Hey, My House Had One of Those!
TOH readers fondly recall the lost architectural details—from water pumps to milk boxes—that gave old houses character
For anyone lucky enough to own an old house, quirky features like a hand-cranked dumbwaiter or a gurgling radiator or shutters that actually work may be a part of everyday life. For the rest of us such details now exist only in memories of visits to Granddad's. The passion for old houses can start at an early age, as evidenced by all the letters and e-mails readers sent us recalling special details from homes they knew as kids. In fact, it makes us wonder what today's kids will talk about tomorrow—the silence of radiant heat?
"I miss the fresh springwater hand pump outside my grandparents' house. We
would fill our jugs with cold water and take them home to drink."
—Janet Daley-Grant, Berlin, N.H.
"My grandfather built my childhood home in 1936. Its front porch was 10 feet deep and ran the length of the front facade. It was a great place to play as a child and a great place to gather with the family."
—Michael Purnell, Springfield, Ill.
"I miss our old wooden screen door and my mother yelling, 'And don't slam the'—BANG!—'screen door!'"
—Hank Kennedy, Goffstown, N.H.
"Just up the road from our house my family had a vegetable garden. I used to ride there on my bike and fill the basket on the handlebars with fresh tomatoes for supper. When the garden was turned over in the spring, I kept my eyes open for arrowheads and other treasures."
—Mary Margaret Kellam, Shelbyville, Ind.
"We had a screened-in sleeping porch right off the back of our house.
I remember the crisp summer air breezing across my face at night as I fell asleep."
—Ralph Handy, Memphis, Tenn.
"The house I grew up in had a metal
milk box that held four milk bottles
in an exterior wall. It had doors on each side—one was for the milkman to deliver freshly filled bottles and pick up empties, and the other opened into the kitchen."
—Susan Allen, Murfreesboro, Tenn
"In the floor of my old bedroom there
was a heat register. It had an iron grate you could pull out and then peer into the room below you. Mine looked right down into our living room. Perfect for Christmas morning."
—Kate Craney-Welch, Wauwatosa, Wis.
"My grandmother had this beautiful light that was mounted on top of a newel post. It was made of this lumpy glass, and she'd put in a green lightbulb for St. Patrick's Day and a red one for Christmas."
—Gael Malloy, New York City
"I remember the storm shutters on my parents' house. They were thick, with
many coats of green paint. Now I wonder how many hurricanes they helped our family weather."
—John Maginnis, Covington, LA.
"The thing I miss most about old houses
is the eaves. Before air-conditioning,
the eaves extended far out from the roof on all sides to protect the house from the summer sun. Lying in bed at night when it rained, I could hear the water dripping off the roof. It was such a comforting feeling."
—LaureL Glasco, Newport News, VA.
"Our dumbwaiter took up the space
of a chimney, but it sure was useful
for moving laundry and trash to the
basement and food and dishes to and from the kitchen."
—Joan Phelps, Hot Springs, VA.
"We live in a beautiful house that was
built in 1993. The layout is lovely, but it definitely lacks the character and dignity of the circa-1920 house I grew up in. You can hear everything going on here—toilets flushing, conversations in other rooms, and so forth. But the walls in my old house were made of good old-fashioned plaster, which certainly kept secrets a whole lot better than today's new-fangled drywall."
—Megan Kearney-Bailie, New Fairfield, Conn.
"When I remember the 100-year-old Minnesota house I grew up in, the thing I recall most fondly is the old-fashioned steam radiators. In winter we used to come home after a freezing-cold day of ice skating, take off our mittens and socks, and drape them over the radiator. I can still smell the damp wool. Radiators make old houses feel so warm and cozy."
—Connie Roth-Ames, Salem, Oreg.
"I always thought the back staircase in my old house was the coolest thing. While the front staircase was both wide and formal, the back 'servants' staircase' was steep and dark, leading right into the kitchen. There was nothing like being able to run up one staircase and down another during a childhood game of hide-and-seek."
—'ED21,' on the TOH messageboards