I don’t know anything about this house. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I know that I lived here for just under three months in 1999 during the summer between when I completed undergraduate school and moved to California for grad school. A quick search on Zillow tells me that it was built in 1955 and is worth $180,000. It likely was a young family’s first home once upon a time. When I lived there it was a near-campus party house. You might know the kind: dishes stacked in mounds, permanent keg ring stained on the wood floors, mismatched odds and ends furniture, coated in dog fur and saturated in cigarette smoke.
This was the kind of house that, when each time you returned home, you’d be greeted with a beer and a houseful of strangers. My room was in the back on the right corner of the house. It was my personal (and clean) sanctuary inside this otherwise worn and well-partied interior. One evening after a long day of working, I was sleeping in my room. My roommate’s girlfriend knocked on my door and told me she had brought a friend she wanted to introduce me to. An old friend from high school that was visiting while on break from school in San Diego. I walked out into the living room wearing an old pair of jeans and a rumpled white t-shirt. There in front of me was one of the most beautiful women I had ever met.
While the content of the conversation is still hazy to me, what I most recall is sitting on this porch, talking with her for hours on end, smoking cigarettes and drinking wine on a warm midsummer evening. We kept in touch for a while, but parted ways eventually—she was moving to Scotland to study abroad and I was moving to California for school. Years later, we reconnected with a chance phone call. Today, she’s my wife and friend for 14 years.
Places leave indelible marks on our memories and are themselves imbued with our presence. We’ve all read about the plight of historic house museums around the country. For reasons both justifiable and not, they find themselves increasingly irrelevant and unpopular. But, I challenge each and every person to consider the undeniable importance of memory that any residence—an apartment, a house, a mansion, a tent—holds on our conscience. It’s powerful stuff.
Every place is dripping with personal histories—joyous and sorrowful—that are moving and universally understood. Historic houses are fundamentally important to our identities as individuals and communities. This power is an untapped resource for proclaiming the value of historic house museums. I’d like to invite you to share your personal story on social media with the hashtag #myhistorichouse and reignite the power of place with your colleagues, family and friends.
— Nathan Richie, Director, Golden History Museums