ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Living in an Historic Home

Updated on July 25, 2012
An historic home in eastern Pennsylvania.
An historic home in eastern Pennsylvania. | Source

Historic homes can be lovely, but they aren't for everyone.

Living in an historic home can be like living inside the pages of a history book. It can be fun if you like winding staircases and hidden doors, and it can give you a better understanding of the history of the area. But it can also be frustrating when you hit your head on a low doorway for the millionth time. If you are thinking about living in an historic home, here are some things to consider.


Researching the ownership of an historic home could require a trip to the courthouse.
Researching the ownership of an historic home could require a trip to the courthouse. | Source

History of the house

Finding out when and how an historical home was built will give you an idea of some of the potential challenges you'll face living there. Understanding the historical signficance of the property will help you to make important decisions about remodeling/restoring it.

Research

Start by researching the history of the area in which the house is located. Note any prominent historical events, figures or land-owners . In some cases you might be able to find information about the property just from the online search, especially if it was owned by someone who was famous or if it is located in an area of historical significance (for example, on or adjacent to a battlefield). In most cases, however, you’ll probably need to head to the courthouse or the county recorder's office in order to trace the deeds of sale and determine who the original owner was. Even with a fairly complete set of records you still may not find an actual construction date. A house that began as an outbuilding on a larger property may not have any records until the property was split and the house was sold. However, you may be able to find some additional information via tax records. Taxes can also give you some insight into the size and style of the home during its early years. For example, in colonial times homes were often taxed on things like windows – the more windows, the higher the tax.

Clues to an historic home's past

Old window frames between rooms are an indication that an addition has been built on to the original structure.
Old window frames between rooms are an indication that an addition has been built on to the original structure. | Source
An old medicine bottle found on the property of an historic home.
An old medicine bottle found on the property of an historic home. | Source

Clues from the house itself

You can learn quite a bit about an historical home simply by taking a close look at it. Familiarize yourself with the type of materials used to build it. Look for anomalies or oddities that could indicate that the house has been added onto, like outside doors that are right next to each other, or windows that look from one part of the house into another. You might even be able to detect subtle changes in the building materials or evidence of joins that mark the oldest parts of the home from the newer additions.

Clues from the property

Walk the property and look very closely for evidence of barns, outbuildings and other structures. The buildings themselves may no longer be standing, but the foundations are likely still there. They may be covered with dirt or overgrown and difficult to see initially. Allow your eye to “skim” the area and look for “hills” or “bumps” that seem out of place with the rest of the terrain. You might need to get out a shovel or trowel and do some careful digging to reveal what is underneath. Digging might also reveal artifacts like old bottles or farm tools that can give you a glimpse into what life was like for the former tenants of your home.

The foundation is all the remains of this old barn.
The foundation is all the remains of this old barn. | Source
Historic homes can have narrow and winding staircases which can be difficult to navigate.
Historic homes can have narrow and winding staircases which can be difficult to navigate. | Source

National Register of Historic Places

State
# of Properties Registered
Pennsylvania
3,257
New York
5,400
Massachusetts
4,000
Florida
1,600
California
2,533
Connecticut
1,500

Charming or Perilous?

Pros and Cons

Historic homes can have a delightful charm all their own – beautiful old brick or fieldstone exteriors, cozy corners, quaint rooms, and large attics. The property may have barns, sheds, or spring houses as well as mature trees and landscaping. At the same time, however, living in an historic home comes with a certain number of challenges. Old homes often have old wiring, old plumbing fixtures, or an awkward layout (like bedrooms that open into each other). Some have high ceilings that make the rooms difficult to heat or cool. Others have low ceilings that feel claustrophobic and force you to duck to get through the doorways.

Restoration

Living in an historic home automatically makes you a caretaker of a piece of the past. As a result, extra consideration should be given to the best way to preserve the history while at the same time making the home a safe and comfortable place to live. Removing and replacing old plumbing or electrical systems can be complex, not to mention expensive. The way the home was constructed may prevent you from being able to add certain amenities. Additionally, the possibility of lead paint, asbestos or other hazardous materials could require that special care be taken during the remodeling process. Unless you have experience in handling such projects, it is recommended that you consult a contractor that specializes in restoration work.

Other considerations

Could the home be haunted?

While there are claims of hauntings in some historic homes, there are also many others for which no such claims are made. It has been suggested that a home takes on the personalities of the people who have lived there. However, these people were usually hard-working family folk who loved and cared for the property. Ultimately you have to spend time in a home and make your own assessment about how it feels to you. Remember that old houses tend to have noisy heating systems, rattling pipes and creaking floorboards. After you’ve gotten to know the house better these noises will become familiar to you and will become part of the normal background noise.

Is historic home ownership for you?

To successfully live in an historic home you need to be able to love its charms and be willing to put up with its flaws. You need to accept that restoration projects will take longer and cost more, depending on what needs to be done. Most of all, you need to love history and appreciate the special responsibility that comes with caring for a piece of it.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Jenn-Anne profile image
      Author

      Jenn-Anne 5 years ago

      Thanks Mhatter99! I feel your pain - repair and upkeep on an historic home can be quite a challenge.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this. I live in an original Henry Doelger house. My biggest challenge is repair.

    • profile image

      klarawieck 5 years ago

      Well, they are beautiful! The house has a lot of charm.

    • Jenn-Anne profile image
      Author

      Jenn-Anne 5 years ago

      Thanks so much klarawieck! I can only imagine what it must have been like to live in an old home that has had no restoration work done - that must have been really hard! All houses need maintenance. Historic houses just need more of it and it can be more complicated to do. Yes, the pics in this hub are of my parents' house - the house I grew up in. The oldest part was built in the 1770s.

    • profile image

      klarawieck 5 years ago

      Jenn-Anne, I grew up in Cuba, in a building that was built during the late 19th century and which had never been restored. The roof would cave in whenever it rained a lot and we had all sorts of other issues. Most of those historic buildings in Havana are falling apart. Then here in Miami, I've always rented older homes, from the 50's and 60's, and even those seem to require a lot of maintenance. But yes, purchasing a historic home can be rewarding, I suppose. Those pictures you posted are beautiful. Is that your home? It has a lot of personality!

      Beautiful hub! Thanks.

    • Jenn-Anne profile image
      Author

      Jenn-Anne 5 years ago

      Thanks Jeff! It can be a lot of work to properly restore a home but the results are so worth it. Do you have a hub about the experience? I'd love to see pics! The pictures in this hub are of my parents' house, the oldest part of which was built in the early 1770s. Like your home in MA, it has been completely restored with period-accurate building materials, paints etc. For years we had to put up with rooms that were in various states of completion. It wasn't easy at all, but that's what it means to love an historic home.

    • Jeff Gamble profile image

      Jeff Gamble 5 years ago from Denton, Texas

      Jenn-Anne - Terrific hub! Before moving to TX, I owned an 1856 Greek Revival farmhouse in Massachusetts. We restored the house sills to shingles, trying our best to keep every detail (aside from the indoor plumbing!) as accurate tot he period as possible. We found a mill works that had reproductions of the molding and stair balusters, and we looked to the National Trust paint collection for period colors. When excavating for a detached garage, we found the foundation of an old barn and a few cow bones. It was a lot of work, and you really need to have a passion for it. But it was also a lot of fun, and I would do it all over again.

    • Jenn-Anne profile image
      Author

      Jenn-Anne 5 years ago

      Thanks Angied83! Old homes can be quite quirky but also very cool.

    • angied83 profile image

      Angie D 5 years ago from Cebu, PH

      You have some useful information here, Jenn-Anne. I love old houses and am always interested in learning about its history. Old houses have their own personalities and there's always the possibility of 'ghosts'. :-)