When Edith and I bought our property on Hyland Hill, we knew we were acquiring a house that many people had lived in before us. The original owner built the place in 1840. My initial guess was that in the 160-plus years since then, perhaps a dozen families had resided here, each making it their own—adding, tinkering with, improving, damaging, or in other ways changing the house—until Edith and I unexpectedly but eagerly stepped into the queue to take a turn in the process. When people speak of old houses having charm, they obviously refer to the visible or tangible quirks and anomalies that have accumulated over the years. Charm also includes the non-material consequences of the lives lived in a house—the inexplicable “feel” of the lives lived. A hundred and sixty years can make for a lot of change. (Lots of charm, too, if you’re lucky.) But it turns out that my guesstimate about the past owners was off by almost a hundred percent. This house has, in fact, changed hands twenty-three times. Most of the owners were probably married and probably raised children here. So many lives lived . . .
Edith and I are now exploring the history of this house, and a series of future posts will describe what we discover. A visit to the local town hall has already kicked off the process: we managed to reconstruct the sequence of ownership. Later, we met with the town historian, a local teacher who has graciously offered us access to documents and photos in her care. We also hope to track down some of the prior owners’ descendants and find out what they know about their ancestors’ time here. Where will this process lead us? Not knowing feels like half the point.
Here are the two things that Edith and I know for sure: first, that our immediate predecessors are Paul and Doris; and second, that this lovely couple has treated us with great cordiality and generosity in all respects. We bought this house from them as a “FSBO”—For Sale By Owner—which friends warned us at the time would be a risky process. According to these warnings, the absence of realtors to mediate between seller and purchaser would create all sorts of problems, misunderstandings, and resentments. But nothing of the kind took place. Paul and Doris were unceasingly gracious and patient throughout the whole process; the transfer of the property took place with a sense of great mutual respect and appreciation; and they remain our friends to the present day.
So: this first post about house history is a tip of the hat to Paul and Doris—both for their entrusting Edith and me with the house they owned for almost three decades, and for all their hard work in improving and protecting the place over those many years.
To Paul and Doris: thank you GREATLY for all you’ve done to make this adventure possible!