The Farmhouse

The obsession started with the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, December 7.

I wanted to know the exact years my dad had been involved in WWII.

I found that he was there from 1942-end of war, as reflected on his enlistment document, which I was able to find on a Veteran’s Administration website.

At the same time, I looked up a few records that led me to the farmhouse.

Farmhouse

Built in 1825.

My grandfather’s dream property.

We had driven by it when I was a child on many Sunday afternoon drives.

Remember those?

I only remember it vaguely. It was very remote.

To access the dirt driveway, you had to turn off of the main paved road.

It sat on a hill, the huge barn blocking the entry a bit. Very wooded lot, with hilly farmlands surrounding.

We never went up to the door, my father wouldn’t hear of it. A proud man, he would not speak of the family tragedy.

As the years went by, I internalized more of the story. But I never wanted to see the house.

Until now.

My 2 brothers know of it, and its current value.

It has been turned into an equestrian property, something my mother would have loved.

When my grandparents purchased it in the 1920’s, it was a working dairy farm.

It had to have been a dream realized. Two immigrants who came with very little now owned a piece of Pennsylvania.

I was able to find the 1930 census, which listed the property at a value of $12,000. It is valued quite a bit higher these days.

When the Great Depression hit in the early 1930’s, my grandfather was a few hundred dollars away from full ownership.

He could not come up with the cash. The bank foreclosed.

He lost the farm. He lost his mind.

They were forced to move into the city, into steelworker’s housing, where he had lived with his mom when they arrived in the U.S. in 1911.

Now he had to return. It broke him.

He was institutionalized a few years later at a mental health facility for the indigent.

So here I was, on a sunny December day in 2015, almost a century later, wandering around the area.

The home was easy to find. And it is beautiful.

It has been elegantly restored, inside and out, from what I can see now on real estate listings that are so public.restored farmhouse.jpg

The entry road is now paved. Some of the woods have been cleared.

A huge circular driveway leads an visible path to the front door.

Garages and horse barns have been added.

I wanted to knock. I’d been warned by family of the “No Trespassing” signs which feature prominently on the now-gated acreage.

I pulled over. Gazed for a few minutes. There were several cars visible in the driveway. It seemed like a holiday gathering. So I kept going.

Maybe someday.

Only one name on the mailbox. Francis.

It was my grandfather’s and father’s name.

I cried a little.

 

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80 Responses to The Farmhouse

  1. wgr56 says:

    Excellent story. I feel your pain.

  2. TanGental says:

    Lovely post Van. My mother was a Francis too!

    • So interesting the name connections. There are 4 of them in my family, including 2 women called Frances. My sister, who was named so as the 3rd daughter (Frank was sure he’d never have a son.) And my mother in law. Another whole story. Thanks, Geoff.

  3. LaVagabonde says:

    Devastating to lose something you work so hard for. I wonder if the current residents ever wonder about the house’s history.

    • There is a new owner. I have wanted to contact the family who did so many renovations in the last decade with their young family. Not sure why they sold it, but I sense there is a story there. So…not sure. It’s not a happy history; tragedy in those walls. Thanks, Julie

      p.s….I’d want to know. We once lived in a 200 yr. old house. I would have loved to hear those stories. 💓

  4. I know. I’ve used that word often over this story. The story was that he turned to many of the immigrants whose passage he sponsored to come to the U.S. They wouldn’t help. It was what crushed him the most. My grandmother remained distant to that part of the family until the day she died. If only for a few hundred dollars.

  5. Wow very interesting, sad and remarkable story! Love the home. Thanks for telling us van

  6. Wow, just short a couple of hundred. I’m so sorry your grandpa lost the farm Van. ❤
    Diana xo

  7. misfit120 says:

    It’s sad how one can lose a home over owing a few hundred dollars. Even today you can pay off your mortgage but if you fail to pay property taxes they can still take your house. Isn’t America great.

    • I found the listing from 1932, where it was a “Sheriff’s sale”. Bittersweet discovery in those archives. I’m sure quite a few families were devastated at the time. The banks were merciless, no doubt equally terrified. Thanks for the comment.

  8. Ann Koplow says:

    I cried a little too, Van. Thanks for sharing this story, so beautifully.

    • I parked on the side of the road, stayed for about 20 minutes, just taking it all in… it was one of the more moving episodes of recent days, Ann. It’s interesting…I’d most likely have been born on that farm, if circumstances had been different. Thanks for feeling it a bit. 💔

  9. C.E.Robinson says:

    Van, this is so sad! It seems unbelievable what your grandfather went through! I’ve gotten into grandparents history lately and I’m stunned by what I’ve learned. In many ways their history gives us pause for thought at bad endings & empathy for their struggles. Always the unanswered question, what would have happened if…! Hope your new year start is a happy one! Chryssa

    • What if…always comes up, Chryssa. There were so many changes in the family dynamic because of all this; the most interesting was my dad’s cavalier attitude about $$. He enjoyed life, spent his dollars well, and taught us a lot about how NOT to worry about finances. Lessons learned from tragedy. I still hear his voice in my ear…all the time. Thanks. It looks like 2016 will be a good one ! 💝

  10. Such a poignant anecdote from your family history.

    • It really is, Laura. Thanks.

      • I am a family historian (one of my many hobbies) and I often find myself moved by the struggles and tragedies that afflicted my family, even when they are people I did not know and who died centuries before I was born. The closer the relative, of course, the more heartbreaking it is to think of the tribulations of their lives.

  11. joey says:

    Terrible story.
    There are so many similar stories, it’s a tragedy.

  12. Oh, Van how sad! I have a story about my Grandfather who came to Kansas from Russia. They farmed the land until it was left to my grandfather. He couldn’t eve grow rocks! Times were bad. The depression was in full swing. My Grandfather sold the land to a cousin. A few years later he struck oil on the land and became a millionaire… ❤ Happy New Year fiend.

  13. Fiend… good grief! Friend! LOL! ❤

  14. How touching… Thanks for sharing in such a heartfelt way.

  15. I had a similar experience on a much smaller scale. I had not returned to the house we lived in until my parents divorce. When searching for Hospice care for my grandmother, I chose what looked the best and they were in Duncanville. Something pulled me to our old house, I drove by. A flood of tears overflowed. All my childhood memories filled my head, even the worst memories. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back, What’s the point after so many bed memories. It’s looking forward for me. Oddly enough I haven’t gone back to my grandparents house. The day will come.
    🙂
    M

    • It was a strange experience for me, M. I understand the “something” you speak of. After I left the house, I made a wrong turn on a country road and ended up going past the now-abandoned psych facility that he lived in for so long. That freaked me out, quite a bit. I’d never seen the place in person until that day.

  16. Outlier Babe says:

    Van, what a true tragedy–a monstrous unfairness with a terrible outcome. I understand how seeing that house changed, and lived in by people entirely unrelated, would hurt, as if you’re experiencing your grandfather’s loss and grandmother’s pain all over again. I hope you will try again to visit–perhaps write a letter beforehand, seeing if a a time can be pre-arranged.

  17. An evocative piece. The action of the bank was appalling

    • My father remained distrustful of banks for the rest of his life. He never kept a checking account, paid bills in cash, etc. I’ll have to write about the encounter we had when I applied for a college loan. Fascinating.

  18. Nurse Kelly says:

    Oh my gosh, Van, what an incredible story. Brought tears. And the mailbox name! Can’t imagine what your grandfather went through… brings me thankfulness for what I have, and the realization that things can change at anytime. Thanks for sharing another one of your beautiful stories – always expertly written as well. Have a wonderful day, my friend. xo

  19. The V-Pub says:

    A beautiful and bittersweet memory, Van. Such a strange coincidence about the name on the mailbox. Perhaps there is a message there beyond the mailbox?

  20. A sad and beautiful post. It is tragic to think how people like your grandparents can work so hard and end up in such sad state. My grandparents have a similar story but for them it was two fires that destroyed the farm and they could not rebuild a third time.

  21. This story is tragic and heartbreaking, Van. Oh, I feel so sorry for your grandfather and the loss of his dream. I think sometimes people/institutions under-value our connection to “place,” especially, when we’ve put our backs and savings into turning a piece of the world into a home. I can understand the tears ❤

  22. lbeth1950 says:

    This story must have affected your tremendously. What if? What if? Owning land lifted a family up economically and socially. My Grandmother’s family had always been proprietors of a store I the Virginia Mountains until the Depression.. When her father went bankrupt, he attempted suicide. A few days later, he slipped out in the night on his debts and moved to Texas wher my grandmother lived with her husband. My Grandmother only found out the details many years later when she went back to her childhood home in Virginia for a visit when she was in her seventies.

  23. Such a bittersweet story. There are no coincidences in life. How did the name on that mailbox come to be is the question. I wonder if the new owners know of it’s history or is there a relation. Very interesting.

  24. Beautiful post x I returned to my grandparents old church cottage, which was a tiny 2 bedroomed cottage. It was where my mom grew up with her 4 sisters, they all shared a room. It had been extended and beautifully renovated – but it made me sad to see the changes x

    • Any kind of cottage…just lovely. But, I know what you mean, Lisa. The original house was about 900 square ft. Now, it is over 3500, with lots of upgrades. Thanks for the visit .☺

  25. Moving family story. Reminds me, too, of when I lived in Valley Forge, PA as a teenager. We lived there just one and a half years, but I really loved it. So beautiful.

    • So much history in the area, Kitt. My mother’s family came over to Philly centuries ago. ☺

      • We lived there during the bicentennial reenactment of Washington’s encampment in Valley Forge. People actually reenacted the stay by camping out during a record-breaking cold snowy winter in the National Park. It was awesome to see history reenacted. Such a sense of pride and appreciation of the area’s historical significance.

      • So cool that you were around for it, Kitt. And a bit ironic for me…I lived in the area most of my life, but spent ’76 in Utah. Go figure. ☺

      • Actually, Washington stayed in Valley Forge the winter of 1777-78. Bicentennial of Valley Forge followed bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence.

  26. George says:

    What a beautifully written piece, Van. How heartbreaking for your family and to know he was only a few hundred dollars away from ownership. It seems so little now but must have felt like a mountain then. A beautiful home…maybe one day you’ll ring the doorbell.

  27. roweeee says:

    Van, I have been so moved by your post as well as the comments where people have shared their personal stories. Your grandparents’ situation was tragic. My great grandfather had a breakdown during the Depression and my grandmother had to leave school at 12.
    My other grandparents had seven kids and a reasonably large house with all sorts of nooks and crannies. People were always coming and going and it was a special part of my childhood and right up until I was about 18 when my grandmother sold it to the local Catholic Church and it’s now their Presbytery. On the day of my grandmother’s funeral which was held at this Church a couple of years ago and a good 25 years after it sold, the house was being renovated. We were early for the funeral and in my usual crazed state, I talked my way in and photographed the kitchen as it was before they pulled it out. I think it was pretty much an original but good quality 1940s kitchen.
    It was such an intense experience running through there like that on the day of her funeral but it really felt like it was meant to be.
    People these days are often interested in the history of their house and wonder about who lived there and if only the walls had ears. Might be worth sending them a copy of an old photo and making contact.
    xx Rowena

    • Wow…you are so right, Ro. It seems everyone has a story…and yours is a lovely one. I can’t imagine walking those rooms again and feeling the memories. I would love to make contact with the new owners some day, maybe soon…it seems to be calling to me. Thanks for sharing. ❤️

  28. This is such a moving and poignant story. A beautiful post.

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