One often thinks of the past as a ‘simpler’ time. I’m sure those who lived before us would not think of their lives as more simple. Imagine working farm fields and tending to livestock for 16 hours a day. War, whether it be with the middle east, the far east, europe, or right here at home, has always been with us. And think what you will about our current state of health care, I wouldn’t trade it for the ‘good ol’ days!’ The ramifications of the decisions one faced in the past were much greater than the myriad, yet relatively inconsequential, decisions we make today. Yet, as the decision date looms, I continue to struggle with whether or not to cancel the agreement of sale to buy the King Street house.
As I struggle with the decision, I continue to do my homework. I have been getting prices for sheet rock, electrical and plumbing supplies, and a huge dumpster for demolition debris. I also spoke with the borough zoning officer about various permits. Surprisingly, he was familiar with the house. The house is nestled in the midst of the densely populated borough, surrounded for miles in every direction with lots of houses on rather small lots. However, he recalled seeing a reproduction of an old hand-drawn map of the area, and believed the house was depicted sitting by itself surrounded by farmland. Knowing the area as it is now, this seemed absurd.
Standing on the front porch of the house, with cars and trucks whizzing by, and houses all around, the idea of being surround by quiet farmland seems impossible. However, if one actually thought about it, blocking out the present, noting the kernels of history dotted throughout the county, the image started to seem entirely possible. We’ve all seen ‘ye olde’ post cards and historical photos, depicting life of years long passed. I have often looked at the old photos of Stroudsburg that are hung in various businesses around town, wistfully imagining an earlier time (I was tempted to say ‘a more simple time,’ but I don’t think the early settlers were finding life very ‘simple.’).
There are records of a Dutch settlement on the Delaware River in 1659, and established settlements within a few miles of Stroudsburg in 1727. Despite attacks and massacres between Indians and white settlers, the area continued to grow. Stroudsburg was well on the way by the late 1700’s. Monroe County was formed in 1836, carved out of Pike County to the north and Northampton County to the south. It was named after the 5th President, James Monroe, who died in 1831. The imposing Romanesque stone courthouse in the middle of downtown Stroudsburg was built in 1890. (www.livingplaces.com). There is one photo I am particularly fond of, which shows a tree-lined street leading to the courthouse, ‘busy’ with horse and buggy traffic. It’s fun to think that a former owner of the King Street house may have ridden a horse through the fields (now seven blocks) to town.
I am starting to realize why this decision is a struggle. It’s not that I don’t want to do it, because I definitely do. I want to use my hands and my back, working with wood and other materials. I will also learn from doing the project. It involves every aspect of home renovation, and will surely be a test of all that I know. There is also sure to be a test of mental strength as well. The difficulty of learning what to do, and long days of hard labor, will be further weighted with self-doubt and second guessing my decision. For whatever reason, testing myself, both mentally and physically, is a common thread in my various endeavors. This home renovation project will be no different in my apparent quest to test what I am made of.
No less important, there is something to be said for breathing life into an old house. Many generations have lived in this house, building it, maintaining it, adding to it, and renovating it. I have worked on old houses before, and I like the idea of being one of many people to work on a particular house, becoming part of its history. Often times one will find a message in a wall, someone memorializing their project. Or a scrap of newsprint from a time not often thought of anymore. Many people before us have lived our lives. They have experienced our various joys and sorrows. To skin one’s knuckle on an old hand hewn timber, or admire a new wooden floor, as surely happened 110 years ago as well, is to somehow become a part of history, working in that earlier time.
Coming back to the present, though, should I really do this? The house does not have any historical value. It does not have any significant woodwork or other features attesting to its age. The house is simply old. It would be a renovation, not a restoration. Is the investment viable? Can I afford it? It’s all well and good to test the strength of my back, and the strength of my spirit, but to possibly do it all for a house that won’t sell, or the rent won’t cover the expense, that is a test I don’t want to take.