The Pineapple, The Sea Captain and How A Legend Began…

Sailors are known for their stories. You’d be hard-pressed to go to any ocean-enthusiasts house and not hear a tale of the extraordinary fish caught, or the summer storm turned sour or the port city that lured like a siren song.  But did you ever hear the story about the pineapple? The one that tells how it became one of the most iconic symbols in the world? Today in the Vintage Kitchen, we’ve got a legend on the table.

There are a few versions surrounding the pineapple and how it became known as the universal symbol of hospitality. Some stories claim it was a gift of peace offered to foreign explorers by local Caribbean tribes.  Other stories state it was a sought-after souvenir traded around South America until it eventually was welcomed in Europe for experimental gardening. Another explains that it was a status symbol of the very rich and the very royal who used it as a party decoration to signify the extent of their wealth, visually reinforcing the fact that they could indeed offer the best of everything to their guests, no matter what the cost. But our favorite version in the Vintage Kitchen, of how the pineapple came to be a hospitality icon, is the one that dates to the 1700’s in the time of the sea captains.

That legend states that merchant trading ships like this…

A Chesapeake Bay style sloop was a common merchant ship traveling between the West Indies and the Eastern Atlantic coast.

carried cargo (mainly sugar, tobacco, rum, and molasses) back from the Caribbean islands to various ports in New England. Included in their bounty was the exotic tropical pineapple, a fruit so unusual in its beauty, so incredible in its sweetness and so valuable in its price, it was treated delicately just like its most precious counterpart, sugar.

When the ship was back in port and safely unpacked, the captain would return home to his New England house with a pineapple in hand.  He would spear this fruit on the front garden gate to signify to friends and neighbors that he had returned from his ocean voyage and was ready to entertain visitors with good stories and good food.

The centuries-old houses of Kennebunkport, Maine where many a sea captain lived.

With just the right amount of whimsy and practicality, it is not hard to see how such a story and such an action could have spread throughout the village, and then the state, and then the coastline, so that within time, hundreds of garden gates across many states were bearing pineapples – a symbol of friendly invitation, warm welcome and kind generosity.

Pineapple gates in Odessa, DE

No one yet has accurately been able to authenticate the first-time connection between pineapples and hospitality, but this sea captain story may help explain why you’ll find pineapples incorporated into outdoor architectural details all over the East Coast from Maine to Florida.

Appearing in gardens both ancient and new…

Permanent pineapples in the garden.

…history tells of America’s long-standing love affair with this hospitable fruit.  You’ll see it on the front doors of old houses like this one…

The historic Hunter House in Newport, Rhode Island built in 1748.

 

There’s the pineapple above the door, welcoming all who enter.

and this one…

Virginia’s Shirley Plantation, completed in 1738, which boasts a three-foot tall pineapple in the middle of the roofline…

and in the decorative details of brand new, modern days houses…

Pineapple themed door knockers, welcome signs, doorbells, and house number plaques announce an age-old symbol on brand-new exteriors.

You’ll also find them indoors…

Most often as finials front entry staircases…

blending classic and traditional elements from past centuries to the present century…

Pineapples in all modern ways useful… ice bucket, lamp,bookends, flower vase.

Last week we added a new vintage pineapple to the shop…

This one was neither a finial nor an exterior facade detail but instead at one point in its life had adorned the top of a fountain.  The fountain wasn’t as big as Charleston’s famous Waterfront Park pineapple…

Waterfront Park, Charleston SC

but she is an ideal size for many design possibilities including lighting, decoration, and display.  And she carries forth the sea captain’s theme of good stories and good food in a most beautiful way.

Even though we might never be able to uncover where and how the pineapple became involved with the convivial idea of good hospitality, we still love the idea of one fruit bringing together three centuries worth of parties and people. Critics would say that the sea captain story is flawed because pineapples were expensive and traders wouldn’t put a small fortune out in plain view for anyone to steal. But hospitality is about extending and offering, not squandering and hiding, so clearly, the argument could go either way.

If you a were a sailor in the 1700’s, at sea for long stretches of time, with life and death equally close at hand, perhaps you needed a little frivolity upon returning home to family and friends and the pineapple provided just that. A simple yet beautiful billboard. One that symbolized rich with life lived instead of rich with monetary wealth.

Cheers to the legends that stick around and to the fruits that travel through time!

Channel your own inner sea captain and set the stage for your next nights of entertainment. Find the vintage fountain topper pineapple piece in the shop here!

 

 

{Old} House Stories: An Interview with Ken Staffey

The Ephraim Burr Beers House, circa 1810 – Clapboard Hill, Westport CT. Read more history about this house here. Photo by Ken Staffey.

Nora Roberts once wrote “it was a mistake to think of houses, old houses, as being empty. They were filled with memories, with the faded echoes of voices. Drops of tears, drops of blood, the ring of laughter, the edge of tempers that had ebbed and flowed between the walls, into the walls, over the years. Wasn’t it, after all, a kind of life? They carried in their wood and stone, their brick and mortar a kind of ego that was nearly, very nearly, human.”

Recalling those faded voices, those human experiences, those memories, the forgotten details and the covered over contributions of the places that Nora nuanced, in today’s post we are tackling a discussion about the very interesting life found in and around old houses of early America as discovered by a modern day history lover. If you are a fan of any old house photo feeds on Instagram, chances are you have come across Ken Staffey’s gorgeous account simply called House Stories.

Ken features primarily photographs of historic homes in the Northeastern United States and dives into the interesting family histories behind them with a mix of interesting facts, personal details, and quirky insights. Most often he features houses from the 18th and 19th century that tell the story of how New England grew up. The places where merchants, farmers, sea captains, doctors, writers, politicians, extraordinary people and everyday citizens raised their families and found their footing among the blooming new frontier called the United States.

Located in Marblehead MA, the Sandin House was built in 1714 for fisherman William Sandin and his wife Joanna. Marblehead was once deemed the greatest town for fishing in New England.

From the bones that make up the frames of these centuries-old places, Ken has pulled stories about past occupants, owners, and architects; about city plans gone awry and country enterprises gone right; about dreams found and opportunities lost, about big events and tiny details, all of which remind us how the past is still very much present in our modern daily lives. We’ve caught up with Ken interview-style to learn more about his passion and his process of bringing history home. Included are his top-picks of places to visit for any architecture enthusiast and his thoughts on where current trends are headed when it comes to living with old houses in a new world.

{Note: Ken’s house photos have been featured throughout this interview. Click on each image to read Ken’s Instagram enties.}

In The Vintage Kitchen: What ignited your idea of posting house stories on Instagram?

Ken Staffey: In the beginning, I posted random photos like everyone else. I found that the house photos seemed to get the best response.  Then I started to add a bit of history along with each home and eventually it evolved into what it is today, House Stories – history told one house at a time.

This house was part of a planned community built in the 1870’s as imagined by Alexander Turney Stewart, a dry goods entrepreneur who emigrated from Ireland to New York.  Read more about this house here.

ITVK:  How do you decide which houses to feature?

KS: I pretty much photograph whatever catches my eye.  Later the challenge of finding some history that goes with the home is a big part of the fun. Just about all the homes I have featured date from the colonial period to about 1920.

In Ken’s post about the 1871 Wells-Catlin House, in Brookline, MA  he talks about the history behind the name of the town. Read more about it here.

ITVK:  Explain a little bit about your process of researching these old houses. Do you find that their histories are pretty easy to obtain or do you find yourself knee-deep in archive vaults and old records?

KS: Thankfully, I am never knee deep in archive vaults and old records, but I am often in deep with virtual equivalents, which is much easier thankfully.  Many old directories and records have been scanned and are now online.  Usually, I will just start with the address and see what I come up with there. Often once I get past the online real estate listing for a home, I can find something interesting about the home or its early occupants.  And thank God for historical societies and preservation groups that have not only saved these wonderful old homes but also recorded a good deal of their history.

Yale graduate Nathan Hale taught school in this shingled house in New London, CT in 1774, a few years before he was accused of being a spy and hung by the British Army during the Revolutionary War. The schoolhouse has been moved several times around town but through the support of the Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution it is being well maintained and offers tours for visitors.

ITVK: Do you ever speak with the property owners to learn more about each house? If not, do you think that most homeowners are aware of the interesting histories their homes have?

KS: Typically I do not speak with the property owners, but I have had a good handful of requests from owners to feature their homes.  They often know a bit of the history about their homes, but that sometimes can be inaccurate. One family had been retelling stories from their home’s history.  Once I dug a bit, I found that the history had been twisted in the retelling over the years, so it was fun to set the record straight for the owners.

City streets and neighborhoods, in particular, are home to a slew of fascinating stories with so many people moving in and out and coming and going. Ken writes about the history of this street in NYC’s West Village here.

ITVK: Do you live in a historic house yourself? If so, does your house have a fascinating story too?!

KS: I grew up in a house that was built in 1940 and since college, I have always been drawn to apartments in older buildings, most of them over a century old.  The home I now own is 89 years old and was built as part of a wave of new housing to accommodate the thousands of factory workers who found work in the once-thriving factories here in Bridgeport, Connecticut. My home is not historic and the funny thing is that I have never even tried to find any history. I do know that the same family owned the home for decades and people have told me a bit about them here and there.

ITVK:  What are three things that modern architecture lacks that all these great old houses contain?

KS: I am a big fan of all types of architecture, but I am partial to the homes of the past.  I think modern architecture has a style all its own, but what modern homes lack is a history and stories about the people that lived there and the surroundings.  Over time even the most modern of homes will have a story to tell.

One great example of a modern house having a fabulous “new” story to tell was Ken’s post on the First Year Building Project designed by students at the Yale School of Architecture. One hundred years from now (fingers crossed that it survives that long) this house will have made a  marvelous contribution to its neighborhood. Read more about the project here.

ITVK: If you could live in (or own) any one of the houses you have featured to date, which would you choose and why?

KS: I am not sure about a particular house, but I was enamored by the recreated New England village circa 1820-1830 at Sturbridge Village. It is a living museum with interpreters who go about their business as New Englanders did two centuries ago.  The buildings were moved there from around New England, so you can see a village that is free of modern structures and vehicles, which gives you a good idea of life in that era.  Also, you can watch the interpreters engage in activities like farming and weaving as they would in Early America.

Old Sturbridge Village – an 1830’s living history museum.

ITVK:  If you could have cocktails with any famous person, living or dead, in any house in the world, who and where would you choose and why?

KS: It would be interesting to have drinks with someone from the colonial era.  Many of the colonists brought the tradition from England of having beer as a drink instead of whatever and a review of their habits show that it was not unusual for them to have a beer with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The White Horse Tavern in Newport RI was founded in 1673 making it the oldest operating bar in the US. See more historic libation stations on the oldies list here.

ITVK: One of my most favorite houses you’ve featured so far is the Jonathan and Abigail Starr house in Guilford, CT that was built in 1732…

The Jonathan and Abigail Starr House, Guilford CT built in 1732.

You shared this information about the house:

“This Church Street home was built for Jonathan and Abigail Starr in 1732 on land obtained from Jonathan’s father, Comfort Starr. Jonathan was a fourth generation New Englander. His great- great-grandfather was a surgeon, also named Comfort Starr, from Ashford, England, who sailed to America aboard the ‘Hercules’ in 1634. Joining him were his wife, Elizabeth, their three children and three servants. Dr. Starr’s parents clearly had a preference for unique names. His sisters were Suretrust and Constant and his brothers were Joyfull and Jehosaphat. The Starrs of Ashford lived a comfortable life with an estate about 60 miles southeast of London, but their move may have been motivated in part by grief as the grave of their son was said to be “not yet grass-grown” when they set out from the port of Sandwich for the “Plantation called New England in America.”

Do you have any other fun details about this house in particular?

KS: I do not, but I did love the names of the Starr children.  I featured the Comfort Starr house (below) a few days after the Jonathan and Abigail Starr post.

Portrait of Comfort Starr and one of his daughters alongside Ken’s photo portrait of Comfort’s house built in the mid 1650’s and a detailed side view sketch of it’s traditional saltbox style.

While known as the Comfort Starr House, this Guilford home was actually built for Henry Kingsworth around 1646. Mr. Starr, a tailor, purchased the home from Kingsworth’s heirs in 1694. He and his wife Elizabeth raised eight children here: Abigail, Elizabeth, Hannah, Comfort, Submit, Jonathan, Jehoshaphat, and Amy. The home was in the family for almost 200 years. Among the last to live here were seven Starr sisters, who were nicknamed ‘Pleiades’ for the seven sisters constellation. When the last sister, Grace, died at 83 in 1874, the home was sold outside the family. Today it is one of the oldest homes in Connecticut that is still a private residence.

ITVK: Is there one New England town, in particular, that should be on every house enthusiasts must-see list?

KS: I think that depends on what type of architecture you like. If you are a fan of first-period homes (1625-1725), Ipswich, Massachusetts has the highest concentration of those homes in the country.  There are enough clustered together that it is not too hard to imagine what the area looked like centuries ago.

Ipswich, MA. Photos courtesy of the Ipswich Visitor Center.

If Victorian architecture is your thing, you could head to Willimantic, Connecticut.  The town saw rapid growth as the textile mills expanded there.  Because Victorian architecture was in style at the time, there are many Queen Anne homes along with other Victorian treasures.  In both cases, the prevalent style reflects a period of growth followed by an economic downturn, which is why the homes were not updated or replaced with more recent styles.  But those are just two examples, you can find architectural gems just about anywhere.  Once you start looking, you’ll be surprised how much you’ll find.

A collection of Victorian, Greek Revival and Queen Anne styles houses that can be found in Willimantic, Connecticut

ITVK: What is your most favorite style of architecture, and why does it appeal to you?

My tastes have definitely changed to favor the simple early American homes.  If you had asked me two years ago, I would have said Victorian homes, but I have grown to appreciate plain design with few distractions from the colonial period. Also, the history from that period is fascinating.  Life was harder in so many ways in terms of having to work hard to get things done, but there was also simplicity to life without all the distractions of today. That being said, I enjoy modern conveniences as much as anyone else, but I can appreciate a simpler existence.

In addition to telling house histories, Ken also incorporates fun facts and other interesting tidbits relating to holidays or customs or historical pop culture which keeps each post from being formulaic.  Read more about this 1720 Brookfield, CT house here.

ITVK:  Have you had the opportunity to look inside any of the houses you’ve featured? And if so, do you have any memorable kitchen stories from them?

A visit to Louisa May Alcott’s family home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts is a treat. Because 80% of the furnishings are original to the home when the Alcotts lived there, you can see how the author and her family lived.

Orchard House – home to Louisa May Alcott. Read more about her and her house here.

They often endured lean times, but Louisa and her sisters enjoyed putting on shows for guests right there in the parlor. Upstairs, you can see the small desk where Louisa wrote her best selling books. It’s really nothing more than a shelf along the window, but it was there that she produced works that touched readers the world over.

The kitchen at Orchard House where the entire family spent time together. Photo courtesy of louisamayalcott.org

The kitchen is another wonderful window on the past. It was here that the Alcott women cooked, cleaned and drew water from the pump beneath the trap door in the kitchen floor.  The author herself says, “All of the philosophy in our house is not in the study, a good deal is in the kitchen, where a fine old lady thinks high thoughts and does good deeds while she cooks and cleans.” I highly recommend a visit to this house museum.

ITVK: So many old houses revolve around the idea of family, whether they were built to accommodate them, or given as wedding gifts or passed down through generations. Because we are such a transient society these days, and on average only stay 7-10 years in a house before moving on, do you think we are slowly losing a sense of place in our modern day world that connects us to the history of our land? Do you think this is why, fundamentally, old houses still hold so much appeal and nostalgia for us?

KS: Overall we have definitely shifted to a more disposable society, but if you look more closely, there is a quieter celebration of the past. People are still restoring our treasured antique homes and many others will furnish their homes in a throwback style such as farmhouse, colonial or even midcentury modern.

This house was built in Fairfield, CT in the 1990’s but the exterior contains elements of classic French chateau, colonial and federal styles that could give the impression that it is older than it actually is. Read more about it here.

 

This house in Westport, CT was also built in the last 20 years. New to look old, it was modeled after early colonial designs. Read more about it here.

Also, there are more people drawn to be what we now call “makers.”  They may be crafters, foodies, or designers and together they have recreated an echo of the cottage industries of our ancestors.  Two centuries ago, artisans worked and sold their goods out of their homes and today there are plenty of people working, living and creating from their homes.  So, I think we are more connected to our homes than we realize today.

The Roe House, built in the 1680’s, now serves as the Port Jefferson, New York Chamber of Commerce. Read more about it here.

 

In New York City’s Soho neighborhood this building originally hosted a tobacco shop in the early 1800’s. Now it’s a clothing store with a 19th-century murder story to tell. Read more about it here.

 

This house built in 1781 in Litchfield, CT has been home to a number of cottage industries throughout its life including an apothecary shop, a grocery store and now a doctor’s office. Read more about it here.

Does place dictate who we are or who we have the potential of becoming? Not always.  But it certainly does have the opportunity to indulge us and to nurture our life’s pursuits just like Orchard House had done with Louisa May Alcott who drew so much of her own environment into her works of fiction. Had Louisa never grown up in that brown clapboard house would Little Women have been the same book we know today?

Orchard House photographed sometime between 1860-1920. Courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Images.

Like dipping your toe into the pool of history and watching the ripple effect the entire body of water, Ken’s House Stories are mini in content but mighty in impact. He shows us that behind every person stands a physical structure that was impacted by them or for them. He reminds us that a person’s individual history, although singular at the time eventually becomes our collective history as a nation. One country formed by billions of individual contributions. Big, small, humble, grand.. the old houses stand as truth showing us where we have been and where we have the potential to go.

A sampling of houses Ken has featured on House Stories that range in age from the 1670’s to the 1860’s.

A very big cheers to Ken for spotlighting the stories of our country’s founding families. Find him on Instagram here. And cheers to all the people who loved, saved and protected our early American architecture from re-development and decline and continue to do so every day.

Other historic architecture-related posts from the Vintage Kitchen can be found here…

Other interviews by artisians, craftspeople, collectors and interesting characters from around the world can be found here.

Evolution of a Restaurant: From Livestock to Luxury Living

There’s a neglected building downtown on 2nd Avenue that F. Scott Fitzgerald would have loved. It takes up most of one city block with a rounded corner front entrance, large paned glass windows and eyes that look out onto the street below not unlike Dr. T. J. Eckleburg’s in The Great Gatsby.  

These all knowing eyes of 2nd Avenue belong to a cow, a pig and a curly horned sheep. Animals now so out of place in an urban industrial neighborhood that they appear to be up to something unusual – something marvelous and clandestine.  The building they live on, itself, is peculiar with steep steps that spill out onto the sidewalk and armies of tall trees that hug the front facade like protective bodyguards.

It is a city block full of inherent curiosities. Stories that F. Scott would have rushed to translate as they tumbled out of the curtained glass windows, broken in places, or tangled themselves in the ivy running all over the backside of the building. You never see any activity come or go from the glass front door. Cars park alongside it carrying people to other places in the neighborhood. Exercisers walk or run down its sidewalks. Occasionally a homeless person will take a rest underneath the faded, flapping awning or dogs will stop to sniff around the bushes. But lights are never on inside and the doors are never open.

F. Scott would have imagined a grand but tortured story here. He would have hunted around in the grass grown parking lot, creating characters out of chipped fencing and rusted gates. He would have penned something poetic about the runaway garbage and the shattered beer bottles and the Parisian lamp posts missing their white light domes. Its a little more Valley of the Ashes then it is East Egg or West Egg but there’s a romance about this place that is intriguing.

If I described this building to someone out-of-town the first thing I’d mention was that it used to be a famous restaurant called The Stockyard in the 1980’s and 90’s.  When restaurateur Buddy Killen bought the building in 1985 he imagined it as the place where you could get the best steak in town along with Las Vegas style entertainment.  “The place where the stars are seen,” that was what he was aiming for.

In the restaurant days – awnings, menu offerings and the front entrance foyer. Photos via pinterest.
He pulled the property out of bankruptcy, added $400,000 worth of improvements and made it possible to seat 475 people in the 27,000 sqf building. His plans were very successful and for 30 years local residents, tourists and celebrities alike climbed the front steps, passed under the concrete eyes and stepped into a lively atmosphere serving the quality of steaks Buddy had hoped for.

Some of the famous clientele of the Stockyard (clockwise from top left): Andy Griffith, Vicki Lawrence, Jerry Lee Lewis, Loni Anderson and George Steinbrenner

But before the Stockyard ever became a famous restaurant it lived another life serving an entirely different purpose. The name of the restaurant and its signature menu items weren’t fly by night marketing ploys developed to envoke a theme and inspire an atmosphere.  Buddy brought things full-circle when he served steak and called his restaurant The Stockyard.

Originally, over a century ago this section of Nashville was called Butchertown for its concentration of numerous butcher shops and fresh meat availability. Long before Buddy ever set eyes on the building it served as a touchstone for an actual working stockyard – one that would become the most prominent and important livestock trading site in the Southeast.

In the mid-1910’s  there were several small trading yards around Nashville but local businessman James E. Caldwell wanted to create one central spot where all the animals, farmers, buyers and sellers could meet under one roof and get their business done fast and efficiently in a convivial atmosphere.

Caldwell found the perfect area for such an endeavor in open farmland just two blocks from the riverfront and four blocks east of the downtown business quadrant. In 1919, he hired contractors Foster & Creighton to begin working on a 10 acre mega-complex of sheds, barns and paddocks.

Nashville – Union Stockyards under construction – July 1919
Nashville-Union Stock Yard construction photographs, 1919

Local Nashville architect, Henry Closson Hibbs was selected to design an all weather building where business could be conducted year round and where stockyard management could set up offices.  H.C. came up with this rounded corner front entrance – a new trend in building design in the 1920’s – that would welcome visitors with open arms.

Nashville-Union Stock Yard building designed by H.C. (Henry Closson) Hibbs 1919-1920

These pictures below detail the lot assignment for the building and the construction as it occurred in 1919 and 1920.

The street corner allocated for the future site of the stockyard building.

Eventually all those pits and sticks and bricks formed this beautiful building, fully completed in 1920…

And you can see from this 1921 photograph how quickly the building became a popular meeting place. It even housed neighborhood amenities in the form of small retail businesses like a post office and a barber shop.

From 1921 to 1974 the Nashville-Union Stock Yards served as one of the busiest livestock markets in the region attracting farmers from Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi. Over 6,000 animals arrived daily for trade coming in via boat, rail car and farm truck. A long time bookkeeper for the Stock Yards said that it was not unusual to see cows walking down 2nd Avenue or an escaped hog loose from a pen.

A view of the stockyards circa 1965. Photograph by Gerald Holly.

That scene is hard to imagine now as the Stockyard sits in between government buildings and modern apartment hi-rises in what is currently one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in Nashville. Remarkably, even though 95 years have passed the building still looks almost exactly the same…

The neighborhood however no longer looks like livestock. Downtown skyscrapers are just a few blocks away and the only animals in site are of the avian kind.

Parking lots and empty brick warehouses dominate the immediate areas surrounding the Stockyard now.

The Nashville Union Stock Yards closed down in 1974 due to high property taxes. Sheds and barns were torn down, shoots dismantled and paddocks turned into parking lots. But the building remained, making way for Buddy Killen’s initial restauranteering interest in 1979.  Buddy’s restaurant, The Stockyard closed in 2015 after 36 years in business. The building and surrounding property were sold to out-of-town developers who now have plans to turn it into a 300 unit apartment complex.

Learning this recent information, I worried for the fate of the building and for the eyes of Second Avenue. Would the building be torn down and a piece of history cast aside? Would the pig and cow and sheep that have watched over the neighborhood for nine decades be replaced with something new and artistically of-the-moment? Would H.C. Hibbs turn over in his grave as his beautifully designed building gets turned over in the dirt?

As a lover of historic architecture, I am happy to say that this story stays bright.  The developers plan to incorporate the century old building into their design plans, keeping the history and heritage of both agriculture and aesthetic alive. The eyes of Second Avenue will be given a whole new century’s worth of sites to watch over. I know it is cliche to say that I wish these figureheads could talk – but I really wish they could. They’ve been witness to major history since they were set among the bricks… the Great Depression, civil rights, the rise of the automobile, the demise of farming, the destruction of their neighborhood and now the revitalization of their neighborhood. Not to mention all those famous people that walked in and out.

Construction begins soon for the apartment project. Materials and work trailers are already being assembled in a neighboring lot. We are going to be following along on the progress of the construction to see how this local landmark of stock yard turned restaurant turned apartment complex evolves.  And of course to see what the eyes of 2nd avenue will now be staring down upon. I hope it turns out to be something incredible.  Stay tuned for periodic updates!

***A special thank you…this post would not have been possible without the help of the wonderful staff at the Tennessee State Archives and the Metro Archives at the Main Branch of the Nashville Public Library. If you are keen on learning more history about Nashville and the state of Tennessee, I strongly recommend a visit to both places. They are fascinating and full of so much information, you’ll want to move-in and stay for a week researching your heart out.  

The 20th century construction photos of the Nashville Union Stockyards  included in this post are courtesy of the Metro Archives. 

 

 

 

The Week In Review: A Date With Julia, Washington DC and Finding A Lost Bird

Like the thrill and excitement of watching those horses speed around the track during the Kentucky Derby two Saturdays ago so was my trip racing around Washington D.C.. To follow-up from the post before this one, we did make it to D.C. just in time (with about 3 minutes to spare!) to meet up with friends, watch the Derby AND drink a mint julep. Perfect timing!

Always Dreaming! Photo courtesy of thedailybeast.com

If you missed the race Always Dreaming was the big Derby winner, leading the whole entire way from start to finish on a very muddy track. It was definitely a well deserved victory although I was really rooting for Patch the whole way, who wound up coming in 14th.  It appears as if no one else was dreaming about Always Dreaming as the first-to-line finisher in our blog contest either so the festivities continue on through the Preakness (this Saturday!) and into the Belmont (on June 10th).  Stay tuned this weekend to see if Always Dreaming wins part two of the Triple Crown!

Meanwhile, back in Washington the week fell in three parts…art, Julia and Virginia. The last time I spent more than a day in Washington D.C. I was 10 years old and visiting my oldest sister who lived and worked right in the heart of downtown. This time around I was staying on the Maryland side of the metro D.C. area.

With a view that began and ended each day like this…

Morning on the Potomac!

 

Evening on the Potomac!

it was hard to go wrong from the beginning. Add in the welcome committee…

quaking their way through news of the D.C. day… and it was lovely from day one.

Staying in such close proximity to the Capitol, I had mighty plans to see about 10 different sites throughout the city on this visit which included five museums, the Botanical Gardens, the Library of Congress, the Franciscan Monastery, the National Archives and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  I realize now on my return that this was totally ambitious, but I thought in my pre-trip planning days that if I was fast on my feet and spent only an hour or two at each place I might be able to fit it all in during a three day stretch. After all Charles Dickens did nickname this metropolis the City of Magnificent Intentions. Technically I was right on track.

Of course once I stepped through my first museum and saw all the intriguing things that lay ahead of me I realized that I would never be able to keep up with such a strict and rigorous time schedule. It only took me one museum to realize that Washington D.C. is best digested slow.

There is no room for frenzied pace setting or shy glances in this historic environment. From street to sky, everything in D.C. is fascinating whether you are walking on centuries old cobblestone in Alexandria or admiring architecture on Pennsylvania Avenue time is what you need plenty of in order to ingest the experiences of our past presidents.

This is the house where Lincoln died. It’s located right across the street from Ford Theater.

So that’s exactly what I did. I took some time. I abandoned my wish list of seeing everything fast, and focused on seeing a few things slowly. Highlights from the three museums I managed to get through are as follows…

At the National Portrait Gallery…

This famous portrait of Benjamin Franklin painted in 1785 hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. Because I had seen this picture a zillion times in books and all over the internet I thought I’d pop by, say hi and be on my way. But Ben had other plans. He was a wise 79 years old when he sat for this painting. And you can tell Ben’s got things to say from the second you see him.

The artist, Joseph-Siffred Duplessis translated an expression in Ben’s face that reads “Hey there, I have some interesting stories for you. Stay for a minute and I’ll explain.” And so I did, lured in by a magic painting spell.  All the achievements he accomplished, the foresight he had, the contributions he made to the forming of our country, swirled around in those eyes and that smile, ready to break at any moment. He was captivating in all the right ways.

That experience with Benjamin Franklin reinforced the fact that I couldn’t zoom past everything and expect anything to have an impact. There was so much significance in the air around me that I was going to have to slow down in order to appreciate it all.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery are both connected in the same building so you can cross over long hallways from the art museum to the portrait gallery in just a few steps. On the art museum side I found these favorites in the painting department…golden framed beauties covering two centuries  including a large scale John James Audubon bird painting from 1836…

Clockwise from top left: Angel by Abbott Handerson Thayer, 1875; Washington Sea Eagle by John James Audubon 1836-1839; Round Hill Road by John Henry Twachtman 1890-1900; Our Lady of Guadalupe by Pedro Antonio Fresquis 1780-1830

Downstairs on the ground floor I discovered colorful cafeteria art of the 1940’s…

which was from a series by Gertrude Goodrich titled Scenes from American Life (Beach) and which originally hung in the cafeteria of the city’s Social Security Building. I loved the bright colors and all the commotion going on – each figure in the painting has their own personality. Here are some up close snippets..

It really is a lively improvement from the food diagrams and nutrition charts found in most cafeterias today, don’t you think?

At the National Portrait Gallery – 

Just like my time spent with Ben, I was equally captivated by an exhibit called The Face of Battle: Americans at War from 9/11 to Now which featured intimate glimpses into soldier’s lives… black and white leisure portraits taken in camp, paintings of wounded soldiers in full uniform, photographs of deceased soldiers home-based bedrooms, a creative video piece of a casket returning stateside. As you can imagine it was really moving and very sad. One of the exhibits inside the exhibit was a 5,000+ piece collection of small wallet sized pencil drawings of American servicemen and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. This installation was completely hand-drawn by the American artist, Emily Prince. It took up three walls of one gallery and from a distance looked like a big Scrabble board. This is a snippet of one wall…

And upon color inspection…

And an even closer view below. This is just one example of the thousands Emily has hand-drawn. The exhibit is titled American servicemen and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not including the wounded, nor the Iraqis, nor the Afghans.  Read more about Emily and the project here.

We were visiting D.C. during the start of Police Week so uniformed men and women from all over the world were everywhere. At the airport, teams of officers six or eight to a group met flights as they came in containing passengers whose family had died protecting the country. The officers stood across from each other with arms raised in salute as people walked off each flight.  The officers recognized the families they were meeting either by Hero t-shirts or by camera phones recording the walk from the plane to the gate. It was bittersweet. Sad that people had died but wonderful that the military and our protective services were still honoring their contributions.

On a cheerier note…

at the Museum of American History…

a very special face was also on display. I was definitely determined not to leave Washington until I saw this lady and her famous kitchen…

Julia Child!

In an exhibit detailing the transformation of American food from the 1950’s to the 2000’s, Julia Child’s kitchen from her house in Cambridge, Massachusetts sat front and center.

It’s a little tricky to get good photos of it because the whole kitchen itself is sealed in. Small cut-outs covered in plexi-glass serve as viewing stations, so there is a little battle to be fought with glare from the plexi-glass and the fellow visitors who squish in to see. But you can get the idea of a 360 view (in parts!) from the following…

Everything in the kitchen is as Julia left it when she donated the entire room and all its contents to the Museum in 2001. It was full of surprising  little details including lots of cat art, a fridge full of magnets (she was was a fan of the King Arthur flour brand!), family photographs, a rubix cube tucked behind a telephone and all the little odds and ends that you can find in anybody’s kitchen famous or not. She had a junk drawer. She labeled things with masking tape and handwriting. She hung onto favorite pieces of equipment outdated or not.

As revered as Julia had become it is easy to see in this exhibit how normal and ordinary a person she actually was.  Her kitchen reflected that. It wasn’t photo-shoot ready. It wasn’t glamorous. Not everything had a place. Her cookbooks were used. Her counter tops were messy. But it was functional for the way she liked to cook. It was a fun play space for her and in turn it was a fun exhibit for me.  I think that is what still makes Julia Child so admired. She was an unpretentious lover of food and of cooking and her kitchen reiterates all that. The manner in which it is displayed there at the Smithsonian you can easily imagine that she just popped over into another room of the house, perhaps to fetch something for her husband Paul and that in any second she was going to come right back and get to cooking.  Aided by video monitors playing clips from her cooking shows around the exhibit, your imagination does not have to stretch far to picture her standing at the sink peeling potatoes or at the stove flipping omelettes.

There is a fun 5 minute video on youtube that explains how the museum staff takes care of her kitchen. It also gives you some up close behind-the-scenes info on specific items within the display.

Also in the History Museum was an interesting exhibit on the clothing worn by the First Ladies (mostly during inaugural balls or welcome receptions) and the china patterns that each selected for their White House term. The oldest in the collection of both dress and dish belongs, of course, to Martha Washington…

Clockwise from top: The entire display of china starting with Martha Washington and ending with Hilary Clinton. Bottom left: A dress Martha Washington wore from the 1780’s,  and the  banquet china pieces she and George used in their presidential mansions in  New York and Philadelphia.

Most of the china patterns were variations on a theme… gold bands/eagles/jewel tone colors, etc. but Lucy Webb Hayes, wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes commissioned an artist in the 1870’s to design a set of china that incorporated the flora and fauna of the United States. To this day, Lucy’s china pattern still remains the most creative of all the administrations.

That’s Lucy on the far left!

I may not have made it to the Botanical Gardens on this trip but to serious surprise and complete excitement equal to that of seeing Julia Child’s kitchen,  I stumbled into this big beauty in the gardens of the Natural History museum next door…

the passenger pigeon sculpture by Todd McGrain from the Lost Bird Project that we wrote about in 2013! She’s tucked inside a walled garden just off the street so I almost walked right by her. In the busy world of modern day urban life, she sits surrounded in the museum’s Bird Garden by flowers and real-life bird flocks flapping their wings here and there so she’s in a great spot. If you missed the post about the Lost Bird project and Todd’s mission to memorialize extinct birds catch up here.

Moving on from museums and spending time waterside in the fresh spring air, the charmer on top of our whole trip was spending half a day in Alexandria, Virginia. We had lunch on the wharf…

and then spent the afternoon walking around town in George Washington’s footsteps.

The first tenement house George and Martha built in 1797 for investment purposes.

Every street was cuter than the last. I definitely could have picked any one of those houses to live in. I even found my ideal car…

This is where George liked to eat!

We stopped into a local pub and met a local (imagine that!) who gave us a little verbal history tour through his town.

Murphy’s Pub

and we found the house where they filmed scenes from the PBS show Mercy Street…

So pretty! You can access Alexandria by car or ferry – both just a quick trip from D.C.. Like easily imagining Julia in her kitchen it is very easy to picture George and Martha Washington or Ben Franklin or any other early colonials walking down the historic streets. Everything is all brick and cobblestone, clapboard and flower boxes. History plaques make a self guided walking tour easy and your camera won’t stop clicking for all the pretty photo opportunities.

Since I didn’t make it to all the places on my original list that still leaves so much to do on future trips back to the D.C. area. I think you could live in this section of our country for two dozen years and still not see everything! But that’s what’s marvelous about Washington – it’s a never-ending series of new (old) places to discover upon every return.

Cheers to that! Or huzzah as our noble men Ben and George liked to say!

Cooking While Under Construction: This Old House {Part One)

An artistic rendering of Michael and Renee's vintage house!
An artistic rendering of Michael and Renee’s vintage house on the outskirts of New York City.

Today we are announcing a very exciting multiple part series here on the blog based on real-life history-making circumstances that are facing two of our readers. You’ll remember these familiar faces, Michael and Renee as winners from our Sparta giveaway last November.  In communicating during their prize winnings and exchange of recipes they shared exciting but daunting news that they would soon be undergoing a kitchen renovation in their 1940’s New York colonial. Not new to the reconstruction game (these two have been updating their house for the past several years) this kitchen project in particular kept getting put off because it was going to take three months. Three long months for two people who are crazy about cooking.

The thought of 90 days of food preparation among tarps and tape and sawdust and drills and hammers and workbenches during cold, wet winter sounded anything but appealing. But alas with a firm “Let’s begin,” from their contractor, the project could be put off no longer. The time had come for Michael and Renee to embrace the chaos that is a historic house kitchen renovation.

In submitting finally to this process a challenge has been posed.  Can these two epicureans figure out what and how to cook when a fully functional kitchen will not be accessible for the next 270 meals? Can their sanity keep up with their ideal determination not to eat out or order in during the entire phase of construction? What will these two gourmet cooks and farmers market foodies make during this three month stretch that will keep their hearts happy and their stomachs satisfied? Can they stay true to themselves and approach food in their normal, healthy, excited-to-cook-for-you kind of way? Or will they succumb to the frustrations and inabilities of not having continuous access to the proper prep space, cooking equipment, storage facilities or clean-up stations?

Will they slip out to Starbucks for breakfast on the go? Will they develop reasons for in-city lunch meetings or after work “networking” cocktails?  Will friends and family take pity on them and invite them over to enjoy someone else’s home cooked meal? How will their enthusiasm towards healthy eating be affected? How will their culinary creativity be tested?  And most importantly, of all the challenge questions, what happens if the construction plans take longer than 12 weeks?

Over the next several months, Michael and Renee, will share in their own words how things are going. They’ll report on what they are making and how they are feeling. They’ll talk about how the construction is evolving and about how their initial hopes and aspirations have been received by the physical parameters of the construction process itself. And if everything goes south (no pun intended!) and they find themselves without the ability or the desire or the space to properly cook they’ll share those thoughts as well. It’s a food lover’s journey trekking across a bumpy pumpernickel road that stretches out over a quarter of a year. Will it sprout new innovations or will it turn their minds into toast for a dozen weeks? Let’s jump right in and see!

We begin this series with an introduction from Michael and Renee and a special, sentimental send-off  recipe from their soon-to-be-old kitchen marking the start of their culinary construction adventure…

When we moved out of the West Village and bought our house in our “micro-urban” town in southern Westchester County, NY we did so with a firm and well-defined 5-year plan.  Nine years later, we are about to embark on what should’ve been our year two project.  To quote the sage Mike Tyson, “everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face.”  Thanks, life.  

Joking aside, we really like living here and we really love our home.  We have a better commute than most people that live in the confines of the Five Boroughs, and we get all the perks of the ‘burbs…the car, the trees, the backyard, the nosy neighbors…well, maybe not everything is a perk.  So, when we recently decided that it was time to either trade-up or up-grade we came to a fairly quick decision that we would do some serious renovating and stay put.  When we say “serious renovating” we’re not kidding – we’re talking new kitchen, extension off the back of the house, new siding, new family room, and a new deck.  We got the ball rolling back in October and quickly found a contractor, got the plans in order and started looking for appliances and materials.  We figured that by late February we’d be done.  As of today, the anticipated start date on the project is February 15, with a 12-week estimated duration.  Given that we started out 7 years behind schedule, that’s not so bad.

One of the key sacrifices we’re going to have to make is being without a kitchen for a few months.  We are the type of people that have almost every single meal we eat come from our kitchen.  Breakfast at home every day.  We take lunch to work every day.  We cook dinner at home almost every night (gone are the days of restaurant hopping in the West Village, but we still get out sometimes).   

We are honored that our good and great friend Ms. Jeannie has asked us to chronicle this process for you, Dear Reader, on her amazing blog.  We hope that we can do justice to her gracious request, and we hope that we don’t scare too many of you away from the joys of home improvement.

For this first blog post, we are paying homage to the first meal we cooked in our home almost nine years ago – Roast Chicken and Risotto.  Our palates and our influences (and, for one of us, our cholesterol levels) have changed considerably since those bygone days, so our “updated” chicken dish is a little Israeli, a little Moroccan, a little Spanish, and a little local Farmer’s Market.  

In subsequent blog posts, I expect that our recipes will reflect the state of (or complete lack of) our kitchen, but for now happy cooking!  We encourage comments, requests, suggestions and commiserations from other renovation survivors.  

israeli
Israeli Inspired Chicken

Based on Israeli Inspired Chicken from Frankie Cooks

Ingredients:

3 – 3 ½ lb. organic free-range chicken (preferably from a farmer you know)

2 tbsp. each of za-atar, paprika and turmeric

¼ tsp. saffron

1 cinnamon stick

Salt and black pepper

2 Tbs. Olive Oil

1 cup of jasmati rice

½ bulb of fennel, sliced thin

4 cloves of garlic, smashed

1 leek, thinly sliced

2 cups of chicken stock (homemade is best)

1 small orange, sliced

Zest from one lemon (reserve the juice for serving)

Pomegranate arils (optional – we did not use, but felt that it would have added a freshness and zing at the end to the dish) and fresh chopped parsley or cilantro, for serving

mr1

For the brine:

1/3 cup kosher salt

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 raw cane or coconut sugar

4 cups of filtered water

Up to two days before, spatchcock your chicken.  Combine the first three ingredients of the brine in a large bowl and whisk well.  Add the 4 cups of water and whisk until fully combined.  Add the chicken to the bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.

mr2

The next morning, remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry.  Discard the brine.  Transfer the chicken to a rack breast side up.  Season the skin with kosher salt and black pepper and return the refrigerator, uncovered for 8 – 24 hours.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and sprinkle both sides with the za-atar, paprika and turmeric.  Set aside.

Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 325 degrees.

Heat a wide dutch oven or large sauté pan with a tightly fitting top on medium-high heat.  Heat the olive oil and add the chicken, skin side down, and brown for about 4-5 minutes without moving.

Meanwhile, warm the chicken stock in a saucepan on low, or in a microwave, and add the saffron and cinnamon stick to bloom.

Remove the chicken and reduce heat to medium low.  Add the fennel, garlic and leek and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5-8 minutes.

Add the rice and toast until fragrant, about 3-5 minutes.

Add the chicken stock and saffron mixture and citrus to the pan. Increase heat to high, and bring to a boil.  Then reduce to a simmer, add the chicken and cover.

mr7

Move the pan to the oven and cook for approximately 35 – 40 minutes, or until the rice is cooked and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 165 degrees.

Remove chicken from the pan to rest.  Fluff the rice and plate, garnishing with pomegranate arils, herbs and a fresh lemon juice.

mr4

Carve the chicken and plate on top of the rice.  

mr5

Such a fitting farewell meal to all the fun times Michael and Renee have enjoyed in their vintage kitchen. Cheers to another 70 years of good times to come when all the renovations are complete!

Next time we catch up with these two bravehearts we’ll learn about the specifics of their construction project and see how this whole fresh food situation is faring. In the meantime, if you missed Renee and Michael’s other recipes featuring Greek olive oil and oregano find them here. And if you have any words of advice or helpful suggestions as these two get-going, please post a comment below!

Photo credit: All photos for this post are courtesy of Michael and Renee.

Where Are They Now? 29 Historic Houses 60 Years Later…

historichouse_collage2

Coming home for the holidays in this 1950’s era post means coming home to some of the finest examples of American architecture ever presented in the United States. Richard Platt, the architecture and garden editor of Ladies Home Journal from the 1930’s- 1960’s, spent his entire 30+ year career studying the anatomy of our country’s great homes from the modest barn beginnings of 1600’s New England to the Gatsby worthy mansions of late 19th century Rhode Island.

He and his wife Dorothy compiled the most noteworthy examples in their 1956 coffee table travel book A Guide to Early American Homes and invited readers to see for themselves, in person, the true majesty and ingenuity of  American home design. Over 900 houses appeared in the guide in total, and while many were museums already open to the public, a great number were private residences in which Richard and Dorothy managed to secure appointments for readers to tour on their own schedule.

In today’s picture post, we are catching up with a few dozen of these old houses to see what has been going on with them since 1956. With our tricky economy, the recent trend towards downsizing and deep budget cuts slicing through the hearts of our cultural resources how have these century old houses fared over the past six decades?  Let’s look…

(The black and white photos are Richard and Dorothy’s taken in the mid-1950’s, the color photographs are recent present day images). 

1. 1704 House

1704 House

Built in 1704. Located in West Chester, PA. In 1956 it was house museum available to tour for $0.50. Today it is still a museum although admission prices have increased to $5.00.

2. Longfellow House

Longfellow House

Longfellow House – Built in 1759. Located in  Cambridge, MA. Previously managed by the Longfellow Memorial Trust, this house has recently been renamed renamed Longfellow House – Washington Headquarter’s and  is now owned and operated by the National Park Service. It used cost $0.30 to tour the house in the 1950’s. Today it is free!

3. Col. Jeremiah Lee Mansion

Jeremiah Lee

The Jeremiah Lee Mansion – Built in 1768. Located in Marblehead, MA. Continued to be operated by the Marblehead Museum since the 1950’s (previously known as the Marblehead Historical Society) the mansion is still open for tours in warm weather months. Admission prices changed from $0.50 in the 1950’s to $10 today.

4. Josiah Coffin House

house3_josiah

The Josiah Coffin House – Built in 1723. Located in Nantucket, MA.  In the 1950’s it was a private residence. Still owned by the same family, today it is available for weekly vacation rentals priced between $5,500-$6,000/per week.

5. Sanford House

Sanford House

Sanford House – Built in 1847. Located in Grand Rapids, MI .  In the 1950’s it was a private residence most noted for its exterior Doric columns and fine Greek Revival craftsmanship. Today the house is helping people internally as a drug and alcohol treatment center for women.

6. Headley Inn

headleyinn

Headley Inn – Built in 1802. Located in Zanesville, OH. Originally this house served as a tavern and inn in the early 1800’s. By the 1950’s it operated as a seasonal 9-5 restaurant. Today it is back in business, newly opened as a bed & breakfast.

7. Field House

Field House

Field House – Built in 1807. Located in Belfast, ME. Originally a private residence, this house contains over 7,000 sqf. It has changed physical house numbers on High Street since the 1950’s and for a time between then and now operated as a hotel. It was recently on the market for $395,000.00

8. The Mansion of Eleazar Arnold

Arnold House

Now known as the Arnold House – Built in 1687. Located in Lincoln, RI. This rare example of early Rhode Island architecture featuring a massive wall fireplace once served as a tavern. In the 1950’s it was available to tour for $0.25. Now it is managed by Historic New England and is open year round with an $8.00 admission fee.

9. Dell House

Dell House

Dell House- Built 1800. Located in Nantucket, MA. This sea captain’s house was a private residence in the 1950’s painted yellow with white trim. In the 2000’s this house, still private, underwent extensive renovation and remodeling.

10. Harlow-Holmes House

Harlow Holmes

Harlow-Holmes House – Built in 1649.  Located in Plymouth, MA. In the 1950’s the ninth generation of the Holmes family lived here surrounded by antiques that dated back centuries in the family’s heirloom collection, including the original Captain’s table from the Mayflower. At some point between the 1950’s and now the house was added onto in the back. See more photos here. 

11. Callendar House

Callendar House

Callendar House – Built in 1794. Located in Tivoli, NY. A private residence in the 1950’s, this  grand house including 35 acres, outbuildings and river views, just sold recently, continuing the grand tradition of private ownership. For more pictures click here.

12. Moffatt-Ladd House

Moffatt Ladd

Moffatt-Ladd House – Built in 1763. Located in Portsmouth, NH. Since 1912, this Georgian – style house museum has been open to the public during seasonal hours. Once the home of William Whipple, a signer of the Declaration of Independence it used to be $0.50 to tour the house, now it is $7.00.

13. Ocean Born Mary House

Ocean Born Mary House

Ocean Born Mary House – Built in 1760. Located in Henniker, NH. Part of pirate folklore this house has been associated with a colorful heritage that still captivates sea storytellers to this day. Always a private residence, it was open for tours by the owner for $0.25  a person in the 1950’s.  Today it remains private with no tour options, however people caught up in the legend of Ocean Born Mary still drive by the house. Read more about the legend here…

14. Lady Pepperrell Mansion

Lady Pepperrell

Lady Pepperrell – Built in 1760. Located in Kittery Point, ME. In the 1950’s, this elegant Georgian house was open for tours by The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. Now it is a private home, still retaining all the original features (at least on the front facade!)

15. Dutton House

Dutton House

Dutton House – Built in 1782 . Located in Shelburne Village, VT. Throughout its colorful life, this house has been an inn, a tavern, a museum and mixed use office space. Since the 1950’s it has been part of a museum collection of historic buildings comprising a typical Vermont village of the 19th century. In 1956 admission was $1.75, today it is $24.00.

16. General Nathanael Greene House

Nathanael Greene house

Nathanael Greene House – Built in 1770.  Located in Coventry RI. In the hands of the Sons of the American Revolution and the Nathanael Greene Homestead Association since the 1920’s, this house was built and designed by Nathanel – one of George Washington’s most trusted general’s. Recently the Association held a fundraiser to build a replica barn on the property that was torn down in the 19th century. The house is open for tours and special events.

17. Bonnet Hill Farm

Bonnet Hill

Bonnet Hill Farm – Built in 1670. Located in Darien, CT. Originally built in Stamford, CT this stately farmhouse house was moved in the 1940’s to Darien after private owners rescued it from its then shabby circumstance serving as a glue factory.  In the 1950’s it was painted pumpkin with white trim and was available for tour by appointment only. Today it has again undergone extensive renovation and remodel including additions and expansions and is now a private residence.

18. Webb House

Webb House

Webb House – Built in 1752. Located in Wethersfield, CT. Operating as a museum since the 1950’s, the Webb House recently got an exterior makeover in the form of a fresh coat of paint – in red – which brings the house back to it’s original color.

19. Thompson House

Thompson House

Thompson House – Built in 1709. Located in East Setauket, NY. By the 1950’s Thompson House had been faithfully restored by its owners and then passed on to the care of a Trust ensuring that everyone has the chance to see and appreciate the splendid salt box style architecture of this 300 year old structure.

20. Dey Mansion

Dey Mansion

Dey Mansion – Built in 1740. Located in Wayne, NJ. Property owner Dirck Dey worked alongside his slaves and various craftsmen  in the mid-18th century to erect this eight room manor house. In the 1950’s, it was renovated to serve as  a house museum with utmost attention being paid to each historic detail to make it as authentic as possible. Tours were available then for $0.35, today they are $5.00.

21. Powel House

Powel House

Powel House – Built in 1765. Located in Philadelphia, PA. Under the care of the Philadelphia  Society for the Preservation of Landmarks since the 1930’s, this handsome city house museum welcomes visitors and special events. Other than the tourism plaque out front the exterior is virtually unchanged since the Pratt’s visited in the 1950’s.

22. Upsala

Upsala

Upsala – Built in 1798. Located in Philadelphia, PA. in the 1950’s you could tour this beauty as it evolved through renovation and restoration projects for just $0.10. Today you can buy the whole house for $499,000. That’s right, dear readers Upsala is for sale! Now is your chance to buy a 218 year old architectural  gem. Find more info here. 

23. Keith House

Keith House

Keith House – Built in 1722. Located in Horsham, PA. Now a part of Graeme Park Historic Site, the Keith House in the 1950’s was a private residence, but today it is owned and operated by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and open for tours throughout the year. As the last surviving residence of a Colonial Pennsylvania Governor, it’s historical importance is significant.

24. Thompson Neely

Thompson Neely

Thompson Neely – Built in 1701. Located in Washington Crossing, PA, this pre-revolutionary house was available for tours in the 1950’s and continues to be offered today. Just before crossing the Delaware, George Washington held a meeting here, and reenactments of the event are held each year on Thompson-Neely grounds on Christmas Day.

25. Matthews House

Matthews House

Matthews House – Built in 1829. Located in Painseville, OH.  Rescued and restored by Lake Erie College, this federal style Greek Revival house had just been moved to campus a few years before Richard and Dorothy Pratt visited in the 1950’s. Today it stands proudly among the faculty and administration buildings serving as academic offices and a guest house for visiting alumni.

26. Mead Hall

Mead Hall

Mead Hall – Built in 1833. Located in Madison, NJ. Also in the hands of academic caretakers, Mead Hall is located on the campus of Drew University. In the 1950’s the brick was painted white and the building was used for social functions as well as offices. Tragedy struck in 1989 when a fire destroyed the roof, attic and second story of the house. Now fully renovated and rebuilt, Mead Hall once again stands at the heart of campus and serves as classroom space and faculty offices.

27. Octagon House

Octogon House

Octagon House – Built in 1854. Located in Watertown, WI. In the 1950’s, this house was open daily for $0.40 tours given by the Watertown Historical Society. The narrow exterior balconies were removed in the 1920’s for safety purposes but the Historical Society had always wanted to bring them back to secure the original design aesthetic of the building. In 2006 an anonymous donation made that possible and the balconies were added again. The house, one of only about 3,000 of its shape in the country is open seasonally for tours ($9.00/per person).

28. Varnum House

Varnum House

Varnum House – Built in 1773. Located in East Greenwich, RI. In the late 1930’s the Varnum Continentals, a local non-profit, purchased the Varnum House and restored it as a  museum open to the public. In the 1950’s it was painted white but has since received a fresh colorful makeover of yellow and green shades. Inside, the museum is full of period appropriate furniture and antiques ranging from the 1700’s to the 1900’s and offers tours by appointment.

29. Woodside

Woodside

Woodside – Built in 1838. Located in Rochester, NY. Serving as headquarters for the Rochester Historical Society from 1941 to 2016, this house recently sold to private owners. Over the course of 70 years the Society outgrew the space of this three-story mansion and weren’t able to keep up with structural repairs. New owners are currently renovating and restoring it for use as a private family home.

You’ll notice that other than the fire at Mead Hall, tragedy has eluded these remarkable buildings from our nation’s history. None were torn down or abandoned, burnt to ashes or left to deconstruct on their own. It’s wonderful to know that despite changing economic times and shifting design aesthetics these beautiful old houses are still being cared for by understanding hands. Perhaps with this same level of care and commitment, passion and resourcefulness, fortitude and perseverance they’ll be able to survive another 100, 200 or 300 years. If luck remains on their side they’ll be able to ensure that the story of our country can continue on in a touchable, tangible way for generations to come.

It is said of people that buy old houses, that they are not owners, but instead, stewards.  Not of ships or of planes or of trains as the original definition suggests,  but stewards instead of houses and history and the humble human spirit who built the heart that beat our country. Cheers to old houses and to the humans who love them!

Do you have a favorite among this batch of houses? If so, share your likes in the comment section below. Ms. Jeannie’s favorites are #2, #4, and #13!