My husband and I love old houses. Before we moved to Fort Wayne, we lived in a 100-year old home in Kearney NE near what had been in my childhood the junior high school’s football field and prior to that the high school’s stadium. That stadium is long gone, replaced by new housing, but the neighborhood that was built just to the west of downtown remains with an active neighborhood association working to keep the area in tip top shape. Here in Fort Wayne, we live in Wildwood Park, a neighborhood begun in 1916 at the end of the streetcar line. While our house is one of the newer ones in the Park, the oldest is just across the street and it’s nice to live in an area where every house is different in appearance.
As we’ve lost parents, aunts and uncles to death, we’ve started to inherit family memorabilia and furniture. Tom’s family is from upstate New York, and by virtue of being an area that was settled long before my native Nebraska, family objects from his parents tend to be older and have more history. That’s not to say those objects have more value because it’s the history of an object that gives it value. Witness a 1930’s era blue cream pitcher I own that had once been my grandmother’s. According to my mother, those pitchers were premiums given away by a company when she was a child. The company logo is long gone but the creamer is on our coffee table as a penholder. It was on the table for every meal we ate at my grandparent’s house and I don’t intend to ever part with it.
Old houses and family items are an excellent way to teach history to your children. You can research objects via your local library or antique stores. If you know some of the history of an item, such as when it came to the States from Europe, write this information down and keep it with the item or in a spot where it won’t get lost. I have the history of a cake plate that came to Nebraska from England…I hope. But I haven’t seen the history in awhile so I can’t be positive I still have it. That’s why taking care of the information is so important.
You can research the history of your home, in part, through public records. Old newspaper articles and books of photographs can also be helpful. Along the way you may learn something about architecture. We are fortunate here in Fort Wayne to have the Genealogy Center at the downtown public library. What a phenomenal resource!
Once you know how old something is, you can then do some research about the world in that time. Ken Burns’ recent work on the Dust Bowl, for example, can give you a glimpse into the time in which many of our parents and grandparents lived. Novels about a certain time period, biographies of key persons (one of the best ways to study history in my opinion), old movies, etc. give you a feel for a time period that is more than you get from memorizing facts, dates and dead presidents. Right now, I’m reading Madeleine Albright’s book “Prague Winter”, a look at pre-World War II Europe that is almost as good as Erik Larson’s “In the Garden of Beasts”.
If you want your kids to love history, you need to love it too and be creative about how you share that love. It will rub off to a certain extent…trust me on that one!