Six Reasons Why More Americans Should Care About Saving Old Homes

I recently read Marni Jameson’s column about the historic Capen House in Winter Park, Florida. In it, she laments that a historic house – and a recently restored one at that – may be torn down to make way for a new, more contemporary home on the lot. She includes portions of an interview with Nicole Curtis, host of HGTV’s Rehab Addict, about the house. The gem from that was Curtis’ advice to buyers who intend to destroy a historic house in order to build anew on the lot:  “If you don’t like old houses, don’t buy one. Find some vacant land and build there.”

Another historic house gone…a rash of tear downs across Chicago’s North Shore has preservationists growing increasingly concerned.

Curtis also gave six reasons why more Americans should care about saving old homes. I thought they were so on target, I’m posting them here and hoping they may be read throughout the land, and certainly throughout real estate circles. They also nicely coincide with Adventures in Preservation‘s guiding principles – another reason to share them here.

Six Reasons Why More Americans Should Care About Saving Old Homes

  • Because tearing them down is wrecking our history. Countries rich in culture value history and buildings. “In Italy and France, you see 300-year-old buildings housing subways,” she said. “They make them work, they don’t tear them down.”
  • Because it’s bad for our Earth. Most of the wreckage will not be salvaged. All that glass and plaster goes into landfills.
  • Because you can never replicate these houses once they’re gone. The woodwork alone came from 200-year-old trees. These homes were built before electricity, and were made by hand with handmade nails.
  • Because we don’t need new homes. “We have enough vacant homes to put everyone in America in a house,” said Curtis. “We need to take care of what we have.”
  • Because we’re losing our uniqueness. “There is something beautiful about traveling through America and seeing its distinct neighborhoods. Houses that get torn down and rebuilt erase that character.”
  • Because of their quality. “When you have a 100-year-old home made of timbers not particle board, it is solid. These homes have withstood decades of human life and natural disasters. But not city commissions and other self interests.”

About Adventures in Preservation

Huge fans of the world's architectural heritage, making it a point to seek out historic buildings wherever we travel. Bloggers include co-founder of Adventures in Preservation, a non-profit organizing historic preservation-based volunteer vacations, and AiP interns.
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22 Responses to Six Reasons Why More Americans Should Care About Saving Old Homes

  1. Pingback: Six Reasons Why More Americans Should Care About Saving Old Homes | Old Homes – Allentown Edition

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  3. Ginny D says:

    I love this. My great-aunt travels around Virginia, photographing homes that are at least 100 years old so that the photographs can be turned into sketches and made into a calendar for the Woman’s Club of Virginia. Without these homes, we would lose a piece of our history. It’s happening at a much faster pace as the homes that are now 100 years old are from the 1910s.

    • What a great story!

      Much of my love of old houses comes from riding my bike around Oldwick, NJ and photographing the houses there. It wasn’t until I took an architectural history course in college that I realized all that they represented!

  4. Pingback: Don’t like old houses? Don’t buy one. Simple. « I Speak Vintage

  5. I’ve never lived in a house less than 75 years old. I currently live in a late-1800’s farm house and it’s so sturdy, that the derecho we had last summer barely caused a motion.

  6. Wonderful, simple and concise. I would suggest that there should be two more reasons added in:
    1. They create wonderful, walk-able streetscapes. One historic house is nice, but a street filled with them is wonderful for all passerbys. They also create a strong context to create thoughtful new construction, when approached with a mind to complement rather than contrast.
    2. They are beautiful. You mention craftsmanship and being made of quality materials, but that intangible, beauty, is so often lost in newer construction as well. As preservationists, we try to hard to promote our cause with logical, economic based reasoning. This is understandable since beauty is hard to quantify and we are afraid of being labeled “hysterical taste police”. However, shying away from discussions of beauty/ attractiveness devalues a fundamental human need in our built environment. Our society needs to learn to value beauty again. Many historic buildings are the only way our children are exposed to beautiful architecture.

    • You hit the nail on the head – historic houses just have so much more natural appeal, perhaps because they’re more solidly built and have such presence. Maybe we need to start an “Old is Beautiful” campaign!

  7. Little Kid says:

    The home I live in is certainly not 100 years old. However, it was built in 1954, board by board and nail by nail. It is located in Biloxi, Mississippi less than one mile from the Gulf of Mexico. This home has withstood two of the most destructive hurricanes in the history of the United States. Hurricane Camille in August 1969 and Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, as well as many other significant hurricanes such as Betsy, Frederick, and Elena. Yet, because of the way it is built, never suffered any damage, not even a broken window!!! Would not trade this house for any of the newer ones, even if it does only have one bathroom. 🙂

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  9. Paul Moore says:

    Excellent article! I’m from the UK, but I’ve been living near Stewart Manor on Long Island for just over a year. Although I’m a university English lecturer by profession, I’m also deeply interested in history and photography. Ever since I arrived here, I’ve been sickened by how many old building have been left to rot. It really is shameful. In Europe, our old buildings are regarded as an integral part of our history and culture and we do everything possible to preserve them. That’s why anyone visiting Europe can often find themselves walking through villages, towns and even whole cities that were constructed in the Middle Ages or even in Roman times. We are proud of our ancient heritage.

    Naturally, I’m aware that the USA (as it is today) is a young country; but modern Americans should not forget that native Americans lived here for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. Whatever the case, both native American and more modern (100-, 200-, 300- and 400-year-old) structures should be saved for posterity, and the government should be footing the bill.

    Easier said than done, some of you will say, but it makes me wince to see so many obviously carefully selected, beautifully renovated old buildings being used as bases for historical societies when other old buildings nearby are left to collapse. I’ve noticed that most towns on Long Island (and probably around the whole country) have ‘resident’ historical societies, but what exactly do these historical societies do? I realize that they don’t have an unending stream of money to buy and preserve all the old buildings in the area, but it pains me to see so much extreme wealth in places like Great Neck, Sands Point, Roslyn and Old Westbury (the second wealthiest town in the nation) when houses that were built by the early settlers are dilapidated and boarded up or torn down to make way for modern monstrosities. These old buildings are your history and culture and they must be saved at all cost otherwise there will be nothing left to be proud of.

    If anyone is interested, you’ll find some of my photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rhedae/. If you want to simply browse, that’s fine. But if you click on ‘Sets’, you’ll find folders containing photos of medieval houses, churches, manor houses and castles in Europe, and historical buildings on Long Island (some in great shape and some disgracefully neglected). Feedback is always welcome.

  10. Larry Stevens says:

    I live in a 1928 vintage Arts & Crafts bungalow. While not built before electricity, it was built before air conditioning. It was built to stay as comfortable as possible without the benefit of air conditioning and therefore saves me money on my summer electricity bills. That also means that it is easier on the planet.

    The ethos behind the Arts & Crafts movement calls for architecture that improves the quality of life for the workers who build the structures, the people who live in them and the people who live among them. That idea is totally lost in today’s world but the beauty, integrity and quality of life for those of us who live in these older neighborhoods is not. It’s well worth protecting.

  11. Pingback: Historic Preservation Cheerleaders | Hammond-Harwood House

  12. katlupe says:

    Excellent post! I presently live in a house that was built in 1850 and has never had electric or any type of wiring in it. We have been working on it and wiring and plumbing are coming. We are trying to keep the old style, blended with new. Using solar and wind for our electric and adding to it little by little. Keeping the root cellar and pantry to work with the kitchen as it was designed by the builder has been my top priority.

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  14. I agree with everything Nicole said, I make my living working on restoring Victorian tiled floors = encaustic & geometric , plus other historic floor types most floors are 150 years old or more, in New York that type of floor often ends up being skipped which is a terrible waste, I consulted and provided new & original Victorian tiles for a restoration contract in San Francisco last year, but that is a rarity, hopefully someone in the USA Govt will wake up and see that is far more productive to keep & re-use old buildings and a greener way as well ! Cheers Steve Liverpool UK

  15. Rochelle Bailey says:

    I agree! Its sad to see history trashed like that. As stated, lets help.familys get in these vacant homes!!!!

  16. Jessica says:

    I agree 100%. If you don’t mind, please take a moment to view my Go Fund Me page. I am attempting to save a local home and any and all support I can get even if it’s spreading the word would be a tremendous help. Thank you SO much. Feel free to email me. in promise I’m real!

    Sincerely,
    Jessica (A small town Oklahoma girl trying to change the world)

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