Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Blogs and old houses

James and Dolley Madison's Montpelier.

There are sagging shelves all over the place around here loaded with heavy (and expensive) books about old houses, nearly all in the United States and the United Kingdom, invested in over the years. I look at them regularly and probably will buy more this year (making a list; checking it twice) --- but the Web, especially the growing number of house-related blogs, has made my obsession with historic buildings much livelier than it used to be. Virtual tourism (or architectural voyeurism if you like) can be a wonderful thing.

Although the National Trust for Historic Preservation has a fairly ugly Web site, the site is a good portal to some of my favorite house blogs. And the National Trust's Preservation Nation Blog, although general, is a good read in itself. Go the bottom of the Trust's cover page, however, and you'll see a scroll-strip of National Trust properties, all leading to excellent Web sites about each, sometimes with links to related blogs. Here's another National Trust blog related specifically to historic sites.

Brucemore, in Cedar Rapids and Iowa's only National Trust property, does not have a related blog --- but for some reason Iowans tend to forget that Brucemore is here, so its Web site can serve as a useful reminder. Maybe a vist next summer is in order.

The old house blog I've followed the longest is related to James and Dolley Madison's Montpelier house (top), located near Orange, Virginia. Unlike many old houses, including those related to founding fathers and mothers, Montpelier never fell upon hard times. But it was vastly expanded and elaborated over the years, most notably by the duPont family. So when the National Trust acquired the property, the decision was made to strip away all the later additions and return it to its original form, as it would have looked when the Madisons lived there. That extensive and interesting process has been the subject of ongoing blog posts for years. All of that, as well as current happenings, still is available in the blog archive, or in somewhat more organized form through the main Montpelier Web site.

Although not quite as lively as the Montpelier's, the blog related to another National Trust property, Drayton Hall, near Charleston, South Carolina, is another I check regularly. The main Drayton Hall Web site is here and the Drayton Hall blog, here. Drayton Hall is especially interesting, to me at least, because its conservation has been a pioneering and innovative effort to arrest and preserve an historic building in a somewhat decayed state --- rather than to restore it.

Shadows-on-the-Teche, New Iberia, Louisiana, is among the oldest National Trust properties and perhaps my favorite. Although it has a blog, it does not seem to be updated regularly. The main Web site, however, contains a wealth of information about the building and its people. Now if the staff would just update that blog more regularly ....

The United Kingdom's National Trust has a far longer history --- and many many more properties --- than the United States' version, but lags when it comes to Web sites and blogs related to specific properties.

I am devoted, however, to Emile de Bruijn's Treasure Hunt blog, which is focused on items in or recently added to the National Trust collection and therefore a little indirectly to specific properties --- although the stories of the items always are told in the context of the properties to which they belong.

And I'm happy to report that there is a new (less than a year old) blog for Uppark house and garden, in South Harting, Petersfield, West Sussex, one of my favorite houses in the whole wide world --- and one that nearly was lost during a nightmarish 1989 fire. In the intervening years, it has been immaculately restored and I'm looking forward to reading its blog during the new year.

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