Friday, December 29, 2017

The Old House

A lot of my family hails from the small town of Charleston, Arkansas, which sits in the far western edge of the state and is one of the two county seats of Franklin County. We've been there for generations, probably arriving in Charleston sometime around the 1850s. One of my great-great-great-great relatives, named A.J. Singleton, opened a stagecoach stop in 1854 just outside of Charleston, which was part of the Butterfield Overland Express Line that connected the Mississippi River to California. His daughter, Julia Singleton, was the first female school teacher in the area. They are both buried in a small cemetery in Charleston that my family maintains, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The old stagecoach stop is long gone, but there are a few old buildings in Charleston that have a connection to that distant family history. There is an old house, sitting just off of Main Street, that was either built or purchased by my relatives in 1871. Despite its age, the house has been preserved, with the original well sitting next to it (which still has water), and a few outbuildings like the smoke shack and the chicken coop that are still there (although they are definitely showing their age). The house has been vacant since the 1960s.


The old house has seen decades of history - the house sits by Main Street and was within view of the complex of buildings that are home to Charleston's elementary and high schools. The Charleston schools made their small note in history by being the first school district in the South to completely integrate all grades in 1954. The school has been designated a National Commemorative Site by the National Park Service.


A distant branch of the family owns the house, and a decision was made recently to put the land up for sale. It sold, which unfortunately means that the house will probably be torn down soon. It's heartbreaking news. But I have to admit it's not too surprising. The land around the house was sold earlier this year, and a big gas station was built just feet away from the house. I figured it was only a matter of time before something like this happened.

When I was in Charleston to visit family for Christmas, I was given the opportunity to go inside the old building one last time to take a few pictures. So my Aunt Nette and I got the old key, which took a few tries to get to turn in the rusty lock on the front door.


And a shot of the front door, with a few tattered curtains hanging in the windows.


And the opposite view, looking through the windows from the inside. Just through the windows you can see the outline of the gas station, and its trash cans and the spot where the people who work there go to take their smoke breaks.


This was actually only the second time I've been inside the house, which has only really been used for storage in the last few decades. There was a lot of old junk lying around, with a thick layer of dust covering everything.


In this room we did find a few old books, including one with a handwritten note from 1891. I found one with a note that was dated 1906, which mentioned going to see Vice President Fairbanks (we had to look him up, he was the Vice President under Teddy Roosevelt). We kept the books.


There was this bright orange-red curtain hanging in one of the windows, which I'm guessing was one of the last modern touches added to the house before people moved out (I'm guess it's from the 60s, but I could be wrong).


I took some more pictures, just to more document the place than anything else. It was hard to think that a place that has stood for so many years could possibly be gone soon. It seems like such an ignoble end to such a historic place.


This is a view of the back of the house, which was covered with tin. There were also several old oak trees here, which I'm afraid will probably be cut down too.



I ended up getting lots of pictures of this old window, with its frayed curtains and the peeling paint on the frame surround by rusty tin.


Maybe it was knowing that the house would probably be torn down soon, but the visit there just had an air of melancholy and sadness. Once the house is gone, this part of history which is shared not just by my family but by the small town of Charleston will be gone. I guess that there is an argument that the land can be used by someone new, to possibly create a new house that could provide new memories and history. But I hate that this house had to be sacrificed for that, just to make way for something new.


It deserves a better fate.

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