It all started with a farm table.
Six years ago, the non-profit organization that we had chosen to benefit for our Spring Barn Sale was the Historic Yellow Springs Village. I have a dear friend who puts together their very well known Annual Art Show and upon reaching out to her she invited me to meet with some of their board members and then tour the beautiful Washington Building at Historic Yellow Springs. While on that tour, I spied an unusually long farm table, 14 feet long to be exact. As I passed by it, it looked unusually familiar. So familiar in fact that I paused by it to look at the legs more closely. It was then that I realized that this was the exact same table that we had found in our barn upon moving in, legs rotten on the bottom and a chunk taken out of one of its boards on the top. Upon asking, I was told that this was one of the tables from the time period when the village was the Chester Springs Soldiers’ Orphan School after the Civil War.
Prior to finding this table at Historic Yellow Springs, we had learned earlier that the former owner and inhabitant of the entire Historic Yellow Springs Village from 1952 to 1973 was a man by the name of Irven Shortress “Shorty” Yeaworth. Shorty was a young film producer-director who bought the village to both set up his film studio and inhabit the village with his production teams, actors, staff, family and the likes. If I launched into the history of his twenty year tenure in the village, this post would read like a book, which many of mine often do, so I shall spare you. Let’s suffice it to say, that Shorty, his most successful work being that of the cult classic The Blob, sold the village in 1973 and moved to Willowbrook Farm, which is where we moved to 12 years ago and where many of you have visited during our seasonal Barn Sales.
There is evidence of his stay here at Willowbrook scattered throughout our home. A full dark room in the basement with vintage film developing equipment. A camera window and secret ledge in a closet that peers into another room. A list of categorized films that was taped to the linen closet door, where evidently the owner prior to us had still left it hanging, and we have as well, as he supposedly stored all of his films in there. Why have the two owners succeeding the creative Yeaworth felt the need to leave that paper hanging? I can speak for one of them and all I can say is that it just feels right, there is no other explanation. It feels like it would be desecration to remove it. And now… there is a farm table to link the two locations where Shorty resided…Willowbrook Farm, which spoke to us to move into and enrich her beautiful bones, and another location in the village of Yellow Springs, where the voices are talking even louder.
Before you consider me a little off kilter, being that I am stating that houses and inanimate objects are talking to me, have you ever considered the coincidences in life? The small little tidbits of life and its happenings that cause you to wonder? That sometimes causes you to catch your breath or to even go so far as to exclaim, “This was meant to be? or this is a sign?”. Apart from the coincidences above, for I did not actively pursue purchasing a neglected old house in the Village of Yellow Springs, there were other happenings or coincidences that called me to purchase and take on another major historic renovation. Using verbiage that I have heard my mother state a million times growing up, “I need another renovation of this scale like I need a hole in my head.” Wait, since I already have a hole in my head, I might as well go for the renovation!
You are not seeing double. You see, the house that has been calling me happens to have been built as a boarding house/Inn in the early 1800’s and at one point in time, was possibly split into two residences. At the very least, it was built in front of an existing two story stone farmhouse. There are many pieces of the history of this house that we are slowly uncovering. For all old houses are like that. They don’t give you the complexity or the depth of its layers of years standing, at first glance. You have to peel them back. It’s almost like the house is hanging onto what it has experienced within its walls, each and every encounter with its inhabitants, and it is keeping its secrets.
For example, is the rumor true that the famed Swedish opera singer, Jenny Lind, stayed here when she was touring with P.T. Barnum to take in the healing waters of the springs in this village, like she would have in her home country? It certainly makes sense and the house has become known as The Jenny Lind House… Do tell, dear house.
Whatever the rumors may be, I’m getting back to the connections again. It is known that a woman by the name of Margaret Holman built this house and that she was quite the business woman in an age where that was not the norm. “Wait till you here this!” I exclaimed to my husband as I found out that little bit of info. “Do you happen to know the name of the person who built the Jenny Lind House?”, “No,” he replied. “It was Margaret Holman,” I smugly stated.
“AND…” he replied.
“Her name was Margaret, just like mine,” I said definitively, like he should have known who Margaret Holman was. “It could have been Susan or Eleanor or Mary Elizabeth for that matter, but it was Margaret… like mine,” I stated again. I could see the expression on his face change from, “I am listening” to a “here she goes again” expression. Kind of like when I revealed the news to him that the longest living past owner of our now current house, whose name is inscribed on the date stone of the house in 1789, upon his death as stated in his will, gave his daughter the feather bed mattress while her oldest brother inherited the entire family farm. Guess what her name was???
Margaret, of course! (I know that the above is a run on sentence, but I kind of wanted you to experience what my husband goes through when I find these connections.)
There was one other connection falling into place as these walls were speaking to me. It turned out that there was someone else who these walls were talking to. There was an adorable little house that stood in the shadow of the Jenny Lind whose fate of falling down was saved by a man and his brother whose father loved this little house. After their father passed away, they felt the need to rebuild that sweet house in his memory. It is now an adorable AirBnB, entitled The Haly House. Bud and Rick Haly were behind the salvation of those walls and Bud is joining us in the salvation of the Jenny Lind. In joining forces, we have a renovation partner who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in renovating the bones and systems of such a house.
There have been numerous additions and changes to the house that fight against its bones, especially during its past life as a restaurant.
Walls have been added that were not here originally, that cut fireplaces in half.
We are working hard to eradicate these later obtrusions to this stone home so that again, these walls can speak to us in the manner in which they were intended.
The elements have not been kind to this beauty, especially in the areas where the alterations had been made.
We are committed to turning this beauty back in time. To a day when both laughter and tears filled these halls and life was played out with a strong foundation. For how else could a house built almost two centuries ago stand strong and tall and regally against its landscape if not built with the methods used in an era gone by? Methods that do stand the test of time if showered with love and attention.
Do not worry dear Margaret. We are showering your beauty with love and attention and will prevail in peeling back your layers to reveal your beauty hiding behind its disrepair. We will create a new purpose for your existence thus bringing back the laughter and the life to its halls. The road to doing so might create a few tears for the path is a lengthy one, filled with permits and processes that leave this beauty exposed to the elements even longer than it should be left to weather them.
The Jenny Lind, we are working on your behalf to turn things around. As we do so, the voices of these walls are turning from whispers to rumblings to all out sentences.
These floors are begging to be uncovered.
These floors are already shouting with glee, having been revealed.
This tub is laughing at how it will be utilized in the new bathroom.
The attic is beckoning.
These rooms are calling to be filled again.
Can you hear them?
I know that many of you reading this are talking too… “Are you crazy?”, you might be asking.
Crazy in love with the Jenny Lind!
Follow along on our journey to bring her back and turn her into a place where people will gather again. Where we intend for them to stay and laugh and celebrate life! They will enjoy the beauty and the history of this house and it will again find its place in this historic village.
Xoxo ~ Meg, Chris, Bud and Joann ~ Partners in bringing this beauty back!