Not Just an Old House

By James L. Hamilton

Certainly our homes are old houses, but they are not “just old houses”. They are “very special historic old houses.” We love our homes for their historic beauty. That’s why we bought them. They deserve special treatment. We have the responsibility to protect their historic character. And our responsibility is not just to the house and to ourselves, but to the future. And besides that, because we are a Historic District, we actually are required to preserve their historic character!

First, do no harm! That is our first responsibility. Each house has a unique design and is built of high quality materials. The first thing is not to do anything that damages the design or destroys the materials. We are surrounded by articles, shows, and ads about “home improvement products.” But the principal thing about saving historic homes is to “not improve” them.” The first step is to preserve the original and not try to “improve” on it, because that may change the historic design or damage historic materials.

Repair, save, and restore.  Historic homes need maintenance and repair. With proper care, they will last indefinitely. Everything about an historic house can be repaired and preserved, or even restored like new. Maintenance and repair keep the historic character and save historic materials. You only have to know how, or learn how, or hire people who know how.

We are only custodians. We say that we “own” our homes, but each house has a community of interest far beyond ourselves. Its walls have memories of families before us, and they will remember us. It is going to be a home for families after us. Future families want to enjoy our historic home just as we do, and as families before us have. These families are counting on us to take care of “their” historic home.

We live in a community. We all share an interest in each other’s houses. The value and beauty of one house depends on how well it is maintained and its historic character is preserved. But it also depends on how well the entire community maintains and preserves its historic character. No house is an island. One house on a block that has lost its historic character diminishes the entire block. You know examples! One reason we appreciate our houses is that they are in a beautiful neighborhood.

Save a special place. Preserving our historic homes for the next hundred years is a worthy cause to embrace. Go hug your house!

James Hamilton is a resident of the Boston Edison Historic District and is a Detroit Historic District Commissioner.