Appreciating Forgotten Places

Reader Contribution by Fala Burnette and Wolf Branch Homestead
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An old rock chimney hidden away in the woods. Photo by Fala Burnette (Wolf Branch Homestead)

I can recall riding around the countryside a few years ago with my husband, his grandfather, and a few other family members. His grandfather, Mr. Hickman (“Pa”) was driving us around the county and pointing out all the places he had lived as a child before settling down where they are now. Even his current home was once a childhood home- his daddy built the barn out back many years ago that still stands. In riding around that day, after all this time, he could point out the exact place where the houses once stood and most of the time he could tell you how long they had lived there. Two particular places caught my attention- at each site, nothing remained but a rock chimney. At one point, these were the places he called home as a youngster, and now there were a cluster of trees surrounding the chimneys to the point you could blink and miss them driving by.

Mr. Hickman inspired me in this trip to begin photographing places like this as I have traveled. I find that even though these structures remain relatively forgotten places, there is still beauty in taking a picture of them and stopping to reflect on who may have called this area home. How important was that barn to the farmer that built it? How many children were raised in that little dog trot cabin? When you think about these things, we learn to value so much in life. It becomes an important realization that we should appreciate the history of these aging structures. In turn, we also learn to be grateful for the roofs that protect our own family and the barns that shelter our horses, chickens, cattle, and other valuable livestock.

How often do we drive past a crumbling barn, a lone chimney, or abandoned cabins? These forgotten places once held important meaning to the families that called the area home. Our upbringing shapes us as we grow, and often times we look back and remember particular places fondly in our memories. It’s why so many people take photographs in their life journey- to help remember that moment in the future. Whether it be accidental, weather-related, or simply just time, many personal treasures are lost to only photos and memories.

Luckily enough, there are many museums across the country that pay homage to the homesteaders or historic fort locations of our past with a cabin or two on display. It is interesting to learn the process of how they were sometimes moved, re-constructed, and brought back to glory to educate the public. Some older cabins are even renovated for people to rent and stay in for periods of time. But for the home-places that don’t see these types of moves to save them, I believe it is still important to remember their history and contemplate their prior beauty.

It isn’t just the lone corn crib left standing in the cow field on the side of the dirt road- sometimes it’s the little country store where everyone in the small town used to gather that cements its place in our hearts. There’s a painting that was made over 40 years ago- my husband’s great-grandfather and a few other men playing checkers outside of a little store in walking distance from the post office his wife worked at. Today, only a pile of rubble remains where the condemned store was demolished a few years back. At one point in time this was a place where folks gathered and chatted, and in the minds of those who stopped by and grabbed their groceries or bumped into a neighbor, they’ll still see it that way.

To those wise in years and young at heart, don’t forget to share the memories of where you grew up with your family and others. Take photos and write down your experiences, as you never know who would love to read about it and see it in future generations. Take for example just how many people today are interested in tracing their ancestry, and finding out more about those who came before them. To the youngsters, pay attention with respect to the stories told to you by the adults of your family about where they grew up. You may hear the story a thousand times it feels like, but one day the stories will be only in your heart to carry on, and you’ll wish you could hear it a thousand more times from your loved one. Remember that while these forgotten places were once a house to man or animal, it’s the company you keep and the love you share that makes it home.

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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