Thursday, April 12, 2012

True Confessions

I am a relatively late bloomer when it comes to the blog world.  I started this one mostly to touch base with my wonderful customers and to share information about new product releases and other things that might be of interest.

However, in doing so, I have started reading blogs.  And I have noticed that bloggers do something from time to time that I have never indulged in...Confessions. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your interest in juicy news), most of the confessions on my favorite blogs are pretty harmless like, "I admit (gulp), that I don't always soak my grains" or "I have been using spaghetti sauce from a jar for years" or something mild like that.

However, since I'm on the cutting edge of popular culture at all times and make an effort to keep up with trends, I'm going to make a confession, too.

I have a thang for farmhouses.  There, I said it.

Okay, maybe you already guessed that one.  It's pretty easy to tell from my illustrations.  I think it's getting worse, too.  I stare at them.  I look for house plans online. I peruse real estate ads for them (not intending on buying one...well, not right this minute).  I sometimes go for drives just in hopes of finding one tucked away on a quiet country road.  I also feel some sort of connection with people who appreciate them like I do.  

The tricky part of this is that I also feel this strong need to take pictures of them. They seem in danger so I think it's up to me to rescue them -- or at least any evidence of their design and layout.  I have snapped pictures of these homes in many states.  They are works of art, as far as I'm concerned.  The best part is, they can be found in even the most humble of settings.

Here is a good example: 

Please excuse the "drive by" nature of this photograph.  As you can see from the blur, the car was moving.  Due to the lack of a shoulder or a place to pull into without showing up in this homeowner's driveway, I was trying to be discreet.  I didn't want to appear to be casing the joint.

It's starting to sound like I'm some kind of stalker....

Nevertheless, here's another angle. 

Isn't it beautiful?  I know it's modest and fairly run down, but use your imagination and think of it all fixed up and cared for.  Don't you love this porch that wraps all the way around that front room?  

Truth is, I have always loved houses like this.  But that appreciation has grown in recent years since there is, in all honesty, an urgency to save them.  They are a dying breed and they're dropping least in our community.  

For instance, I pass eight farmhouses like this one on my way to church every week.  

In the thirteen years I have been making that drive, one has been razed and four others are in such terrible shape, if they are not torn down in the next few years, they will certainly collapse from neglect.  I wish I had taken a picture of the one that was demolished ten years ago.  It was completely unique, with features I have never seen before.  It even had a little spring house next to it that also went by the wayside.  The owners placed a clean, new, little home in its place, but the landscape will never look the same without that venerable old house nestled into the hillside by the spring.  I would venture to guess no one knows the plans to that one and countless others in this area.

I know many people who wonder, "What's the big deal?...They're old, nothing is plumb, they are covered in lead paint and they are difficult to repair." I live in one, so I can attest to all of that (except the lead paint part), but there are many things about them that make them special.

First and foremost is the attention to detail and quality.  The generous trim, the tongue-and-groove paneling, the high ceilings, the little nooks and cubbies, the dormers, the long windows, the hardwood floors, the handcrafted cabinets, the grand stairways, and of course the meandering porches, etc., etc. Even the most modest ones were obviously built with an eye for proportion, scale and with some knowledge of architectural tradition.

Furthermore, each one tells a story...of families, businesses, births and deaths, holidays and mundane days, self-reliance, happiness and heartache.  A good example is my grandparents' (on the Reeves side) big old house in Adel, Iowa. Though falling apart by the time I came around, it will always be the ultimate farmhouse to me.

Here it is (in the background) circa 1940, with its porch still intact.  There is my dad as a boy, with his parents and his sister, Shirley, in the front yard.

Here is my dad again around 1960.  I love the long, narrow windows and the clapboard siding (nice car, Dad, by the way)...

Here it is again in the early 90's, without the front porch, and unfortunately a couple years before my grandpa died and it had to be torn down...

It was old and in disrepair even the first time I visited there as a child. But it always had a majestic silhouette. I'll never forget playing on the big rocks grandpa had placed around the side walkway, sitting in the glider in the yard, skipping through the orchard in back, drawing water from the cistern with my grandmother then watching her heat it for dishes, or going to the attic with my grandpa and pulling down treasures like an old wooden bucket that I'm grateful to have in my kitchen. Or sitting at the kids table during Thanksgiving dinner (the little one at the end of the big one where the adults all sit) with my cousins.  Down the line were grandparents, aunts and uncles and great aunts and uncles, enjoying dinner together.

My great-great-grandfather, Thomas Bilderback, built it around 1903.  The picture below is of his daughter, Eva Jane, my great-grandmother, and her five children (about 1902). She lived in this house from the time it was built until her death in 1944  My grandpa, Glen Reeves, her youngest, is on her lap.  He grew up here, raised his family here and stayed here until his death in 1992.

My mother also grew up on a farm.  She spent her childhood in this bungalow-style farmhouse in St. Charles, Iowa, in the area where The Bridges of Madison County was set.  I never got to see this home in person, but she and her 12 brothers and sisters tell many stories about it.  It burned in the early 60's, but thankfully we do have pictures.  My sweet mother, Pat, is in the middle with her pretty sisters, Delores on the left and Dorothy on the right.

I guess it's sentiment that draws me to farmhouses...and rightly so, since so many of my family's memories are centered around them.  But I know I'm not alone. If only enough people would love them so that we can save as many as possible before they fade into history.  I think they are well worth the time and effort.  And surely our children will thank us for preserving this pleasant reminder of our past here in the Midwest.

So, if you live in a farmhouse and you see someone that looks a little like me driving extra-slow past your house, well....never mind (I really need to kick that habit)!


Anonymous said...

Those houses and the people who built and maintained them had character. Proud, hardworking and honorable most are now in their graves. Preserving what they held dear and provided for their families is a beautiful way to honor them. They were a special and the few homes standing bear sweet testimony to that. Raise awareness any way that you can and love them up. KLB

Shelly said...

Yes - your comment sums it up so well, KLB.

Aunt Jo said...

Shelly, you are not alone. They tug at my heart strings. My life long wish was to have a cottage, garder gate and all. Those fun windows, small porch, garden path. I purchase books about cottages, cottage gardens, porches, interior. Everything. I also love those ole farm houses with large porches.

The Farmer's Wife said...


This confession makes me a little homesick for you, Shelly.
a LOT homesick for you.

It's the front porch, isn't it? That's what gets me EVERY TIME. And when you pointed out the funny, skinny windows? My heart went pitty-pat with love.

You live in an area with lovely, picturesque farmhouses! I live on a farm with trailers and houses shaped like blocks. We need to meld, somehow.

Shelly said...

It's nice to know I can come clean with this quirky obsession, being in such good company! Aunt Jo, I feel the same way about cottages. Mary, your home is one of my favorite place to be. We are so looking forward to being there in a couple months.

Larissa said...

I love farmhouses too! I enjoy all your illustrations of them. And of course your habit of stalking them and photographing them is totally professional in nature. :-) So indulge. When I see one in a grassy lawn and it looks like an old family homestead it always makes me feel a little wistful, like I was meant to live on a farm and have missed my calling somehow. I was sad that my grandparents' farm house was torn down several years ago.

Shelly said...

Research - yes. If only we artists had some kind of official badge or ID card that we could flash. I'm sorry to hear about your grandparents' farm house, Larissa. I would like to see a picture, if you have one.