Elizabeth Finkelstein says that “even as a two-year-old I understood the magic of old houses.”
Her parents, Dr. Joel and Gail Solomon, raised their family in one of the most historic homes in Queensbury, New York, on Chestnut Ridge Road. Called the Nehemiah Wing house, it was named after one of the 19th century owners, a descendant of Abraham Wing, a founder of nearby Glens Falls. The original clapboard part of the home is believed to date to the 18th century. The brick addition was constructed in 1852.
Ms. Finkelstein’s appreciation of old homes has turned into a lifelong passion for her and her husband Ethan; an Instagram account with 1.6-million followers; and now a TV show Cheap Old Houses that will debut on Monday, Aug. 9, on HGTV and Discovery Plus.
Last Sunday, we headed out to Gardenworks Farm, in Salem, NY, to visit with our good friends and the farm’s owners, Meg and Rob Southerland, and to select our Christmas tree. It was just like old times, piling into the car with our two sons, worried about whether our younger son would feel car sick on the drive over hill and dale to get to the farm. Surprise — our “boys” are now in their mid-twenties, having returned home during the pandemic to work from our home, yet both were enthusiastic about accompanying my husband and me on our tree venture — and no one got car sick! Indeed, I had hoped to go to the farm a few days earlier, but my sons complained that their work schedules didn’t allow them to go then, and how could I even consider not including them in such a classic family tradition?
Each June, the formal gardens at Hildene, in Manchester, Vermont, overflow with an abundance of heirloom peonies. Built at the turn of the 20th century as the summer home of Robert Lincoln, the only child of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, Hildene was saved from development by local residents in the 1970s after the last descendant of the Lincoln family living there died in 1975. The Friends of Hildene purchased the estate in 1978, worked to restore the home and gardens, and then opened it to the public. Here’s a quick history of the property from the Hildene web site.
I know there’s no shortage of people ruminating on the Web about being stuck at home and the various ways they are trying to cope during the Covid-19 shutdown. I am intensely grateful that I can do my work for our business from home, I don’t often have to venture into public places, and I don’t have young children at home who need help with schoolwork! Above all, I am thankful that most of my friends and family seem to be healthy and weathering the storm.
The line up on our kitchen counter. Grateful to have a can of Lysol spray.
But since we can’t physically travel, and are pretty much confined at home, I haven’t published an article on my blog since January, when I wrote about our visit to Frida Kahlo’s home in Mexico City. So even though I can’t share some wonderful destination, I can share what’s been happening in my house in northern New York State.
One of my favorite events anywhere, Virginia Historic Garden Week, the oldest house and garden tour in the United States, takes place this year from April 27 through May 4, throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. Multiple private homes and gardens are open to visitors, with the purchase of tickets. The 31 tours are organized and hosted by 47 member clubs of the Garden Club of Virginia. Click here to access a PDF of this year’s tour book.
Early this spring, I attended an auction in Washington County, New York, with the intention of bidding on a Federal mahogany console table for my front hall. While at the preview, I noticed a shelf with several clocks that were to be included in the auction later that evening.
In 2001, when the food historians at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. learned that famous chef, TV personality and cookbook author Julia Child (1912-2004) was selling her home in Cambridge, Mass. and moving back to her home state of California, they contacted her to discuss the possibility of including some of her culinary objects in the museum’s collection. They were invited to visit Ms. Child in Cambridge, and she agreed to donate the entirety of her kitchen to the museum — literally every object that she had collected and used in her kitchen from the late 1940s, through 2001, including appliances, pots and pans, cookbooks on the shelf, even the magnets on the fridge.
The signage says the only things the museum added are the plastic tomatoes (in the trug) and bananas in the bowl on the table. Also, the museum recreated the linoleum floor from Ms. Child’s kitchen out of paper.
Near Kendal, in Cumbria, on the southern edge of England’s Lake District, lies Levens Hall, with its extensive topiary garden, said to be the oldest and most extensive garden of its type in the world.
Levens Hall itself is still a private residence, home to the Bagot family, but it and the surrounding gardens are open to the public (for a fee) from spring to fall. Photographs are not permitted inside the home, so unfortunately, I have none to share. The original home was built circa 1250 to 1300, and subsequent additions turned it into the sprawling manor house that visitors see today.
Many people know of Beatrix Potter, the English writer and illustrator, because of her series of beloved children’s books about Peter Rabbit and his friends.
But Miss Potter (1866-1943), later known as Mrs. Heelis, was far more than a genteel Victorian lady who penned stories about woodland creatures like bunnies and hedgehogs and painted charming watercolors of them wearing human clothing. She was a naturalist, a conservationist, a scientist (a mycologist, to be exact), a visionary merchandiser of her products, a farmer who raised Herdwick sheep, and a far-sighted land preservationist.
If your interests run to historic homes and gardens, I urge you to request some vacation days, board your pooch or kitties, fire up your GPS and head to the beautiful Commonwealth of Virginia during the last week of April to take in some of the tours offered during Historic Garden Week. Now in its 85th year, Historic Garden Week is organized by the Garden Club of Virginia and offers tours in various communities over the course of eight days, providing glimpses into homes, buildings and gardens across the commonwealth, most of which are normally not open to the public.