It began unexpectedly. Her mysterious, stately beauty caught me by surprise. It was 1979 and I was 28 years old. I had just been married a couple years, started a new high school teaching job and was working on my graduate degree at ISU. I did not need this distraction. Yet, the attraction was real. I could feel it every day. I tried to fight it and not think about it, but the attraction blossomed into a long term affair that lasted for over 40 years. That beautiful object that caught my eye those many years ago was a stately, old colonial home.
I have had a weakness for homes since I was a young man. I cannot help myself. They draw me in to their stories. I think about when they were built, the families, the people who lived in them, the things they have seen, the stories they might tell. It is a bit of an obsession I have had since my college days. I have pulled in my spouse, children and now grandchildren into my obsession with old houses. I am told the first step to overcoming addiction is that one must first “want” to get better. I admit that I really do not want to get better. I am fine with my obsession and can actually waste hours on end studying, estimating, planning, measuring and figuring how I can help make an old house have a new lease on life.
The home that caught my eye these many years ago was one of several older, stately homes along E. Washington Street. I noticed her the first time I went down the street in 1979. I had no idea who lived there or what the story of the house might be. I have however been blessed with a vivid imagination which always has helped me fill in the blanks. This particular house was a huge, two story white weather board sided house. It was painted with colonial green shutters and trim. The long, stately windows on the front allowed great amounts of natural light to flood the interior. There was a steel post with a ring tie mounted into a concrete pillar which I was sure was used to tie up a horse and buggy back in its glory days. Carriage lampposts at the street completed that look I loved. I could imagine the family, the dinners, holidays, events and various activities that might have occurred in this beauty over the years. For nearly 20 years, I admired “my house” on Washington Street. I watched the seasons change and admired her with the colorful fall foliage, the crisp cut yard in the summer, the beautiful snow hanging on the pine trees in winter and tulips that always popped up in front in the spring. For all of those years, I still did not know her story or who had lived in this stately home. Then one day, that changed.
Through my teaching and work as a program coordinator I became acquainted with many teachers in various schools throughout the county. One day a colleague of mine was talking about a lady that taught in one of our elementary schools and she lived in a big house on Washington Street. My ears immediately perked up. Could it be “my house” on Washington? I think when we finally met, I said something awkward and embarrassing like- “Oh wow you live in my house.” She may have been a little creeped out. However, we moved beyond those awkward moments and developed a friendship that has certainly withstood the test of time. I am thankful she wasn’t scared off when she learned I had been thinking about and watching her house for 20 years.
As our friendship developed, we found we shared many interests in history, antiques, research, reading and teaching. Since I was teaching and working with students with special needs or identified at risk, we often took students to off campus community work sites. This was a great way for students to learn work skills, practice team work, work through emotional outbursts and problem solve. My new friend Melissa, invited me to bring students to her property and home to complete small projects and practice lawn work. While these were great opportunities for our students, it also allowed me to get up close and personal to this beautiful home I had admired for so many years. Those years of teaching and using this beautiful home, yard and garden as a teaching resource and learning lab for students was beyond generous. So many children learned valuable skills on this property made possible by the caring, trust and generosity of my friend Melissa and her beautiful Washington Street home.
As the years passed and I retired from teaching, I stayed on to help Melissa with her beautiful home. Another teacher friend and myself helped her with a variety of tasks over the years including lawn care, weeding, cutting hedges and thinning over growth. During those years I witnessed several upgrades to the property including a new version of a carriage house that was added for a garage, new upgrades to the exterior and interiors to make this stately beauty look even better and extend her historic life. Melissa was generous with stories of family events, history of the home and additions that had been made over the many years. We also worked our way through several plumbing, electrical and contractor issues that developed during these years. As with any old house, this one had its challenges, but her beauty, character and strength remained steadfast.
As years go by things change and change has come to the stately home on Washington Street. Today I helped my friend take down the few remaining items that were on the wall. I helped her carry out an old door and move storage boxes to the garage for an auctioneer to pick up next week. The home has been emptied, listed for sale and ready for a new owner. I take a last walk through this beauty who caught my eye so many years ago. I walk through the large empty rooms looking at the pantry, kitchen, dining and sun rooms, spacious upstairs, solarium and attractive staircase. I look out the huge windows facing Washington street and think of the many 4-H, 4th of July and Homecoming parades that have passed by these windows. I think of the history, the people, the connections and relationships that were made in this home. I am a little sad. No, I never lived here, I never owned the property nor did I have any financial interest in this stately old home. I have however loved her, helped care for her and hopefully helped nurture her a bit over the years. Now she is ready for a new family who will enjoy her. New people, new stories and new life for this beauty awaits. My love affair with this stately beauty has come to an end, but man what a ride it was!