How We Built Our Greenhouse
Overheard

Empty Houses

Empty houses

"There were several old house sites above our old home on Wiggins Creek. My mother could remember when an Indian family lived in one of them. I can remember stacks of stones used as foundations and rotting log sills and joists still in place. Strangely enough there were no chimleys attached.

One old homesite was below our house. It was the old Tom Southards Place. It had a chimley but only a small one that you could run a stovepipe into. The unique thing about that place was an outdoor stove about 20 feet from the house. The house was almost gone but the outdoor stove was still in good shape. It had two eyes like woodstoves have and a little chimley in the back. We couldn't play around the house for fear of stepping on nails but we built fires in the stove and tried cooking.

Just above our old house on the middle fork was a small house built of logs and chinked with concrete. It has stone pillars supporting it, huge stone steps in front and a big stone fireplace on the end. There were yellow bells flanking the steps and a row of daffodils in front of that. The house was finished inside entirely with tongue and grooved wormy chestnut. It had nice six over six windows with hidden counterweights so you didn't have prop them open with a stick. It even had locks on the windows. It had a bathroom but no fixtures. It had a sink in the kitchen but no water to it and no drain leading out. It had cabinets built of the same wormy chestnut. The window and door facings were made of wormy chestnut as were all the baseboards, crown and corner moldings.

The house was built in the early to mid '40s. I don't know who built it or what they intended to do with it (I never thought to ask my daddy) but I do know somebody had a lot of money in it. The strangest thing about the house was that nobody ever lived there. Somebody might have stayed there for a night or two because the fireplace had been used. Maybe coon or bear hunters warmed themselves there but nobody ever "lived" there. A house with nobody in it is has no cause to stand  and will soon yield to the elements. In the mid 80's Ray Dehart got permission to tear house down.

When we divided up my father's property sometime in the 1990's, the surveyor discovered that the house had actually been on daddy's place. It was long gone by then. My brother Harold now owns the footprint where the sad little house once waited for a family to make it a home."

~ Ed Ammons - June 2016

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Tipper

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There are so many empty houses around us here in Northern Harnett and Johnston. I can't imagine why they're left empty to fall into ruin like that. Surely someone has to be paying taxes on them, and if you were paying taxes on something, wouldn't you want to be getting some use or at least rent money from it?
And with the number of homeless people living across the country, there must be some among them that are able to repair buildings that you could allow to live in rent free for the repair work, at least for a time anyway.
Or heck, sell them or tear them down and sell the land...either one is better than paying taxes on empty buildings and unused land.
I just don't understand it. Never have.
God bless.
RB
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Miss Cindy and I have a similar way of looking at things. I too look at former homes and wonder. . . .
Unfortunately, there are far too many bedraggled and broken down Victorian ladies in the town where we go to church. These wooden skeletons conjure fantasies of refined elegance and happier times. I wish I could buy and restore every one of them; the strange thing is that some of the owners in the town have refused to sell them to potential buyers offering far more than they are worth. They want to let them decay and self-destruct . . . makes me wonder if there is something in the water that has scrambled these folk's brains and made them bitter. No one in the congregation can explain it.
Sadder still are the churches that are crumbling - not only have their congregations disappeared but the buildings are slowing decomposing where they stand. Although I know "we are the church", the buildings are a reminder that there is a "we" to be found - - or at least they should be.

On old home sites I always look for dug wells. There is usually no wellgum left, so you have to be careful.
Ed, chimley is a word I rarely hear any more,

Houses don't have lives of their own. They have an accumulation of parts and pieces of the lives of all who lived within them!
Anybody who's never read "The House With Nobody In It" by Joyce Kilmer should, anybody who's ever read it ought to read it again.

-Whenever I walk to Suffern along the Erie track
I go by a poor old farmhouse with its shingles broken and black.
I suppose I've passed it a hundred times, but I always stop for a minute
And look at the house, the tragic house, the house with nobody in it.

I never have seen a haunted house, but I hear there are such things;
That they hold the talk of spirits, their mirth and sorrowings.
I know this house isn't haunted, and I wish it were, I do;
For it wouldn't be so lonely if it had a ghost or two.

This house on the road to Suffern needs a dozen panes of glass,
And somebody ought to weed the walk and take a scythe to the grass.
It needs new paint and shingles, and the vines should be trimmed and tied;
But what it needs the most of all is some people living inside.

If I had a lot of money and all my debts were paid
I'd put a gang of men to work with brush and saw and spade.
I'd buy that place and fix it up the way it used to be
And I'd find some people who wanted a home and give it to them free.

Now, a new house standing empty, with staring window and door,
Looks idle, perhaps, and foolish, like a hat on its block in the store.
But there's nothing mournful about it; it cannot be sad and lone
For the lack of something within it that it has never known.

But a house that has done what a house should do,
a house that has sheltered life,
That has put its loving wooden arms around a man and his wife,
A house that has echoed a baby's laugh and held up his stumbling feet,
Is the saddest sight, when it's left alone, that ever your eyes could meet.

So whenever I go to Suffern along the Erie track
I never go by the empty house without stopping and looking back,
Yet it hurts me to look at the crumbling roof and the shutters fallen apart,
For I can't help thinking the poor old house is a house with a broken heart. -Joyce Kilmer

Joyce Kilmer also wrote "Trees" and has a National Forest named for him over in Graham County!

Neat story, and if only walls could talk. I stand and wonder sometime, was it a happy home or was it filled with grief and worry, was it a loving home or a home full of dread, only if the walls could talk.

What a neat little story, Ed Ammons. Thank you for sharing your story. I always thought empty houses were very sad. It is especially interesting to see the chimneys still standing and wonder about those who stayed warm with the fireplace fire. I once wondered why none of the old houses still stood near my grandfather's old home place. I was told it was once common to burn them to keep folks from moving too near the stills. Also there was once a great deal of recycling. That wormy chestnut was popular.

There is still standing a rock fireplace in a remote area where one of my ancestors once lived. We are fortunate enough to have a picture from the 1800's with men on horses outside the cabin. They recently took a metal detector there and found part of a spoon and some hand made nails. Exploring is fun, but critters sometimes move in.

It makes me sad when I see old houses being torn down. I agree that it is strange to find an old house without a chimley. Wormy chestnut must have been an uncommon wood to use inside old homes. The many years I sold real estate allowed me to tour old homes with unique features, but none ever had wormy chestnut woodwork.

I have a habit of noticing old, empty houses whenever we travel, often remarking that someone needs to save them before they are too far gone. There is something sad about old houses going away, whether falling in due to rot, being burnt or being smashed. But the worst to me is their just being smashed and hauled off in a dumpster. I'm a save and re-use kind of guy to start with and then there is the destruction of someone's work "without respect to the maker thereof". I understand the practical reasons of cost versus benefit, but it still seems wrong.

Some houses are never lived in because the dream they were built on was lost. I know of a big house alongside US 27 in Kentucky that was almost finished when the dream was lost and it has sat empty for years.

Rot got the sills of my boyhood home that Dad built from salvaged company houses. He had it torn down as second-time around salvage. They even took up the sandstone walk that he and I had made. The only marker now is the well casing rising above the ground.

I have seen so many empty houses through that area, it seems families lived there then just walked away. I have often wondered what the story was.

Old houses are a story of their own, they stand sentinel to the past. I sometimes just stand and look the empty home and wonder who lived there, who rocked on the porch and who planted the lily's that still come up every spring. You know there is a story but there is no one there to tell it so the house and ground speak for themselves.

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