Multiple stories, multiple values : assessing the importance of a house study.
Bazar, Nancy Sceery
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In 2002, without historic preservation background, I restored an unassuming two-story brick house, in the Fairfield, Pennsylvania, National Register Historic District. At the time I bought the house, it was reported to be the town’s Quaker meeting house. The restoration resulted in the partial destruction of a large outbuilding, which I now know as the earliest structure on the site and possibly a station on the Underground Railroad. I will argue that information provided by a thorough house study prior to the restoration could have significantly altered the preservation outcome. Drawing on Anne Yentsch’s seminal study of the ways in which houses become embedded with stories that might remember some occupants and events while entirely forgetting others, this study creates a history of the property, examining all the different families that ever lived in or owned the house. This approach attempts to recover all of the fascinating stories of the various characters who occupied the property. Ultimately, documentation of these stories has ii expanded the significance of the house and, hopefully, will reintroduce a cast of forgotten people to the town of Fairfield. While the study revealed that the house was not a Quaker meeting house, it identified six Civil War veterans associated with the house, including two brothers from Maryland, one who fought for the Confederacy and the other for the Union. Furthermore, the site was the location of a tragic civilian casualty in Fairfield, indirectly resulting from the Battle of Gettysburg. Most significantly, the property was likely a stop on the Underground Railroad, and once owned by staunch abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens; it is suggested that the house was built in the style of a Quaker meeting house as a marker for the Underground Railroad stop.