Monday, January 14, 2013
Abandonment Issues: l)()WN Family Farmhouse
The newly engaged and sober couple close the doors on their brand new car and walk toward a red brick farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. I find myself watching this, as much as I am physically participating in it. Large tractor tracks in the snow indicate that the barn on the property is still in use, and the land is possibly still being farmed, but the house itself is clearly vacant. The cows in the field directly behind the house validate this theory.
We would come to learn later that the property was purchased by a neighbouring farmer with relations to the deceased, after the last surviving occupant passed away.
I'm watching myself from a third person perspective as I walk inside.
Immediately, we realize that this is not just another abandoned house, there is something special about it. A beautiful grand piano stands before us at the back end of the family room, beyond the entrance from the addition in which we stand. The addition, at the rear of the home, would have been added after the advent of modern day plumbing, and has not withstood the test of time and weather as well as the original structure. A quick walk through the entire home is accompanied by excitement and oohs and awws, with growing excitement, and as soon as we are sure that we are alone, the exploration truly begins.
We spend hours rifling through old photographs and letters, reading them aloud, as the other snaps photographs and gently rummages though drawers and piles of artwork signed Fred l)()WN. Fred, it would appear, was the son of John Arthur l)()WN and his wife Elizabeth, commonly referred to as Bessie. Many of the letters are correspondents between the l)()WN family members and the family and friends left behind in Scotland after immigrating to Canada in the early 1900s. All of the mail is addressed to Hilton, Ontario, southwest of the farm, which must have been where the post office was located at the time that the family inhabited the home.
My fiancee Ninja exclaims "Oh my god! Look!" She lifts her hand from a dresser drawer and passes me the couples marriage certificate, dated 1918. After only getting engaged a few days earlier, after almost 16 years together, this prompts us to embrace.
Upstairs, the bedrooms are packed with dated possessions of yesteryear. Endless photos and letters rest atop antique dressers. A tattered yellow and green wool Wooler hockey jersey hangs from an antique bed frame, next to a fox stole. In the adjacent room, a wood framed box spring bearing the stamped marking B.E. BRINTNELL -BRIGHTON- leans against a table covered in an assortment of random objects including an old guitar, as well as dust covered books, magazines and china. I pick up and strum the 3 remaining chords on the guitar, to which, one of the chords snaps. I set the guitar down next to a beautiful old steam trunk. Then I turn the trunk towards me and open it, to which, again, it breaks, and a portion of the interior ceiling of the inner cavity collapses in on itself. It's not that I'm not being careful, because I am. But decades of disuse have rendered these objects incredibly fragile.
A l)()WN family crest with red velvet catches my attention on the floor, amongst random papers and magazines from the 1930s. In the next room, a bookshelf contains many books from the 1800s, all of which are covered in a thick layer of dust. Ninja removes a small green silk wrapped jewelery box from another dresser drawer and opens it to reveal the red velvet interior. It contains a few aged negatives, one of which I hold up to the frosted window and a woman in a dress smiles at us from many many decades ago. We continue to remove letters from envelopes dated between the 1930s and 60s and read them to each other. Bank notes and life assurance policy documentation found in another dresser date as far back as the early 1920s. Black and white photographs provide visual proof of who these people were, and how they lived. Postcards from Scotland indicate that they were very loved by the family that they left behind.
In the back of the house, upstairs, I step down into the addition and into the washroom. White wooden lattice wraps around the chimney in a semi-circle. "I love these old bathtubs." Ninja says, startling me to the point that I jump, as I'm not aware that she followed me in here. We laugh.
Fred's pencil sketches and art supplies are scattered about the home. Wooden cases containing brushes and bottles of turpentine and linseed oil sit atop dressers, in the bathtub, and atop the Stevenson & Co. Square Grand Piano, (made in Kingston) down in the family room. I tap my fingers along the dirty keys of the piano and 3 or 4 of the keys still hum a note. Others have gone silent. To my right, a large leather bound Bible sits on a rocking chair, and to the right of that, cold air pushes in through the fireplace.
The original portion of the home is in remarkable condition. There is no moisture inside, no peeling paint, no broken windows, and very little mould.
Back in the addition on the ground floor, the kitchen floor is partially collapsed and is covered with a carpet of hay. A sink is toppling over, protruding from the floor like a flower reaching for sunlight. The stove and counters are covered in a thick layer of grime and filth.
I could talk and type endlessly about this experience. This is the type of find that motivates the urban explorer in me to push forward and continue to dedicate countless hours to this hobby. If I had to describe the l)()WN Family Farmhouse in one word: fascinating.
I have tried my best to transcribe the portions of letters that I decided to post photos of, and left blanks where I was unable to decipher the text. I hope that you enjoy our photos of the l)()WN Family Farmhouse.
Certificate of Marriage - March 27, 1918
"I CERTIFY that I solemnized the marriage of
Bridegroom John Arthur Down
Bride Elizabeth Clemens
at Brighton Township County of Northumberland
on the 27 day of March 1918"
J. Arthur l)()WN, Esq., Mar 6, 1934
A portion of a letter to Bessie - Undated
...the wee chap must be great company to you all at the farm. How I wish I could see him, but alas what's the use of wishing for what cannot be. at present at anyrate, some day I hope. Annie Gow is getting on as. She has done well in Ritchie's earning about 23/- a week, not bad for this country. Mrs. Moir sent you a photo in splendid condition. She is serysly charmed with it. Isn't it funny I met Miss Imrie last Saturday. It was the first time I have spoken to her since you left for Canada. They are all well. I suppose you know Bella got married about four years ago. She has two children. She wished to be remembered to ____ Jeau and yourself. They had a visit from Duncan Campbell. He is a lieutenant in the army training at Richmond in England and was home on holiday. They have moved from Nithsdale Rd. some time ago. They have moved to a mill out Giffnock way. Nan and I visited the McNichols a week past last Tuesday. Mrs. McNichol was at ______ with Marion. The latter has been staying at Oakney (away North) all winter to be near her husband. Mr Cool's gave the yacht he was captain of to the admiralty at the outbreak of war. He joined also so was kept on being a sul. Lieutenand, being promoted to a Lieutenant. His ship has been transferred to Southport in England, so Marion expects to be going there shortly. Jane says she is quite happy, likes living in lodgings fine. You were asking how McNichols money was panning out, well Bessie I am sorry I can't enlighten...
l)()WN Family Crest
Chillin' on the stoop
Dear Mum Dad & Nes - March 16, 1947
Dear Mum Dad & Nes.
I was just going to start this when you rang. Gedeon hasn't a cold, just his voice sometimes huskier. Miss Felgmann was out this afternoon playing at the church. Gedeon was supposed to go to church supper but didn't. He has a pain in right side at times, so didn't go. Its the first he has complained of it to me. He won't go to a doctor says 'nothing lasts...
Was glad to get honey
l)()WN master bedroom
Wooler jersey and fox stole
The dresser is covered with old letters and photographs
Fred l)()WN's art supply box
Winsor & Newton Limited Un-Thickened Linseed Oil
Canada Life Assurance Company - January 1932
Field of dreams
Page 3 of 4
"...at London University and when John finishes his N.S. in the navy he also goes to London to train as an architect. It is a long process and will be a big drain financially on Anne. She is a lot thinner since Jimmy died and worries a lot about the business. Just this month they have gone on a four day week and orders are very scarce. People are very cautious and taking few risks these days and I can't say I blame them, for the outlook is very uncertain. Now _____ has added to the confusion and who can say what will come out of that mess? The French are a strange nation as we saw in the last war. I hope you and all your circle ____ and are looking forward to a good summer ____ the weather has been very changeable and..."
Page 4 of 4
"...there is still ground frost in the mornings. We are too near the sea to get it badly but it checks growth all the same. I had a letter from Neg at Christmas. She seems to keep wonderfully fit and to enjoy life. Beltines children will be getting bigger now and they will keep her lively, as I expect your grandchildren keep you busy. We have a new baby in our family. Alex's son John who is a lawyer in Stonehaven has been married for a number of years but had no children. His wife was very disappointed and they decided to adopt a child and after waiting for two years they have now got a boy. He seems a very good baby and strong and healthy and they sure very happy about it. His wife was a nurse before her marriage and is a very clever capable girl. Now I will stop and hope I haven't bored you. I am always glad to hear news of you so write sometimes. Love and all good wishes. Mary"
Back in the day
Postcard from Glasgow, Scotland
Thuja Occidentalis (Homeopathic treatment for warts)
Prepared by A.L. Thompson - Chemist
Wire-O Bound Light Weight Sketch Book - F. l)()WN
Record Of Merit - January 31, 1922
Holstein-Friesen Association of Canada
This Certifies that the Cow named Patty Pontiac Pietertje
No. 78302 H.A.H.B. owned by J. Arthur l)()WNS
of Hilton, Ont. is entered in the Record of Merit of said Association on the following records:
Ager 2 y 6 m 14 d; milk 327.1 lbs., butter fat 11.87 lbs.; equivalent to 14.85 lbs. of butter produced in 7 consecutive days.
Dated January 31, 1922.
The United Church of Canada Communicant's Card
The boys are back in town
Canadian Bank of Commerce - November 23, 1959
Mr. Arthur l)()WN - 1966
Province of Ontario Farmer's Gasoline Tax Exemption Book 1944
Hilton - Jan 26, 1950
We got home ____ in safety yesterday, and we enjoyed the mildness The roads were getting quite watery.
I hope you arrived in Toronto and enjoyed your morning there.
Next morning we watched the clock 7:30 when you commence your long journey. Now it is 8 O'clock and you may be speeding on to Chicago, where you are due to arrive at 11:55 pm.
Today we too drove down to Trenton to buy a dress. The only one suitable, was black & white silk, quite nice and suitable. So _ _____they grey ones were all around $25. Too much for us.
Going to Trenton the railway subway was a river. The ever____ ovengl _____. We got enough in allright, but came home around St. James Hotel.
We have almost no snow here now. And freezing a little tonight. ____ seems dumpish..."
l)()WN bathroom addition
Canadian Bank of Commerce - 1940s and 50s
B.E. BRINTNELL -BRIGHTON-
Picking up an old guitar, strumming its surviving strings, only to have one snap. Approaching an old steam trunk and opening it, only to have it cave in on itself and collapse its interior ceiling.
Open steam trunk
Cream and sugar
No. 128 - Design
Design is influenced by,
Function is fitness to purpose
B. Materials out of which design is made
Principle underlying design.
A Contrast, to avoid monotony
Varity, not repetition.
B Harmony and purportion.
The ultimate aim in all design is structural unity.
F. l)()WN - No. 128
F. l)()WN - No. 128
F. l)()WN - No. 128
F. l)()WN - No. 128
Going l)()WN on the l)()WN Farmhouse
Ultra Power Battery Electric Radio
PEARL Manufactured by Canadian Woodenware Co.
l)()WN kitchen addition
General Electric Oven
The l)()WN Family Farmhouse Family Room
Stevenson & Co. Square Grand Piano
Legs to stand on
Stevenson & Co. Square Grand
The world's ugliest doll
The Holy Bible
The Holy Bible
The Toronto Star Insight Section - April 17, 1976
After several hours of delving through the lives of the deceased members of the l)()WN family on New Years Eve day, 2011, our fingers and toes are frozen, and the time has come for us to leave.
I walk back to the piano and tap a few more keys, but no sound emerges. Again, I tap tap tap, until finally, the final note sounds and the key sticks, resonating and hanging in the air as we exit.
We walk away, with that final note still singing, getting quieter and softer with each step we take back to the road.
Fred l)()wn passed away in 2008.
This photo of his parents grave was found online.
A little over a week after our first visit, I returned to this farm with three other eager urban explorers. Less than five minutes after our arrival, the farmer, a descendant of the deceased l)()WN family members, pulled up in a tractor with a bail of hay. He was less than happy with our presence inside the home and voiced his displeasure vehemently and at length before asking us, or rather allowing us, to leave. I had only taken the following photograph in this quick time frame before his arrival.
Furthermore, via online correspondence, another relative voiced his displeasure with the original version of this post.
With that said, out of respect, this post was removed from my blog for a one year period. Upon reposting it, the text used was modified so as not to appear in basic search engine queries of the family name. Also, exterior photos were excluded from the post. I will never share any specific location information, nor will I ever return to the property.
click here to check out all of jerm & ninja IX's ABANDONMENT ISSUES