There is something a little mysterious about settling into a home that people lived in a century before you were born. You catch glimpses of its history–old foundations, new additions, overgrown pathways– things that make you wonder about the stories your place has to tell.
I figured that one day I’d put some work into finding out more, looking for old pictures, asking around this small town for stories. But yesterday I lucked out and found something else… the internet.
I know, right? You thought the internet and I broke up over the book situation, but we’ve reconciled over seventy years of aerial photos of my property.
I was actually looking for topographic maps of my county, and when I found them online, I also found an archive of aerial views of my property dating back to 1940. It would be amazing if they dated back to 1850, but uh, pretty sure the airplane wasn’t even invented until the early 1900’s so that is probably beyond the magic of the internet.
Aerial views only tell the story from one perspective, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a lot.
The resolution sucks, but I can tell the circle driveway was shorter, there was a big barn close to the road on the north side of the property but no silos and no sign of the corn barn that would later become my garage and workshop or the outbuilding that was clearly meant to house two stubborn little donkeys.
I can tell from this photo that the years between 1940 and 1960 are when the “farm” came into its own. You can see that the trees surrounding the yard had been cut down so the back field could be planted. There was a small shed-style addition on the back of the house, and at least two new barns were put up (one of them is the future donkey barn, and the other is the “rubble pile” that I spent a large chunk of time cleaning up last summer.)
It’s hard to tell, but I can see that by ’79 the silos had been added to the North barns, and the “middle barn” (the one that would become my garage and, most importantly, workshop) had also made an appearance.
The huge behemoth of a pole barn was added some time between ’79 and ’84, which means that damn thing is probably as old as I am. I actually figured it had been built in the last 10-15 years, so it was quite amazing to see how long it has been a part of the property.
This is the farm at the height of it’s glory, I imagine. Around this time, the surrounding acreage was sold off, and I heard from the neighbors that the farmer who lived here was paralyzed from a large bale of hay that fell on him in the barn.
By 1990, the property was no longer a working farm. You can see the silos were taken down (I can still see their foundations in the front yard today) some other outbuildings were removed, and judging by the new patio on the back of the house, the current addition was built. The big barn out front was still there, however, and oh how I wish it had been maintained and was still here for me to restore.
This is a lot like the property as I see it today, all of those trees are here, all of the structures other than the Old Barn, but the thing that strikes me the most is the driveway. It’s crazy to think it used to loop around the back side of the garage to get to the pole barn (I happen to be looking out my kitchen window at two little donkeys grazing in that exact spot as I write this.) It definitely explains all the random places I find gravel packed under the grass though.
By 2002, my heart breaks a little for the Old Barn, that has clearly been taken down. My neighbors tell me it happened overnight… there were some strong wind gusts, a crash, and the next time they looked out the window the thing was gone.
In 2005 I was just starting my own house adventures back on Garrison Road (if you can imagine, there are archives on this website dating back to 2004), I was also the manager of a plant that manufactured concrete block, so one of the great ironies of this story is that around the same time the Liberty House had it’s own “block yard.”
This is also around the time the concrete driveway was added (which I will be eternally grateful for) and the old gravel driveways began to disappear.
Also, oddly, I noticed in 2005 this “path to nowhere” showed up on the north side of the property.
Maybe they intended to build another house back there (I may or may not have considered what an excellent spot that would be for a little guest house, myself) but either way, that driveway has long since been taken back over by the field.
The is one of my favorite pictures of the property, if only because I can look at that block stacked next to the barns and know that I re-stacked all of those damn things (with help) last summer. Clearly the pieces of barn and roof I hauled into a dumpster came from that building to the left of the block pile. Best I can tell the thing collapsed on top of those blocks, which is how I ended up with this mess
Sometime before 2012
The archived aerials only go up to 2008, so I pulled this one from a different source. This is pretty much the property as I bought it, rubble pile and all. (And you can tell for damned sure that this is before anyone put me in charge of mowing. I couldn’t make lines that straight with a ruler.)
And all of this makes me wonder how I’ll leave my mark on the landscape of this property over the next year, and the next decade. Heaven knows I’ve got some ideas…
I’ve got years of projects on my mind already, but first things first, this weekend I need to put a fence in for the donkeys.
Wow – what a goldmine of pictures. I can see a hallway of framed evolution project forming 🙂
Can I add how envious & jealous I am ;-]
I’m disappointed that in all of those years of aerial shots, not one showed a crop circle.
Haha! Darn it!
You’re property is gorgeous! It’s pretty much my dream for my next home. We currently only have 1.25 acres, and it’s just not enough for all that we want to do (plus we have SO MANY NEIGHBORS, and I really don’t want to worry if I need to chase my puppy at 5:30 am with no pants).
I hate myself right now, lol.
What a great treasure you found. My only source for aerial pictures is Google Earth–but perhaps I just haven’t looked far enough. During our farm search, I noticed that most of the properties we saw had a framed aerial shot hanging in their front hall (although the one we bought is the one that doesn’t, of course). Perhaps there’s a heretofore unknown industry of flying farm photographers?
So cool that you have so much info! I should start searching on our property!
I have to say, I’m pretty jealous about the tree house project. :o)
That’s insane! I don’t know how you find the time/energy/sanity to not only maintain that piece of property, but actually give the whole friggin’ thing a facelift eventually. Props to you! (Haha, get it? Props = property… nevermind, that’s just terrible)
Another great way to check out the history is to go through the census – the censuses collected all sorts of information about amount of people lived in the house,what kind of crops they had, what animals, how much they produced, if they owned or mortgaged the property – if they took on boarders, if they owned the property etc… sometimes ancestory.com gives free access for a week. I MAY have stayed up till 4 in the morning reading up on family tree that founded and farmed on my little Greek Revivial farmhouse. We had one family that helped found our town, and kept farming the land until the 1940’s. Pretty neat.
Aren’t old photos the greatest? Our local aerials go back to the 40’s too, so maybe it was something nationwide that was instituted, however ours are to blurry to tell much from. As an aside, aerial photography goes much further back than airplanes. Some of the greatest I’ve seen are obliques taken from hot air balloons shortly after cameras came on the scene!
Great photos. I feel a real kinship to the former inhabitants of my 150 year old house. I used a metal detector and swept the grounds a few times. The payoff was finding the site of the old privy which had been used to discard their garbage. It was a great source of interesting shards. Good luck with the fencing.
Cool photos and would like to see these framed chronologically in an office or in the donkey barn!
The coolest find I’ve had was the original blueprints for my last house. Oh how I wanted to frame them and hang them in the living room!
That’s such an awesome post – so amazing to see the transformation of the property by air over time. We are doing our own renovation in Australia of a 1950’s house, and luckily the lady living next door has lived there since she was 10 – she has been great in telling us the history of the house and how the interior layout has changed over time.
For older images, try an internet search for “Sanborn Maps” for your area. The Sanborn Company made maps for insurance companies from shortly after the Civil War until pretty recently. The maps show houses and outbuildings and what they were constructed of and are very detailed.
What an amazing find, thank you for sharing them with us! I particularly enjoyed this post even though the hi jinks counter wasn’t as high as usual. I know we won’t have to wait long before this site moves to irresponsiblepurchasesofheavymachinery.com
Only thing worse than changing your tire three times in a month? changing TREADS.
Now I am imagining your bulldozer on the side of the highway, which you had to drive to work through a series wacky coincidences and half-sensible reasons. It is jacked up on one side, passed by what must be dozens of other drivers who slow down to try to help the Poor Stranded Crazy Woman before speeding off when they realize they know nothing about bulldozer repair.
It practically writes itself!
Very cool. I work in a USDA building and we have old aerial maps like that.
Those are so cool! It’s fascinating to find out the history of a home and area, particularly comparing the images over the years.
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I have been stalking your donkey antics for a little while now as we are considering adding donks to our farm. But these pictures were enough to bring me out of the shadows!
I suspect there was a farmhouse here before our house was built. Can you talk about *how* you found these photos? Is it something your county does or is it another resource that others might use?
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