Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Jacob Ramberger farm circa 1900

The site of the Ramberger farm today

Seven people once lived in this two-room shanty.

        The size of the trees indicates how long the cabin that was once here has been gone.

Time passes. Things change. The human imprint on our valley looks quite different today than it did even 100 years ago. Existing houses for the most part are well maintained and cared for. But what's left is just a fraction of what was once here. Entire farms are gone, allowed to decay and rot or else have been bulldozed and burned. Gone, too, are the smaller houses, the pioneer settler cabins, as well as the shanties and shacks in which the local poor lived. When we came here in 1988 there were still a number of vacant, abandoned houses. We moved some of them here and rebuilt and reused them. But with a few exceptions, most of the others are gone. The houses that remain are wanted houses; they remain by choice and design, not by chance. Almost all of the old places have been covered with siding inside and out; very few retain much of their original look. I can think of just a single remaining log house that looks like it did originally, as well as one stone house and a single timber-frame house. One of each; a sampler of the past. Indeed, the valley has less than half its population in 1850. Most people move away and the older, primitive dwellings are not wanted. Unfortunately many architecturally significant houses were lost due to neglect or simply the lack of bodies to inhabit them.
Such long-gone places are now indicated simply by stone cellars open to the sky. One can drive around the valley and still see these cellars, frequently dug into a hillside with field stones carefully laid on top of each other for the walls. Silent sentinels of former habitation.
Christian and I visited one such site recently. We have a photograph of the farm circa 1900; a thriving place with a double house, pig styes, summer kitchen, bake oven, huge barn, granaries, practically a community unto itself since three families lived there simultaneously, two in the main house and one in the shanty. Today there are only stone foundations left with later cement steps that lead nowhere, a hand-dug well filled in with stones by the house; another one near the barn at one time supplying water for the livestock. It's hard to believe there was so much life at the site, such a thriving, prosperous farm, now gone.
Nearby there is still an abandoned shack that was built in the 1930s, just two rooms with a separate outhouse. Not a farmhouse as the husband/father worked at a sawmill. Still, a family with five children was raised in what is basically a cabin that straddles a creek and now is slowing rotting away and sinking into the gulley beneath it. There were many small places like this at one time, inhabited by many people. It's hard these days to realize just how many people could fit into such a small space and it's no wonder they were abandoned as soon as possible.
View the valley from the top of one of the surrounding mountains and it looks idyllic with its few, carefully maintained farms; a far cry from the teeming, hard-scrabble life of earlier generations.

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