OHJ April 2021

Old House Journal April 2021 issue

OHJ April 2021

Editor's note: The ineffable tug of the past

I’m ceding the editor’s page, in this issue, to Sue Daley and Steve Gross, a photography team who also write the texts of their books. Those of us who bought an old house “on purpose” understand that its past is the point. Who among us hasn’t been moved by an old place left to fade away?

“As we drove south from Memphis on a chilly December morning, a light rain was falling. We had a few days and an ample supply of film as we roamed the flat expanse, in our rental car. Somewhere outside of Dundee, distant across a muddy field, a stoic building came into view. It was somehow out of place and yet perfectly situated. More than shed but not quite a barn, its hipped roof suggested a railway building, but where were the tracks? We photographed it in the mist. Years later, we found out that it had been a train depot, built in 1895
. . . after the tracks were torn up, the building was used to store grain.

“Near Beaufort, we came upon a deserted complex of weathered buildings: a store, a post office, barns and warehouses, all sited beyond a leaning sign reading pavement ends. We found out it was the McLeod Farmstead, a surviving example of truck farming in the state, active from 1880s through the 1960s. Although everything was now perilously derelict, a portion of the large tract is still farmed by the great-great-grandson of the first owner.

“It’s bittersweet to round a bend on a lonely stretch, and come upon a tilting wooden church or a shuttered general store. We’ve passed filling stations with sagging screen doors and rusty gas pumps, feed-and-seed stores with broken windows, empty buildings where the Masons or Odd Fellows used to meet. For every one, we wanted to know: who built it, and why was it left to disintegrate?

“Over many years, on a search through lost hamlets and hollows, we made a series of images that came to feel like an examination of a parallel universe, unnoticed and rapidly disappearing. Dance halls, boardinghouses, and farmers’ granges all served as places for people to gather. Now they seem quaint, if not obsolete.

“The structures reveal a history of hard work, ingenuity, and respect for function, along with creativity expressed in whimsical touches. Their walls and roofs patched with whatever material came to hand, the buildings are both signposts and relics of our collective memory. The vintage buildings are personal, intimate, and innocent, in comparison to the franchised, dull sameness found off interstate exit ramps today.” —Susan Daley & Steve Gross

Look below to see stories from this issue.

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