Sunday, June 5, 2011

Wanted...a Few Old Salvagable Bungalows

As a kid, took great glee in the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Looking back at my youth, think the joy I found in those adventures can be attributed too my own affinity and love of the River Boats in those adventures, to the fact that those small fragments of history in the stories touched my own life. I lived on the Ohio River in the small town of Jeffersonville, Indiana which is right across the river from Louisville, Kentucky, remember to this day with fondness the great old Stern-wheelers the "Belle of Louisville" and the "Delta Queen" heading up and down the Ohio River, the black smoke billowing from their stacks, the American Flag proudly fluttering in the breeze on a summer's day.

We lived just outside of town by the time I was six, and I would spend my days wondering the railroad tracks behind my house, picking up old railroad spikes, sometimes jumping into a box car in the siding to look for treasures. Other days saw me wondering fields, exploring around old abandoned barns, and farm houses slowly decaying back into the ground. As I grew older, my collection of old bottles, discarded enamel wear and other trinkets grew, as did my appreciation for these relics from a time long ago past. There was/is a certain majesty in the old houses and barns I explored, their tenacious attempts to hold their footprint upon the earth a losing battle as roofs sagged in, collapsing inside walls still barely standing. Each having a story needing to be heard, but going unheard, collectively, a history being lost as the story of those buildings, the lives lived in them passing with seasons that help Mother Nature reclaim them into the environment.

Fast forward, my own life now in it's golden years, my bones on cold nights feeling their age. I still have a love of old buildings, find myself enjoying the photographic opportunities afforded here in Sullivan County, the countryside here rich with old homes and bungalows slowing, yet gracefully giving up their ghosts, too often the stories to be told lost as once magnificent structures slowly collapse in on themselves, hints of their past there for the discerning folks willing to take the time to see them. Small signs under a collapsed roof that announce the location of a coffee shop hint of what a large sprawling house used to be...a boarding house, or perhaps even a small hotel catering to guests back in the 30's and 40's when trains would cough up their passengers looking to get away from the big city for a few days, or perhaps the whole summer.

The longer I am in Sullivan County, the more I learn of its rich past, as long time residents share their memories of times long past, some of them looking at my photographs, recognizing a particular structure their own lives had crossed, regaling me with tidbits of an exciting history involving actors, actresses, members of the mob, and wealthy families whose lives read like some fairytale almost impossible to believe. A part of me believes some of this rich cultural history should be preserved, some of the past saved, cared for, kept safe so that those old stories, our shared history can be shared with future generations.

Seems others share that belief, have their own dreams/visions of saving and preserving a small part of this rich heritage through the creation of a Bungalow Museum...a place in Mountaindale where a small handful of Bungalows could be resurrected, saved from the ravages of the passing seasons, restored to their past grandeur, once the repairs made, furniture placed, they would be open to the public, citizens able to take a tour of a space meant to share the memories that we now are slowly losing as those who spent their summers in Bungalow Colonies become fewer in number, their stories lost forever with the passing of the years.

A simple enough task one would down almost any rural road in our county, and you can see the derelict buildings, most far to gone to save, but others almost begging, "Take me, let my story be shared".

Problems is, such a noble project as a Bungalow Museum is not as simple as one would think. Finding potential candidate buildings is easy enough, but securing them, moving them, resurrecting their simple beauty a horse of another color. Those slowly decaying buildings have a story to tell, a collective history worthy of saving...but they also hold very special memories for the people and families who own(ed) them, I am almost certain a certain comfort found in driving by and seeing the structures (however precarious) still standing as testament to what once was. A crossroads where old memories and new dreams meet, perhaps finding a way to travel down and identical road into the future, or perhaps not.

In my own life, I have used similar old buildings, falling down barns as identifying structures when giving directions to the 40 acre farm I used to own in the woods of South Eastern Ohio. Go down the road about three miles, and when you see the old red barn too right. Head down the road another half a mile and make a left at the yellow farm house with the green shutters. There is a comfort a shared sense of community found in these seemingly worthless old structures...they are a part of the whole, something folds both look to and identify with. This reality, old memories give these places a intangible value, something one cannot put a price too until after they are gone, reclaimed back into the ground from which they sprung.

Enter the Catskills Bungalow Heritage Committee who has spent over a year now working towards the dream of having a Bungalow Museum here in Mountaindale, NY. Their goal is pretty simple...find, locate, move a number of old Bungalows into Mountaindale across from our new train station, restore them, and then get state certification as a bonifide registered Museum. They have a commitment for the site of this vision, and have been in discussions with various owners of some of the old Bungalow Colonies in our area. What they have no so far been able to secure, is the donation of any structures, various snags always cropping up at the last moment as they try to move this project along. Perhaps some of our readers might be able to help, so I am listing below some of the needs of this committee in the hopes people will step forward and get involved.

1. Letters of support-There is much to be said for the knowledge that a community supports any given project, especially one of this magnitude...not every town or hamlet has their own museum. Letters supporting this project from our citizens, and ELECTED OFFICIALS would be very helpful.

2. A critical mass of 4-7 Bungalows is envisioned to make this project, the museum a viable as well as substantial reality. Maybe you know someone, or perhaps you are someone that owns some of these relics of yesteryear, would consider making a donation of the structure to the committee?

*Sure it would be possible to have the structure appraised, and see that you were given a tax credit for the donation.

3. In kind donations of goods and services that will needed once restoration work begins on this structures.

If you have additional questions, or would like to become involved in this project, please contact:

Raymon Elozua

Catskills Bungalow Heritage Committee (CBHC)
PO Box 129
Mountaindale, NY 12763-0129