I have been having a wonderful time digging up the history on limestone houses in the area. I’ve been devoting a lot of time to the project since Christmas as I try to finish up some of these houses I’ve been working on for a year.
I never liked history in school, but I’m loving it now. The whole project started about two-and-a-half years ago when Fred suggested I do a story on the stone houses that were featured in the Courtland Arts Center. He may have meant that he wanted a story on the project itself, which was done by Kelly Larson, but after looking at the many frames featuring the buildings, I decided I was going to attempt to feature the individual stone buildings.
Kelly Larson was focused mostly on the architecture as part of her grad student project, so I was going to focus on the history. But I had absolutely no information to start with and started the project blind. I somehow asked around long enough to get contact information for Kelly, who has been excellent with providing me with information. When I run into dead ends, I call her and test her memory. I’m amazed at what she can remember from 2003 when she did the project. I’m taking lots of notes and keeping a detailed contact list because I already know my memory won’t be that good. I didn’t realize there were so many stone houses.
The late Eldon Larson, who was an amazing resource with many of these houses, told me about a few more houses Kelly hadn’t done, so I chased those down as well. And then I started to notice some on the side of the road, or someone mentioned another house in another part of the county. More than two years later I’m still finding a bunch more stone houses to investigate. Some of them are in better shape than others, but I’ll take them all. Last week alone I worked on 10 different houses, and photographed about half of them. It really is quite fun to explore the houses and learn about their history. I’d do it all day every day if I could. The hard part comes when I have to write the stories. I still have 5 stone house stories that I’ve been working on for 6-12 months because I’m still missing some information or waiting to hear back from someone. And I’m far from finished. I have recently found a bunch more houses and barns.
I’ve driven by many of these stone buildings for years, I suppose, but it’s amazing how many I have found now that I’m actually looking for them. While we drove toward Clifton a month ago I was pointing out all of the stone houses along the road to my husband. From the Haddam/Brantford area all the way to Cuba, there are probably two dozen stone buildings I know about. After I pointed out how common stone houses are in the area, my substitute mailman husband took notice, apparently. He came home and said he saw a whole bunch of them that he had never noticed before, and he wrote down where they were. And he even missed some, because while he wrote down some I didn’t know about, he failed to write down two that were in plain site and he drove by every day. They were stone houses that have been painted, so the original limestone color is no longer visible. I only knew they were made of limestone because I had been told.
So when I started this project in 2014, I only planned to do about 10-12 houses. But I continue to be amazed at the history that sets in plain sight. Stone houses aren’t as rare as I thought, but I think they are all special. Sure, there aren’t very many big, fancy, great condition ones. But they are all neat, and I intend to document as many as I can. If you know the history behind any rock buildings in the area, save me the research and phone calls and pass the information along.
Some people think rock barns or partial stone buildings aren’t special enough to document, or they are in poor condition and unfit to photograph, but I disagree. We are losing more of this history every year. Why not document as much of it as we can before it’s gone? I look through the area history books for stone houses and have only found a few, which means people didn’t think they were noteworthy 40-50 years ago when they were still standing. Now they are gone, and so are the people who knew anything about them.