Thursday, January 10, 2013

Old Grey Homestead

The back roads of Kentucky abound in abandoned homes and farms. It seems that when a house in no longer considered livable, or a building useful, it is simply allowed to weather, then disintegrate, and eventually cave in and topple into the surrounding weeds and brush.
I have been intrigued with this old barn, visible from the high point of our corn ground [the north field] and suspected that lurking behind it would be the remains of a house and outbuildings.
My walk on Friday took me along our neighbor’s back fence and for the first time I could see the old house located just behind and beyond the barn.
This photo shows how the barn fits into the larger landscape.
Big Creek takes a bend just here and the ledge gives way to open ground. Beyond our neighbors’ thoroughly modern home a gravel road appears to cross the creek and wind out to the old homestead.
This building would, I believe, have been used as the farmhouse. Setting foot in any of these relics would likely be an unsafe prospect: rotting boards, crumbled walls, termite-riddled floors which could give way underfoot, to say nothing of the possibility of rats, bats, snakes and creepy-crawlies who might be the only residents.
In some cases, we’re told, families ‘died out’—no one left with an interest in carrying on a hard-scrabble farm or living in a house which needed a small fortune in updates and repairs.
As we’ve driven around our county and those adjacent, we’ve often seen where a newer house has been erected on a property, frequently in front of or beside an older dwelling.
Perhaps for a time the original building was repurposed for storage or even as a tenant house.
J. suspects that in cases where a property has been passed down in a family, no one wants to make the decision to pull down or bulldoze the house where dear old great-grandfather lived.
And so the houses and barns sag and crumble, leaning precariously, doors and windows gaping, chimneys tumbled, sections of roofing twisted off to lie rusting in the jungle of weeds.
This is a climate where weeds and vines left unchecked can smother a building in a few short years.
The heavy growth shades the walls creating an ideal climate for mildew and rot. Vine-y tendrils pierce the tender wood of old clapboards, swelling and spreading, nails are wrenched out of place.
Most of the old houses here weren’t built on solid foundations.  Such underpinnings as they once boasted have shifted or fallen away.
I look at these old places as we drive slowly past and try to imagine smoke from a supper fire feathering out of the shattered chimneys, windows gleaming and decked with crisp curtains.
I can picture dooryards scythed or mowed, paths edged with flowers in summer, a wash flapping on the clothesline.
It is, I suppose, a romantic or nostalgic view which doesn’t meld well with the reality of financial struggle and the abandonment or displacement of a family’s dreams.
Viewing my photos I feel the same eerie prickles as when I read
Walter de la Mare’s poem.

The Listeners

"Is there anybody there?" said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grass
Of the forest's ferny floor;
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller's head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
"Is there anybody there?" he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller's call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:--
"Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word," he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.
[This post was created in Windows Live Writer which Flower Lady Lorraine suggested as an alternative to blogger’s problematic format.]


  1. I love that old gray homestead. You wonder what stories are floating around there. It's always sad though to see places like that slowly fall apart and fade away.

    Hurray ~ Windows Live Writer worked for you. I really love using it.

    Love and hugs to you ~ FlowerLady

    1. Lorraine; Folks who are 'fom here' know all these places by the old family names and many side roads in the county are named for the family who first lived there.

  2. Loved the pictures of the old barn and house, and also this poem which is perfect for this post.

    1. Lillian; I've thought of making a photo collection dedicated to shots of these old homesteads. Usually I see them when J. is driving--or the house is located in a bad place to stop the car.

  3. What a brilliant post ....I read your comment above ...I think a book of photos with the names or a little history would be amazing ....otherwise they will be lost forever would be preserving history. xx

  4. We still have a couple of barns near here, even though the price of land is sky high!