This is a shot of the oldest part of the house. There are 4 windows hiding behind the large holly tree in the center. Later in the post, you will see the changes that we have made, all with the intent to uncover what was before.
Old houses are constantly being reinvented, features and rooms altered and changed, walls moved
or knocked down. It is a constant evolution as each new family inhabits it and makes it their own often changing it to fit in with the times. I love uncovering the story of an old house! We have been uncovering bits and pieces of Willowbrook Farm since we moved in 7 years ago. Our oldest son’s Senior project was in fact entitled, “The History of Willowbrook Farm.”It was a year long project where we spent numerous hours at the Chester County Historical Society, tracing back deeds, wills, tax bills (including the glass tax which history buffs would know was where the inhabitants were taxed on the number of glass panes they had in their windows) etc to find that the original part of the house was built in 1710! We traced all of the owners from present day back until then. Have you ever studied documents from the 1800’s on microfilm? It is a good thing I was on the other side of 45 since my eye sight has gone down hill since then.
I was very sad to get rid of the big old holly but look how it opened up the front of the house. Now you could see the damaged plaster from the dampness and lack of sun that the holly created. It made a statement back in the 1700’s and 1800’s to whitewash or plaster the stone for it was a common material. Only the wealthy could afford to cover it up. What beauty was hidden behind we wondered? We either had to re -stucco to keep out the moisture or re- point.
We re- pointed and…Whoa! You can now see the actual delineation between the original part of the house (4 windows) and the 1789 addition which bears the 1789 date stone. In the 1920’s there was a major remodeling carried out where we found blueprints at the Philadelphia Athenaeum. At that time, they tried to make the whole house blend much more seamlessly together. (After they bricked up a door and put a french window in. Much of the house was made to look like it had been pulled from the French countryside instead of sitting in the Chester County farmland like it did.)
Now we have to decide if we have the bricks jack hammered out and stone put back in to hide the fact that the surface we have uncovered is not “perfect”…but I kind of like “not perfect” for it is character and shows how the house has evolved. Isn’t that the story that wants to be told? There is so much more to discovering the history of a house than uncovering the inhabitants names.
We know that this date stone was carved by Adam Rickbaugh, the owner in 1789 who added on that addition and whose name was on the Glass tax of 1789. We also know that when he died his daughter Margaret (strange…for that is my real name) inherited his feather mattress. Lucky her!( Seriously, it was a major boon to have a feather mattress in the 1800’s.) His two oldest sons inherited his house, barn, outbuildings and 300 acres…hmmm. Where did Margaret end up? We know that Adam Rickbaugh Jr. moved into this house and lived here until his death in the 1840’s. What kind of life did he have? his children? What about the lives of the others after the Rickbaugh family?
Where one part of the house ends…another begins. Where past inhabitants stories end, there are others to take their place.
What is under this white stucco at the end of the house??? Stay tuned.
If the walls could only talk!
“With age comes character, charm and grace. ”
Christine Adams Beckett