Thursday, June 20, 2013

Con ⋅ ti ⋅ nu ⋅ i ⋅ ty

Continuity (noun): Uninterrupted connection, succession or union.

After finally returning home following a very, very late Vermont-to-Brooklyn drive this past Tuesday night, I decided to hop onto the computer and peruse the old world wide web for awhile before enjoying a well-earned sleep. I went to Country Living's site to check out the most recent house tour in their Home and Decorating section (a favorite activity of mine), and was moved by a quote from the homeowner of this month's tour. This couple recently finished a years-long renovation on their upstate NY farmhouse. The article concluded with the following quote from homeowner Paul:

"The man who built our home is buried across the street," says Paul. "We own this house now, but eventually, it'll belong to someone else. Living with history provides a feeling of continuity. It puts things in perspective." 

Paul's view on their homeownership really moved me, as this idea is something Tony and I have talked about often. Our connections to the family who built this house and called it Home for over 100 years are very strong. Thanks to the nature of this small town, whose residents have known each other for generations and take great pride in both their history and their present, we have come to know so many details about Wales Cheney (the builder of the home) and Florence Crowninshield, Wales' granddaughter and the last official resident of the house.

Florence the Fashionista

So, what can we tell you about Florence? Well, she was well-loved by everyone, and she baked the meanest angel food cake in all of Jamaica. Her husband Marcus was a farmer and managed the family dairy. Her favorite room in the house was the living room with the bay window; she loved to entertain guests there, and placed her Christmas tree in the middle of the bay window every December. Her bedroom was at the top of the stairs, and is now affectionately referred to by us as Florence's room. We have some lovely plans for decorating it, and I like to think she'd approve!

Marcus and his oxen next to the sugar shack

Her grandfather Wales was a Civil War veteran and cabinet maker. In 1861 at the age of 25, Wales enlisted in the Union army. He fought in a series of battles until a gunshot wound to his right knee received during the Second Battle of Bull Run led to his honorary discharge. After living through the horrors of the Civil War, I can't even imagine what an unbelievable reprieve it was to come home to the Green Mountains. Also, it is beyond me how a man who endured a gun shot to his knee in the 1860s (I'm quite sure battlefield surgery isn't quite on par with the quality of care you'd receive today) had the personal strength to go on and build not one but two different houses for his family. After just a typical day of laboring at the farmhouse, I'm achy all over and have no problem complaining about it. This Wales must have been one heck of a human being.

Wales and the family dog during the early days of the house 

Owning this house is a healthy reminder about the passing of time. Three generations of the Cheney/Crowninshield family lived in this farmhouse. They put their love, positive energy and hard work into the soil and the home itself. Their mark can be seen everywhere you look. If anything, I find this knowledge to be comforting; put good things into the earth and they will last well beyond your years.

I feel Tony and I are achieving 'continuity' with every project we finish. For now, our family is the caretaker of this lovely home. We have planted trees that will someday grow to be giants, and an orchard that will give fruit for years to come. We are shoring up this house so it can survive another 130 years. While there are days when we feel this renovation has beaten us, that it's simply too much work, most days I know that we are incredibly lucky to have this opportunity to build something lasting.

Pre-snowblower... yikes.

According to Marlene, Florence's wonderful granddaughter and a huge supporter of our project, Florence used to fill the lawn alongside the now-extinct side porch with flowers. Every spring, tulips still bloom there; her handiwork continues to be seen to this day. This small act truly sums up what this farmhouse restoration is about; creating something lovely that will be enjoyed for future generations to come!

Please enjoy this amazing slideshow of original photos of the house and its former owners, courtesy of Marlene. Here's hoping we can restore this house to its former glory before another hundred years pass!

Tony and I have just completed a five day work marathon this past week, so expect another update soon with new photos and exciting changes to the home. In the meantime, let's take a moment to enjoy this glimpse back into its past :)

- Melissa, current caretaker of the Cheney/Crowninshield/Dallaryan Homestead

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