City Walks – Stone Houses

Still standing solid

Stones in a wall
Detail of a house wall

A Mill Town Still Stands

In its earliest days, my city consisted of unconnected towns and villages that gradually grew together, including a number of little mill towns. The site of one that was founded in the 1840s, about 75 years before my house was built, is about a 20 minute walk away.

This is how they look — two narrow attached homes with separate front doors under a single roof surrounded by massive stone walls that limit the amount of interior space. Further limiting living space is a thick interior wall dividing the structure in half. Although these homes have three stories, the pitch of the roof means the third floor will not have a lot of room to stand up.

Stone houses

One big change is the roofs now have modern shingles — originally they had wooden shingles, which would have been serious fire risks. The windows would have had small panes like the home on the left — you can see how the home on the right has replacement windows with large panes.

Because the original interiors were small — around 1000 square feet — many have been expanded over the years. For example, you can see a third story dormer was added here to make the top floor much more usable.

Stone house with dormer

And this view shows how additions were built on the backs of houses to increase living space. Most likely these were made after the installation of plumbing, since that space would have originally been devoted to outhouses.

Back of stone houses

Another clue that these additions are fairly modern is that these houses were all owned by the nearby mill until the 1920s and rented to workers and only sold to private owners after the mill started moving operations out of state. It’s unlikely that the mill owners would have made the investment on their own.

You can see another type of upgrade on the roof of this house which is most definitely not historically accurate — note the solar panels and satellite dish.

Stone house with solar panels and satellite dish

Not every house in this neighborhood was originally mill worker housing. This house was built about thirty years earlier by a well-off land owner. The single front door indicates that only one family lived here, and the third story dormers show that the top floor was designed for living and not just as a place for someone to crawl into bed at the end of the day.

Larger old stone house

And finally, this row of houses was built in the past 20 years. But the builders clearly made an effort to fit into the neighborhood, adding some stone elements to the front in addition to the vinyl siding. You can tell the stone is only decorative based on the large amount of mortar and relatively random placement compared to the real stonework in other houses. Still, it was a nice gesture to honor the spirit of the place.

Modern homes with stone and vinyl siding

Because of the time of year, these photos make the place seem much more drab than it really is. Starting in the spring, gardens come to life, trees leaf out, and people spend a lot of time in those yards and porches. Because the neighborhood is fairly disconnected from nearby roads, there is very little traffic and people regularly stroll around.

All of the changes to the houses mean that you will never feel like you’re in a true historic recreation, but the density and uniformity of these little stone houses still give you a partial window into a different time.

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7 Comments

  1. To me, one of the most jarring but kind of enjoyable things about Olde Europe is the ubiquity of the satellite dish. You look down a perfectly charming street, laid out three or four hundred years ago, far too narrow to allow for the passage of cars, washlines strung gaily about, picturesque fountain in the middle, weathered stone walls and ancient wood-framed windows, and high on the rooftops and clamped to every balcony railing, the satellite dish.

    • I know what you mean. I wouldn’t be surprised if part of it is cable companies don’t want to deal with the hassle of excavating when every square foot potentially turns into an archaelogical dig. And I suspect part of it comes down to some local cable companies not carrying programs in various languages, or not picking up certain soccer teams.

      • You see satellite dishes all over the Bronx and Queens for those very reasons: they carry programming in languages that Spectrum doesn’t, and that most certainly includes [local word for soccer] matches. Some Irish pubs and sports bars have them for this, too.

        Near my old apartment was this hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant (restaurant really doesn’t describe what it was, it was more like a food truck in a cramped first-floor room) that catered to cab drivers. It was pretty filthy and the food was awful, but as long as I bought a lunch and one of the chairs wasn’t needed for someone else I could sit, lunch untouched, and watch their Bollywood movies brought in through their satellite dish. Rarely were they subtitled, but I got the drift: usually romances, girls’ parents objected to the boy; boy either proves himself somehow or turns out to be not who everyone thought he was. Cast of thousands. The sets. The dancing. The scenery often included a Himalaya or two. If reincarnation is real and Busby Berkeley and Cecil B. DeMille are back they are working at FilmCity in Mumbai, alongside their phenomenally talented local peers.

        • It’s crazy to me that streaming hasn’t wiped out a lot of that, but I think a lot of providers would rather have small overseas audiences that mostly pay through satellite fees than huge overseas audiences that also have a lot of piracy.

          • …it’s a long time ago now but when satellite tv was a new thing I knew someone who bought a big dish/aerial that they could adjust to point to different satellites & pick up all kinds of different channels…which was basically piracy…they were very much an early adopter so a lot of the stuff wasn’t scrambled at that point…but for people like murdoch with his sky tv that was enough of a reason to start making the receivers be to decode the signal so it wasn’t long before they needed that stuff to get anything that wasn’t in a foreign language?

    • I’m sure they got really run down. I think the thing that made them rehab-worthy compared to worker housing in a lot of areas is that they’re so solid — even if the roof went to hell and the windows broke, the walls weren’t budging. Wood and even brick can go bad a lot easier.

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