh, Andrea Leigh Gil said...

I love old structures as well and I think that it is shame that our society doesnt work any harder at keeping them around. Great post and thanks for sharing your thoughts as many of us feel the same. :)

Flat Creek Farm said...

Interesting, and so true, Andrea. And I adore the quote from your history teacher!

~from my front porch in the mountains~ said...

I love this piece, Andrea!

Last year, our county tore down the oldest church. Now the cemetary remains, alone.

It broke my heart. The fire dept used it as a training exercise! :(