How We Became Caretakers of a Historic Appalachian Homestead

| 11/4/2015 8:00:00 PM

Big Laurel Ecology Center 

For years, long before even our marriage was a certainty, my future husband, Ian, and I dreamed of Big Laurel Learning Center. Ian had been on numerous week-long visits and to summer camp sessions at Big Laurel; I knew of it simply through his glowing accounts.

Big Laurel took on a life of its own in our heads, the great pipe dream and “what if” question of our abilities. We saw the place as the perfect destination to mesh our skills and passion, a place that we could both be of benefit to and benefit from. We even found a way to get paid to live there.

Everything seemed so perfect — in concept. But actually packing every belonging into our midsize SUV and driving the nine hours to make this dream a reality catapulted our idealist optimism from the comfort of theoretic to the stark uncertainty of reality.

Still, the leap into the unknown was made. Newlyweds of two weeks, we crossed state borders, and moved into a living organism of a derelict mansion on top of a mountain with far more rooms than we could ever heat in the winter. This house depends on massive barrels of rainwater, and a passable wifi connection means traveling a mile down the road to the neighbors. Forget cell service; that’s only accessible at the bottom of the mountain.

And our closest neighbors and coworkers? They are two Catholic Sisters that are more frequently seen on quads than afoot.

11/5/2015 8:36:17 AM

An option that may help with the local cell phone service problem, is a small cell phone repeater. Using a high-gain antenna (one type is a "Yagi antenna" which looks like the TV antenna on most homes) it may be able to amplify a weak signal - if one is there at all. You didn't mention if there is electricity at the homestead, if not, that would pose an additional problem. A repeater will cost several hundred dollars so if you want to see if a usable signal may be possible before spending anything you could locate your local ham radio club for help. They would probably love the challenge.

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