History lessons from an old house Old Home Renovation Rural Life

3 secrets old farmhouse owners might never tell you

Yesterday Bill mumbled that he hates our old farmhouse. Yes, my husband used the words “hate” and “farmhouse” in the same sentence.

My readers often tell me they enjoy the details I share about our old cape cod farmhouse that sits on sloped, rocky, wooded 14 acres, so you may not understand Bill’s lack of love.

Yet, truth be told, we tend to romanticize the joys of owning old homes, we call their quirks “character” and their money-draining problems “projects.” If you think you may someday fall in love with an old farmhouse yourself, stop right now, make sure you get the inside scoop on these secrets, and then proceed with caution.

Secret #1: The projects are like that Lamb Chop song.

First, there are the bitter truths (and joys) of owning an old farmhouse. But even more, there are the endless projects. Not only endless in the fact that there’s always something to do (that’s true for all homeowners), but endless like that never-ending Lamb Chop song that my daughters used to love…

“This is the project that never ends. It just goes on and on my friend. Somebody started doing it, not knowing how bad it was. And they’ll continue doing it forever just because this is the project that never ends. It just goes on and on my friend…”

So, to be fair to Bill, maybe I’ll start sharing some of the ugly truths here on the blog once in a while behind owing an old farmhouse. Plus, I’m guessing you’ll find some of the projects rather interesting, like the time he went to install a new storm door and discovered a 217-year-old support beam had rotted so badly we could see into our basement from our front step. Or the time he was merely replacing a door and wound up realizing he needed to replace two windows as well and had to take off 80% of the clapboard on the back side of our house. Oh, wait, I can’t talk about that project in past tense. That project was the reason behind his epitaph-like angry utterances just yesterday about his hatred toward these old, slanted, rotted posts and beams.

Secret #2: The stories are only fragmented sentences.

Since I’m not the one involved in these frustrating projects, beyond lending encouraging words and documenting them with photographs, I have remained faithful to my romantic notions about our wonderful old farmhouse.

Last month I was elated to frame an old photo I had enlarged. We had inherited the picture with the house when we moved here a few years ago. It shows a distant view of our cape, taken from the dirt road that is riddled with wagon tracks.

I hung the photo beside two prized pieces of artwork that I am very thankful to still have. Two pictures, one in oil pastels, one in watercolors, of barns, created by my youngest two daughters in days long ago. Days when it was not even a thought in any of our minds that our family would someday own a barn of our own.

Needless to say, I was beyond excited this month when a rock-star friend offered to memorialize another photograph of our home in a very special way. Now when you drive over the dam that curves around the cool river that hugs our property, pull up our tree-lined, curved drive, and step onto our front poor, you’re greeted by a beautiful photo of Asa (read on for more info about Asa), standing in front of his home circa 1890.

Gina memorialized this photo on slate and shipped it to me, and I did a jig as I was unwrapping it. Then I waltzed it right to the perfect hanging spot.

Gina knew I had named our homestead the first week we lived here. I mean, all self-respecting homesteads need a name.

Our homestead’s name

I dubbed our new homestead “Restful Falls Farm.” The “Falls” part is because of the mountain lake that our property borders that flows over a dam into the river that winds around our farm. The adjective in our farm’s name reminds me that I need to continually rest. Not rest in the typical sense. Heck no. There’s always so very much to do around here, because as I often say, “simple joys require hard work.” But I need to rest amidst the hard work, in the middle of grief, and even under sagging roofs. I need to rest in my soul.

So the sign announces our farm name, our address (which I blurred out in the photo), and est. circa 1800. I haven’t been able to document history of our home past 1860, but previous owners told us they were told the home was built in 1800, so for now that’s what we’re going by.

The photograph

The actual photo was delivered to our door one sunny Saturday afternoon last summer, by the woman who had married Asa’s great grandson. It’s a photo of Asa, who was I imagine named after the good king of Judah, around the age of 60 I’d guess. Asa is standing in his front yard, wearing his work pants and suspenders and looking intently at the photographer. The bearer of this gift to me that Saturday in June explained that her husband, who had passed away the year before, had fond childhood memories of our house, and his own father, Asa’s grandson, had been born in our house in 1899, some years after this picture was taken.

My pieced-together story

The rest of the story I have to piece together myself.

No matter how many photographs I had of our house, at best I’d only have fragments of stories.

I can imagine Asa’s daughter had married another hard-working farmer like her daddy and they lived here, on her family farm, in this charming cape that sits by the dam. Here her children were born. Here her momma taught her daughters how to gather eggs, butcher a chicken, and make a pie that was out-of-this-world delicious (here I’m imagining my own grandmom’s pie). Her daddy taught her sons how to milk a cow, gather eggs, turn over rocky fields, plant crops, hoe the rows, and reap the harvest late into the chilly autumn nights under a harvest moon

But at best, I can only piece together fragments of stories.

Secret #3: A house divided cannot stand.

I’ve seen the stones that make up the foundation of our old cape cod farmhouse. I’ve seen the waters that pour into our dirt-floor cellar around those boulders in the spring when the snow melts. I’ve seen the rotted sills and leaning corner walls.

I know it may only be the grace of God that keeps this old house standing. But a house divided surely cannot stand, and it’s oh-so-important to keep this final warning in mind if indeed you ever find yourself living in an old home.

Remember that you and your spouse can’t let your love for–or hatred towards–the house divide you.

Whenever Bill expresses his aversion to our home and the problem projects contained within its walls I almost take it personally. Maybe it’s similar to how one feels when there is a step-child in a family and one parent feels the other doesn’t love that child in the same deep way they always have. I think of the hard work I put into refinishing our old wide-planked floors.

I look at the treasures we’ve collected around the property and the fun things we’ve repurposed in our home, like this old door.

I remember how confidently we knew God led our family to this very farm a few short years ago.

And I hear his anger and frustration toward this old house that sometimes feels like my baby, and I am saddened.

I remind myself that a house divided cannot stand. I remember that the vows I made to my high school sweetheart are inherently more significant than old bark-covered beams or wavy window glass that sheds unfiltered sunlight through these tired walls. So the day that he feels he can’t go one more month of incessant, unforgiving home problems is the day I will guarantee him that he is my love. That will be the day we exit our old farmhouse threshold together, resolutely and hand-in-hand, moving on to another life. That is the day we will acknowledge we are richer for the stories we learned from this house and thankful for the time we got to be the stewards of its never-ending projects and fragmented sentences worth of stories. If that day comes, I am sure I will be able to say goodbye to our old cape cod farmhouse by the lake with no regrets. But truth be told, even if in a humbug sort of way, Bill loves these old walls and windows as much as I do.

We feel grateful to be the stewards of this old home’s wonderful, simple joys that require hard work.

So for now I will go on clinging to my romantic notions and enjoy every day I get to be a part of the fragmented sentences and difficult projects here in our old cape cod farmhouse that I call “home.”

On days like today, when our school room is chairs pulled up in front of the kitchen cooking fire…

When my office is old chairs in the shade of a sugar maple overlooking our barn…

When my “therapy” is winterizing the garden, wondering if previous tenants grew crops in the same fields were we have placed ours…

When my companion is a calf named Selah, who makes me curious how many calves have been born on these 14 acres over the past few centuries….

When my exercise is a walk with Bixby that ends up in the marsh or neighboring tree farm, both ablaze with color…

Yes, on days like today, no check that, on every day in every season, I will indeed be grateful. I will be grateful that, for all her sags, dips, creaks, and moans, I had the opportunity to call this old cape cod farmhouse “home.”


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5 Comment

  1. I’m not the owner of an old home. I’m not sure I have what it takes to do the fixing and the waiting for the fixing to happen. But I know what it is like to give thanks every single day for the home I have, and to feel like a home is a part of me. Like you, I love this house I live in.

    Beautiful words. Thank you for sharing.


  2. Thank you so much for the peek into your homestead! I, too, have an old homestead, 5 acres and a house built in 1945 (unfortunately, not well!) I’m alone, so all of those chores fall to me alone. I certainly identify with the gaping holes. My foundation is falling apart, and the “crack” between the wall and the floor in my bedroom is about 3″ wide and I can see the ground and sunshine from it in the summer! It is ‘patched’ with two 6′ long ‘snake’ pillows which keep critters out with a spray of peppermint every once in awhile. My reason for the comment: I’m keeping the photo of your fireplace, as it is a magnificent fireplace! I LOVE it. I can see many of my 40 or so cast iron pieces hanging from it now! I hope to someday re-do my fireplace and style it after yours. Such a beautiful and functional fireplace! Love the floor, the door and the wooden table/benches!

  3. What a charming post! I felt like I was there, beside your fireplace, as you were telling me about your home. I really enjoy the pictures and history. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to more. (Hint, hint)

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