Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Just a little local color

In school we spend a lot of time studying the big picture of history... the explorers and the wars and those big cultural movements we consider important enough to capitalize (the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, Reformation, etc.). We study our national history (apparently not enough, given the amount of confusion over the Constitution), and usually soak up at least a little state history. But, perhaps because our teachers are tired and curriculum is unavailable, local history tends to be silent, guarded by a few museum keepers and old-timers.

One of the two original houses on my family's ranch boasts a big kitchen and three additional rooms, each with its own exterior door, or two.

For writers and history buffs, that means there may well be a treasure trove of facts and stories from which to glean inspiration, to add color and depth to eras of time otherwise overlooked in the history books, and that treasure might be closer than you think!
Another of the original houses, currently in use as a "band shed" by hubby and sons.
One of the bedroom walls, still clad in its floral wallpaper, has a bullet hole near the ceiling.
For example...

The stove in the "little red house."
1. Family history — You don't have to become a genealogist to delve into your family history these days. Websites like ancestry.com have made researching our family trees easier than ever. I learned that my great-grandfather was married to another woman before he married my great-grandmother. No one knows what happened to her, and no one in the family had ever heard of her before, but they signed a census list as husband and wife...

The barn, which is still in use for hay storage.
The bunkhouse. The original owners apparently put their
 teenage boys in it. Smart.
2. Property history — Sure, many of us live in modern houses, surrounded by even more modern houses. But what was there before? What did your street look like a hundred, or two-hundred years ago? Having moved to property that was homesteaded in the late 1800s/early 1900s, with original buildings and artifacts galore, I feel like I've walked into a living museum. 

Inside the bunkhouse, built-in table and benches.
Cast iron skillets and utensils are original.

3. Community history — Unless you live in your hometown, you might be unaware of the history your community is hiding. We are equidistant from three small towns. One suffered a dramatic train crash in the early 1900s, followed by a mine explosion that left the coal seam in the mountain burning for decades. Another sprang up around a railroad depot. A third was named for a rusty rifle found in a creek by mid-19th century explorers. Those kinds of tales are story fodder!

Anybody live in a house with a past? Or in a town that has some intriguing secrets? Have you considered using the tales of your more colorful family members in a story? Why or why not? 


  1. That's awesome Niki. All the history buffs among us want to come play at your house! I enjoy local history as well and have lots to choose from in Central Ohio. From Indian burial mounds to Otterbein, the first male college in America to admit co-eds, to the prohibition museum. My town was dry for decades, and in fact it was only about 3 years ago that they allowed alcohol to be sold here.

  2. oh wow! Love this post and photos and such a rich history...I might just be writing westerns or pioneer fiction with that treasure nearby!

    Thank you Niki! I agree with Lisa. Can we come and play?

  3. wow. such cool history to have around you. my first thought is, how difficult is the upkeep of said history?

    i know my mom had mixed feelings when her brother razed the cow barn she and the family had milked cows in during her childhood. my uncle replaced it with a building for use to keep the family farm viable. she had the same feelings when the family house was torn down so my uncle could build a new house for his family.

    i think the whole family had mixed feelings on that one. hard to see the original home disappear under "progress"

  4. Lisa & Deb, anytime you all are headed this way, come for a visit! I can take you to the world's largest hot springs pool, the world's largest natural underground cave, and the highest altitude roller coaster in North America. In addition to all this history!

  5. @DebH, fortunately, my parents are very focused on restoring and maintaining the old stuff. They've "shored up" the barn to make it safe and sturdy, and repaired roofs and foundations to keep other buildings intact. My dad wants to restore the dugout, which is the original-original homestead, but my mom said no until the family of foxes moves out.
    Eventually, my husband and I will begin the process of restoring at least one of the houses to original condition. I'm researching possible grants to help with the cost.
    I spent a couple hours yesterday at the local museum, where many of the original homes, a 1914 schoolhouse, and some other buildings have been moved by the owners to create a historical park, instead of tearing them down.
    I can understand your family's sadness about the family farm. It is hard to see the old things have to be replaced to make way for the new.

  6. Cool pictures, Niki. I love old houses.

    Our first house was a Victorian-with-potential that had been a school in post-Civil War Virginia. It was converted to a house in 1913 by the man who owned the local lumber yard, so the woodwork in that thing is absolutely fantastic. We worked on restoring it for years, and I was very sad when we had to sell and move away.

  7. That sounds like a wonderful place to live, CJ! Sorry you had to sell it!
    I love "Victorian-with-potential." My hubby says I have a bad habit of looking at things (and people) and thinking, "ooh, that has potential!" without considering the labor and cost involved.

  8. Oh, how cool!

    I'm a product of the suburbs, so nothing I've ever lived in (and nothing around it) was more than two years older than me.

    What a shame.

  9. But you live in Texas, DeAnna, so even if you're a suburbanite, you've still got lots of local history around you!

  10. On my website right now, I have a little bit about the history of the houses I found in Charlottesville for Love in Three Quarter Time. But...in typical backwards Dina fashion, I wrote the book first and then went and found an old plantation to match :) The cool thing was, there is one. It's now a conference center.

  11. I love it when that happens! It's like some kind of weird affirmation that the voices you're hearing might not be crazy ones. : )

  12. BTW, @Lisa, I just picked up a flyer at the museum yesterday... I guess Colorado is one of the few states that never went "dry" during prohibition, something I never knew!


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