Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Question of a House's Legacy

One good thing about moving is that it makes you clean out your house and re-evaluate all of the things you've collected over the years.   Sometimes, you come across stuff that's been stuffed away and stored and you realize, it should be displayed. 

Recently, when Jason was cleaning out our garage, he came across something that was left in this house as part of the estate when we bought it.

Originally, we tried to donate it to a historical library, but at the time, the library was renovating and said they didn't have room.

We're kind of glad, because it is a really cool piece and Jason decided to dust it off and hang it in our guest room.

It's a certificate of service for a person named E.R. Aldred for the Horseheads, NY fire department dated March, 1890.

We have no idea who this is, or why it was left in our house.  Our house was built in the 1940s, and, to our knowledge, no one with the last name of Aldred owned the property.

Nonetheless, it's an interesting piece of local history, so we decided to hang it proudly in the guest room.

As I've mentioned before, our house was filled with remnants of someone else's life.  It was really sad, actually.  Prior to closing, the deceased woman's children came through and took what belongings they wanted to keep. 

I was saddened by their choices.  They left boxes of their mother's poetry, love letters, books and tons of other sentimental items and instead, they chose to keep objects that had more monetary value - like pieces of solid wood furniture. 

I spent countless hours reading the journals and books of poetry that were left behind.  I found joy in piecing together who this woman was and what meaning her life had, yet at the same time I struggled with reading the writings at all, fearful of violating this woman's personal thoughts and feelings.  

She was a peace keeper -- a lover of animals and of life.

So I struggle with the question one of my dear blogging friends, Deborah from The Fairfield House posted yesterday to my blog.  She wrote:

"Stephenie, There are pieces here that we feel belong to the house and not to us. So, if we ever decide to leave, they will remain. Are you going to leave something that you found behind? Imagine what you will discover in your new old house!"

I understand what Deborah means in that houses have a life and history that go beyond their owners.  But I struggle with the thought of leaving some of the wonderful belongs behind -- not so much because I cherish objects -- but because I feel a desire to protect what was so freely discarded before.

What if the new owners throw away this woman and this house's history because they don't see it "fitting in" with their decor?

What about all of you? Have you found treasures in homes you've purchased?  Do you feel the desire to keep and preserve them or leave them as part of the house's legacy?


  1. You can talk to the persons who buy your home and ask them if they are interested. If not, then keep them. Perhaps someday a child of the woman might be interested... or perhaps the museum will finally have room for them.

  2. Since our cottage was new construction, we didn't get to have such a wonderful adventure. I think you could frame a copy of one or two of the wonderful poems the previous owner wrote and leave it with a note as a housewarming gift to the new owners. That way, you leave a piece of history with them but you can take the rest of the possessions you've come to love with you.

  3. When we remodeled our kitchen I was hoping we would find something, anything, tucked away. All we found was a Garth Brooks type shirt in the ceiling! Not what I was hoping for! So, before we closed up one of the walls, we left a little time capsule between the studs for whoever owns this house one day and decides to renovate it again. It had a note from us to the new owner wishing them happiness in this house, a photo of my husband and I, and a photo of our little dog, Bubba. I only hope the new owner will appreciate it.

  4. Stephenie,

    I have a different philosophy than you do. I don't believe we own things that outlast us. We just take stewardship of them and pass them along. The home I'm in is old and as stated there are things here that belong to the house, with the house, that we would never consider taking out of it. I'm sure many of these things were not original to it and added along it's 130 year span of standing. The Fairfield House was not always old. At some point it was the age of your home. History and traditions need starting points. You can't concern yourself with what if they don't appreciate the item, the house like I do? I think giving the house back it's history makes people appreciate it more -- it becomes more than shelter and takes on its own life. I'm sure you will discover things in your new old home. Consider how disappointing it will be if you find none.


  5. Our house was sold to us by the original owner and his children. Like you, the children/grandchildren took what they wanted and put the rest in a storage shed in the yard. They weren't able to move it all before closing so it conveyed with the house. There were lots of vintage/antique items that I can't believe no one wanted. My favorite was a huge antique mirror that we cleaned up a bit and placed over our fireplace.

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  7. My house is about 160 years old. I was hoping to find cool things when we renovated. We haven't found anything.

    It is a shame that her children didn't care about the "real" treasures. Perhaps her grandchildren or great grandchildren might some day...

    BTW...I live in Canandaigua, NY...about 65 miles north of Horseheads, NY so I think the document is interesting.

  8. svinch@twcny.rr.comMay 24, 2010 at 1:03 AM

    Just my thoughts, but if the children did not want these things then I am sure they will not want them later on.

    I would say the new owners will probably buy based on location, I could be wrong but dealing in real estate most people buy for the location and the house is filled with their own things and any thing left behind becomes discarded.

    I would ask the new owners if they want any of the old peices that were found in the house when you moved in and I would leave a few but I truly think that some have become a part of your family and should be taken with you.

    I am sure the lady who passed away would want someone who will take good care of her belongings to have them,that would be your family.


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