Soon after moving into Barefoot Manor, we noticed that the house next to us seemed to be empty. It was a little strange, because I remember noticing folks peeking at us out the windows when we came to tour our house before buying. We asked around the neighborhood, and heard that the folks living there had just disappeared between one day and the next, and the general feeling was that they had lost the house and just walked away from it. Within a couple of months, there was a for sale sign and that familiar paper we had seen on so many foreclosed homes taped to the front door.
I talked to Mom and Dad about the possibility of them purchasing it, since I couldn't at that time. We went over to look, and it was really kind of sad. The house was an old two story "farmhouse" style place. It had probably been built around 100 yrs ago, and it looked it. The former owners (and I mean the former owners for the last 50 years or so, not just the ones who left most recently) had not really taken care of the place. The foundation was crumbling, there were holes in the walls at every corner, the roof was falling apart. The chimney was falling apart, the back porch looked ready to fall right off the hosue, and you could see where rodents had been going in and out of the attic. Mr. Barefoot got to talk to the guys hired to clean out all the junk left inside the house, and they told him that it didn't have electricity upstairs and that the house had obviously been hard-used. The house had been adorable and charming once upon a time, but we quickly realized that it was beyond our resources to fix this one up.
So the house sat empty for another year.
The city finally bought it, and I got all excited thinking that they would possibly just knock the house down and make a small park on the lot. They have done that on a couple other lots here in town where there had been empty houses falling down, and I thought it would be wonderful to have that empty lot with some picnic benches and some pretty grass.
Then the city gave it to the Historical Society. So I started hoping that it would be restored, or at least dismantled and the bits salvaged.
That was not to be. They eventually condemned the house and donated the site to Habitat for Humanity.
The local fire dept used the house for drills for months. They practiced rescues and how to put out fires in different locations. It was noisy, but kind of fun to watch. Finally, this past Saturday, they burned it to the ground. I wasn't there to see it, but Mr. Barefoot sat outside most of the day watching the show. He said they set it on fire several times, and then practiced putting it out. I am sure it was a wonderful opportunity for the local firemen to practice, and it has inspired Little Sprout to be a fireman when she grows up. It seems the whole neighborhood showed up to watch, and Mr. Barefoot was kept very busy keeping them out of my flower beds. Rude people! Now the plan is for Habitat to build two homes on the same lot (ask me how I feel about THAT grrrrr...), and for local families to move in.
I know that several folks approached both the city and Habitat about salvaging some of the historic wood trim and other things from the home before they burned it, but I don't know what the result of that was.
So that is the story of the house next door. Right now I can look out my kitchen window and see the pile of (still smoking) rubble left behind. Soon crews will start cleaning up the mess, and building the new homes. I don't look forward to the noise while I am trying to sleep, or the people looking over my fence at me while I garden. Hopefully nice families will move in, and there won't be too many windows overlooking my yard.
Who says I am not an optimist?
Now, Fr. Peter, I am curious... what do they do with condemned homes over in your area? Or is allowing a home to get that run-down just not an option? I know that Americans do not have the same sense of national history that most other countries have, and that (especially in Europe) there are many MANY more historic buildings in wonderful condition than here. It seems, from what I have seen on the TV and in magazines, that many of the very old buildings I have seen are built with stone or brick. Does that make a difference? I know that in the U.S. (at least in MN), stone or brick is hard to come by and most homes are timber frame. We tend to let old homes fall apart and then replace them (atrocious behavior, but true). I am curious how things work in other parts of the world, so would you be willing to share? Thanks!