You and Your House Have a History

Vol. XIV No. 4 - FALL/WINTER 2003-4

You rang the doorbell and the realtor opened the door and, after welcoming you, asked you to sign in. Next you were handed a fact sheet and invited to wander through the house or you were taken on a tour. When you walked through that door to see the home you eventually bought you began the story of your life in that home and in that community. Ask anyone about their childhood home and they will begin searching for the words to convey one of their memories. Sometimes it is about a specific part of the space, a cozy corner, a warm place on the heat vent, a special room like the kitchen. Whatever the memory, it lasts a lifetime.

The same is true for the first home you purchase as an adult. It is a big undertaking, a big commitment. When you walk into your first home you are beginning a history in that home, in the community where you will reside. Ask someone in your neighborhood what the neighborhood was like when they moved there and the same thing happens, they pause and begin picturing their home and the block. The question usually is an investigation into the change in the area, what is different now. What we all hope is that what is here now is much better that what was here then. We hope that the people who are living in the neighborhood have made it a better place. Implied in the purchase of a home is that you will care for it and make it better.

The architecture of a community like Edgewater has survived and been rehabbed because of the value placed on it by the people who live there. Each person who buys a property in Edgewater is buying into the history of the community. That history is over one hundred years old. Each person who moved to the original Edgewater was part of an adventure in suburban living that shortly turned to urbanization. It may be hard for today’s resident of Edgewater to imagine a time when there were only a few homes on their block and there was the sound of hammering as new homes were built. In those early days the construction of a home was announced in the newspaper, The Economist, with names of owners, architects and builders given as a record of the building permit.

Some of the original owners in Edgewater lived here only briefly and moved on. Others like the owners of my house on Lakewood lived there from 1898 into the late 1940’s, a long time to be a part of neighborhood history. Yet little remains of that history except the facts. The family lived there, there were two children according to the census, the husband died and then the mother living alone died or sold the home to someone else. Through some research we can find the occupation of the original owner or occasionally a previous owner will stop by and tell you a little about the first owner and of course, a little about the house. But the real evidence is in the house itself.

When you buy an older home you must turn a blind eye to some of its flaws. Perhaps you will repair some of the problems as needed when you have time. Perhaps if you have a solid bank roll you will tackle all the problems at once and create a space that is up to twenty first century standards. In either case you begin your history in your new home and in your community. Hopefully, if enough care is given to the building it will survive another century and be passed along to other people who will undertake its care. What you have done to improve the house should be a matter of record especially if the work required building permits. But there are other little things like having the floors sanded or having the ceiling plastered that are hard to live through and yet little official note is taken of the work. It is time now to consider writing some of these notes down for a future owner of the home.

The ownership of a home is a kind of luxury that most Americans value. It is a goal that not everyone can achieve and yet it is ever present, the American dream. How this works in a community is that people of similar assets and values older homes or bungalows, two flats or townhouses.) gather in the areas that have that housing. And if things work out these people who were once total strangers live side by side and raise their families together. In the process they work to preserve their way of life, to share events in the community and to tell each other stories about their lives in their communities. This is history in the making, this is the story of your life in your home in Edgewater. That story is whatever you make of it. If you are civic minded you attend community meetings and get involved in neighborhood issues. If you are a “people person” you may focus on what people are doing and thinking about their life and times. If you are a gardener you may learn more about what grows in the local soil. Your history is what you make of it.