At this point, most of us have heard someone make this remark about an old house or building, or you may even have said it yourself. And it’s so true - those walls have heard it all ---some have heard more and for a lot longer than others. Old houses, churches, and other historic buildings have always fascinated me, not just because they are beautiful or architecturally unique, but because each building represents a vital part of the history of a family or of a specific geographical location. I’m certain you will agree that much of a town's history is based on events that happened within the confines of some of its oldest houses and buildings, many of which are still standing today. It was within those walls that babies were born, children were educated, sons and daughters were married, important business deals became reality, and grieving families held wakes when family members passed to the great beyond. And the list of events could go on and on.
Although researching the history of old houses is not an entirely new concept, it has become an ever increasingly popular one during the last decade. As a younger generation of urban workers continue to buy up older properties for renovation in an effort to lessen daily commutes by living near downtown, the desire to know the history of the house or building they plan to call "home" has taken on a new significance. Just as tracing one’s family history often changes one’s perspective on life, discovering the history of an old house, can be a source of pride to the new owners. The facade of an old house or building too often can be misleading in relation to the actual events that may have taken place inside the structure. And as another group of individuals known as this nation’s “baby boomers” attain retirement age, another phenomenon is growing around America. Many of these retirees, at least the ones who still have funds to do so, are searching for and buying up historic properties to restore into full-time homes, inns, and sometimes a bed and breakfast.
Of course, there are many other reasons, not any less important, for wanting to know the history of one’s house or an old building where one conducts business. Sometimes the desire to discover who built the house or building, who owned and who lived there, or what actually happened inside the structure is simply personal. It may be something as simple as the fact that one’s ancestors lived or died in the house or made its living in the building. In other instances, new owners may want to restore the property to its original state and need to know specifics about the time period in which it was built and the materials used in its construction. Those who are interested in completing historic restorations, for obvious reasons, often also have a strong desire to obtain a state or national historic marker for the property. More about this process can be found by visiting your state's historic commission website or by reading a National Register Bulletin published by the Department of the Interior, National Park Service available at http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/publications/bulletins/nrb15/nrb15_2.htm
In reality, the history of our cities is woven within the stories of the families who lived in its old houses, made a living in its old buildings, and walked along the old streets of its historic downtown. And just as each human life is unique and has meaning, each of these old structures has a story that is worth telling.
If only the walls could talk............