Tuesday, September 7, 2010

They Do Steeples Better Than Us

We just returned from a trip to New England where, yes, they do steeples better than in the South.  The steeples up there are tall and slim, reaching for the heavens and anchoring the towns where they sit.  Here, more often than not, the steeples are short, squat, and questionable as to whether the building might be better off without the appendage at all.  Don't believe me?  Check out this book The Steeples of Old New England: How the Yankees Reached for Heaven and see for yourself. 

Another thing that New England does better?  Appreciating and reusing old buildings.  Very seldom do you see an old house falling into ruin up there.  Whether in town or further in the country, the houses are often bigger with many attached buildings (known as Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England).  Somehow, despite the complaints of high taxes and property values, people manage to keep the buildings presentable and often looking worthy of a spot in Better Homes and Gardens.  

What's the difference between New Englanders and those who live in our area?  Maybe its Yankee thrift.  The building is there, so it should be reused, not torn down or left to rot while the owner lives in a far less subtantial building next to it.  People aren't afraid to turn the barn into a house or studio, change the layout of the rooms, and celebrate the workmanship and quality of a house built prior to the Civil War.  They'll even move buildings rather than tear them down.  The attention to detail has created a market for craftsmen who can restore old windows, install clapboard siding, and duplicate old woodwork, a la This Old House.   All those beautiful buildings tug at the heartstrings and generate tourism dollars from people who  want to experience the ambiance of New England and feel the pull back to a simpler time. 

So what's happened here in Southwest Virginia?  There is a strong tie to one's "homeplace".   Unfortunately, the homeplace is often weeded up and falling to the ground.  No one has lived there since several generations ago and the family either hasn't been able to agree on who owns the property or can't afford to do anything with the house.  So everything collapses.  Some of us have surmised that this might be tied to the Appalachian way of life that has so been shaped by outsiders coming in and exploiting natural resources, creating a throw away existence for many.  Due to mining, lumbering, and industry, people are less bothered by the raping of the landscape, including collapsing homes and towns.  What would be completely unacceptable in New England becomes an every day occurrence experienced by generations of Appalachian dwellers.  

Sad, but a possible explanation as to why historic preservation is so much more difficult to sell in this area.  Not so sure that explains the steeples though...

No comments:

Post a Comment