Every once in a while, when the milk trucks stop rumbling past the house, village mowers are silent, and my modern appliances are at rest, I can hear the past.
I don't mean yesterday, last week, or even last year. The past I listen to goes back much further than that. I hear the beginnings of this old Victorian cottage, when the wall paper was fresh, the flooring was new, and the inhabitants called Grover Cleveland president. Horses stirred up dust in the road that still stretches past the home John Fields built for his wife, Adaline.
Mr. Fields was a fairly prominent man in the area. Serving as Chairman on many recorded listings of the time, there is even some rudimentary documentation listing John as the Fire Superintendent, back when my sleepy village was bustling with industry, and known as the Town of Fairfield.
I love history. Certain periods, regions, and key events attract me more than others, but in general history has always fascinated me.
History isn't just about regurgitating names, dates and events. To me, it's tangible. I can walk through this old house and put my hand on woodwork that was nailed in place 81 years before I was born. (That's 130 years, if you're as bad at math as I am.)
I walk on floorboards offloaded from horse-drawn wagons, laid in place, and covered with floor cloths, linoleum, and eventually diabolical 1960s sculpted shag carpet. Paint applied in the 1970s flakes off now and then, to reveal layers of colors beneath; another window to the past. Now that so many old homes are painted white, it's hard for some to remember that Victorians were anything but afraid of color.
People of that era embraced life, and death. Victorians were mad for the Occult, holding social seances, wearing black, celebrating lavish funerals and spending fortunes to design elaborate grave markers, all legacies of Queen Victoria's legendary mourning for husband, Albert, Prince Consort.
Home Exteriors were epic in their exuberance; literal explosions of color, pattern, and texture including roof tiles, moldings, corbels, and assorted trim. Every available inch of a fine Victorian home was decorated. Useless windows, balconies and other odd architectural additions - called follies- were common. Often a large, glassed-in extension, similar to what we now call a "bow window", was included for homeowners to showcase exotic botanicals, art, taxidermy, and other curiosities. Homes, like today, were not only meant to house occupants, they were a visible statement of wealth and status. The more ridiculous the follies, the richer the owner. Highly ornamented brick, stone, or stucco chimneys pierced the Victorian skyline; the actual number of rooms warmed by fireplaces mere quesswork for so many sprawling mansions.
Funnily enough, Appleside cottage had none of that craziness. I would suppose John Fields was a stouthearted, tenacious- perhaps even stern- man, based on the home he built. As a fire official of some capacity, Mr. Fields probably saw more than his share of house fires, most probably caused by household flame or chimney ignition. John was having none of that. Appleside Cottage never had any fireplaces or chimneys. Instead, he used what was for the time, an innovative heating system using forced air, generated by burning coal. Mr. Fields seemed to be a cutting-edge Victorian all the way around, installing fitted closets in every bedroom, elaborate vent covers, and cubbies in the stone foundation for handy cold food storage in an age just barely acquainted with the ice-box.
When we found John Field's house in a 2009 Realtor.com listing, it wasn't Appleside Cottage. It was a derelict vacation home known as "The Old Murphy House". Once John and Adaline sold up in 1887, predecessors of the Murphy family bought the property and stayed for decades, until they moved south and only used the house for summer breaks.
That's where we lucked out. Aside from some fiendish "modern" cosmetic upgrades (a term I use in the loosest sense), nothing had been done to the home. Everything from hinges and doors, to locks and doorknobs were original. A literal time capsule. If you'd like to read more in-depth about our journey with this home, click the link for a previous post http://goo.gl/WI62Pk
Queen Victoria died the same year. That was the day the color died too. An era of boundless possibility, glorious exploration, and fearless scientific breakthroughs came to a sudden and gut-wrenching stop. Things would never be the same...
So you see, history is alive, even still. I can reach out and touch it, and you can cast yourself back too, reading through this 114 year-old alcoholic gem, clearly written before Prohibition, which makes me love it all the more.
Take half a box of berries, the small wild berries are the best, stew them with one quart of water, half cup of grated bread crumbs, one stick of cinnamon and a small piece of lemon peel, for three-quarters of an hour.
Meanwhile, take the remaining berries, let them come to a boil in a thin syrup of sugar and beat the yolks of two eggs in half a cup of claret. When the soup has cooked sufficiently, rub the mass through a sieve, put in a cupful of sugar and a pint of claret, let it boil until the sugar is dissolved. Then add the beaten yolks, and the berries which have been boiled in syrup.