BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER I Philmont, NY I Friday, 4 November 2016
Photos of Anatevka, placed on a 1980s map of Columbia County, New York. The thick blue line on the left is the Hudson River. The thin blue line on the right is the New York-Massachusetts state line.
Pretend you’re in the car with me, and we’re driving east on Route 217, past Philmont, an old mill town, Philmont with its wonderful little library and sandwich shop and the closest place to get milk and gas. Let’s keep driving, up up the hill and then down into a little hollow with cornfields flanking either side of the road, cornfields autumn-shorn, stubble where herds of deer graze.
We’re definitely playing some 80s music way too loud, and probably driving a bit too fast, since the speed limit is 55 MPH here. It feels a bit like a rollercoaster, all these country hills.
Now, up the hill we go again, and at the crest, a green sign on the left: German Settler Road. Because that’s who first lived there, you know, German farmers who built beautiful center hall colonials and big red barns, some of which survive today, begging for their stories to be told, fascinating.
I lived in one of these center hall colonials, Anatevka, through fourth grade, and I loved the mysterious old place. I’m convinced it was the first house on the road, which would place its construction in the late 1700s to early 1800s.
The brick labelled Empire came from remnants of the Anatevka chimney. Photo on the left is me with our cat, Albert, sitting on the steps to the kitchen porch. Photo on the right is me on the still-remaining concrete slab of Anatevka’s front porch, with two missionaries from our church.
I loved the weather-worn old front porch, with the built-in white benches, and the blue front door with the transom window overhead. I loved the side porch, off the kitchen, with its easy-stepped entryway made of huge slabs of cement. Nearby, there was the round well cover which we lifted up to prime the pump when we used too much water.
I loved the sunny little glassed-in room in back of the house, and remember reading Charlotte’s Web and The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle there.
The kitchen, however, was not especially cheerful, as it only had one window, over the sink, and it faced north, with a view of the V House. It was in this kitchen where we gathered around the radio to listen to Richard Nixon’s resignation in August of 1974.
There was a moldering and unused pantry off the kitchen, and I was as creepily fascinated with it as I was the dank, dark, this-is-where-you’re-going-to-die basement with its bare bulb, rickety stairs, and old tins of food-storage wheat on the shelves.
The kitchen had a dark brown sink and white counter with gold flecks. I know it well. I’m becoming reacquainted with this sink, the one my mother washed so many dishes at, long ago, because after my father and sister tore down Anatevka, somehow that sink and counter and its encasing cupboards found their way into my red kitchen at the V House, right now.
I loved the tall windows in the upstairs bedrooms, with their pull chains with circular ends. I loved the creaking, crooked, painted-over floorboards. I loved my little Snoop Coop bedroom upstairs, just big enough for my little bed, with its window over the front porch and a view down to German Settler Road.
Welcome to the road I grew up on, located in beautiful upstate New York. I moved here again, arriving a mere two weeks ago, and I’ve been driving up and down the road as slowly as possible, looking at these houses I loved as a child and love still. Over and over again, looking at these homes.
Analyzing the road and its domestic architecture, it appears there were various phases of home construction:
the earliest center hall colonials, starting around 1805, including Anatevka
homes built during the Great Depression, including the V House
several homes built in the 1950s through 1970s
and then, finally, a few built in this century.
Today, I’d like to take you on a very quick pictorial tour of the earliest phase, the center hall colonials.
The G House: A beautifully restored colonial, rising a full two stories high. Notice the sidelights and transom windows around the orange front door, and the sidelights flanking the upstairs center window. When I was a child, this house was painted red, and its barn was closer to the road.
The I House: a fully restored and lovingly cared for house as the road bends around the corner and heads up the hill. Notice there are no upstairs windows in front, so skylights have been added to light the upstairs. The front door has sidelights and built-in benches. There are also two lovely decks: one in back, overlooking a pond, and one on the right, with Chippendale-type fretwork, with views to the barns. When I was a child, this house was white and had not yet been restored.
The B House: A nicely restored 1805 Colonial. Notice there must have been a front porch at some point, and the unusual double sidelight windows, along with tiny eyebrow windows upstairs. The house was white when I was growing up, and had not yet been restored.
There is still much to discover about these houses, even though I’ve known them my entire life. I wonder when each one was built and by whom, including, and most importantly, my beloved Anatevka. Maybe a trip to the county historical society is in order? Yes, I think so.
And, because I love mysteries so much, let me throw in a mystery house from my road, even though it’s not a center hall colonial. I just can’t resist a good mystery.
The A House: This house, built in 1930, was lived in and well-loved when I was growing up, and I went to high school with one of the boys who lived there. I loved to drive by at night, looking up at the pretty little house on the hill, because there was always a lamp turned on in front of the living room window, giving it such a cozy feel. Notice the gracious screened-in porch on the right and the beautiful rock chimney on the left. For some reason, the owners converted their nearby garage into a cabin and moved out of this house. Rumor has it renters trashed the inside. Sadly, it now sits empty, in a state of overgrown disrepair.
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