Why Writing Matters or How I Helped Save an Old Stone House

So often, the literary mind strays toward larger country, places where the voice can be heard far and wide. We dream about being bestsellers or winning prizes, but today I want you to think about what your skill can accomplish in your own neighborhood.

Now, something you should know is that I love ruins. Yeah, I’m a romantic dreamer, which is part of the reason I never finish my work.

“Oh, look! There’s a butterfly! Let’s write a poem about it!”

Below is a brief piece I wrote about an abandoned early-19th century home just down the street from my house. I’ve known this house all my life so when I heard that it was going to be torn down it broke my heart.

I sat at my kitchen table and decided to pour all my memories about the house into something like an essay. When it was finished, I sent it off to the local newspaper and they ran it in the next week’s edition.

The Old Stone House

The Richards house stands less than half a mile from my home. My children call it the Ghost House, because of a story I once heard, but most people recognize it simply as “The Old Stone House.”

According to local history, Ebenezer Richards built the house in 1811. Richards, a Welsh immigrant born in 1773, handed down the house his son Hiram. Both men are buried in the little cemetery up behind the SuperAmerica. Ebenezer’s daughter, Zipporah, is also buried in there. She married John McCoy, and the two built several homes before finally settling far enough away from the river so as not to be harassed by the Wyandotte tribe.

My first memory of the Richards house is from the late 1970s. At the time, there was a playground next to the house called the Tot Lot. There is a brief image of a summer sunset stretching across the Scioto River. We played until it was dark. As the shadows deepened in the window frames, I remember wondering who might have lived in that old house.

Of course, no one had lived there for a long time, and so much has changed since the first stones were laid.

At the library, I found a picture of the Scioto River as it looked in the mid-19th century. Thick trees crowded the riverbank. A plank bridge strung on heavy rope crossed the water, but the river looked as if it couldn’t have been much more than waist deep at the center. The cool waters sparkling in the sun reminded me of the Big Darby Creek. I felt I could see the lush shades of green trees and the dusty brown of the road that led to Hilliard.

I try to imagine the view from the Richards back porch, but that old river is gone. Now, the waters are far deeper and wider than Richards could have imagined. The river belongs to the scullers who coast silently over the surface most of the year and the boaters who motor along in search of pleasure when it is warm. The shore and the grassy heights belong to the omnipresent geese who seem to require evermore room to graze. There is no room for the Richards house it seems.

As I understand it, the Division of Water is fixed to demolish the Richards house in the spring. Today, it’s a dilapidated thing. Much neglected, graffiti sprayed over the plywood covering windows and doors. The roof on one side caved in a few winters ago.

It seems a pity to me though that this house cannot be saved, if only that some child might look up on a summer evening and wonder who might have lived there… Perhaps they might discover that the past is not so distant as the western shore.

What Happened Next

I didn’t think much about it, but then a few friends of mine in town talked about the letter. I heard that other people, people I did not know, were talking about it. A little while later, a group formed to save the house and marshaled enough resources and clout to stop the demolition.

Since I drive by the house every day, I watched the workmen come and begin the repairs. They put a new roof on the house and scrubbed the stone. They erected a fence around the property to keep kids from vandalizing it. Now it stands ready to become an historical center for our little part of the river region.

I really have no idea how much help my letter was in this whole process. I certainly could have pitched in with the others in the more practical work of raising money and such, but I like to think that I helped especially when I see the sculling crews drifting by on the smooth surface of the river at dawn.

5 thoughts on “Why Writing Matters or How I Helped Save an Old Stone House

  1. You brought back to people the essence of the house and the past lives involved, rather than just a “Save this house!” poster stuck on a tree. Summer nights and childhood memories resonate within us all, and emotion is what empowers action and commitment to purpose.

    I have an idea how much help your letter was.

  2. Thanks, Isle. I think you’re right. I wrote that piece straight from my gut. It probably had the same effect on others, especially those who shared similar experiences down by the river.

    Now, I have to write a piece about the WPA-era amphitheater they are interested in tearing down next. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Maps and Fiction

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