Although long overdue, toooooo long long overdue, today I’d like to introduce The Farm in Cossayuna. Or reintroduce it, for those of you who’ve been with me for a while. I refer to it often, and yet I don’t usually contextualize my reference in any sort of useful manner. It’s as if I unconsciously assume everyone knows what I’m referring to when I weave The Farm in Cossayuna (aka “The Farm“) into a conversation, a blog post, a social media update. Why? Not sure. Maybe the omnipresence of The Farm as a defining point of reference in my own life?
This upstate New York farm property figures prominently in the childhood memories underpinning my Rosslyn obsession. It was also my first experience of preservation by neglect. And judging from my most recent visit a decade ago, it looks likely that this once-again-woebegone holding may be depending upon the mercy of preservation by neglect once again. But I’ll flesh that out in a moment. First let’s fill in the backstory a little bit.
One of the first (if not the first) mentions of The Farm on Rosslyn Redux was back in May 31, 2011 when this blog was still young.
My parents, living and working in New York City, had purchased an 1840s farmhouse on 85 acres near Greenwich, New York five months after getting married. I was born less than two years later.
Although The Farm served primarily as a weekend getaway for the next five years, it dominates the geography of my earliest childhood. A stream of nostalgia gilded memories flow from this pastoral source: exploring the time-worn barns, absent livestock except for those conjured up by my energetic imagination and the swallows which darted in and out, building nests in the rafters, gliding like darts through dusty sunbeams; vegetable gardening with my mother; tending apple, pear and quince trees with my father; eating fresh rhubarb, strawberries and blackberries; discovering deer and raccoons and snakes and even a snapping turtle. (Source: The Farm)
And a few months later on September 29, 2011 I returned to the same theme.
My idealized notion of a country house had its roots in a small farm that my parents had bought in Washington County while still living in New York City in the 1970s. Initially a getaway for my recently married parents trying to balance life and careers in New York City and later, albeit briefly, a full time residence, The Farm underpins my love for countryside and provides my earliest childhood memories.(Source: Abandoning City Life)
Sadly, I don’t know when this farmhouse was originally built but it was ours four about seven years. My mother confirmed this afternoon that they sold The Farm in 1977. And yet forty five years later I’m still dusting off memories and drawing upon The Farm’s wellspring of influence for my homing projects.
Preservation by Neglect: The Farm
If we contemplate The Farm in Cossayuna through the lens of preservation by neglect, there are at least two timeframes to focus on: the period prior to 1970 when my parents purchased the property, and the period after 1977 when my parents sold the property. Both are interesting, and I’d like to touch briefly on both.
But first let’s refresh the idea of preservation by neglect. Although sometimes considered a conservation strategy, this invests it with a greater degree of intention than I suspect is usually the case. Often historic buildings deteriorate because they are no longer necessary or desirable, or they’ve become too difficult or expensive to maintain, or conditions have become too precarious or dangerous to attempt renovation. Entropy. In some cases this inevitable natural deterioration resulting from human inaction can help protect a building from alteration, demolition, etc. that might otherwise permanently alter, damage, or eliminate the underlying architectural or cultural heritage. In essence, these forgotten properties, are spared by virtue of being too far gone for convenient rehabilitation. Their neglect has in some (but certainly not all) cases leads to eventual preservation.
The painting of The Farm in Cossayuna at the top of this post was made and gifted by Louise Coldwell, a next door neighbor and family friend. In my memory, that is the home I remember. Perhaps from the years of looking upon the painting, and perhaps because the romance of a house, a person, a view seems to win out when rendered in a painting versus a photograph.
But when my parents purchased the property it probably looked a bit more like this black and white photograph (if you can use your imagination to pull three years of renovation away from the image.)
I believe that the photograph was taken in 1973 by my father. The miniature portico over the front door has been removed (and replaced with an eagle) by the time the painting was made. But otherwise things look pretty similar. The near chimney looks like it could use a repointing (my memory takes me to a chimney fire in this small stone stack) and the roof’s ridge beam shows some sagging, especially on the right side. But all told, the house looks pretty good. My memory fails me in providing a proper assessment of the home’s condition when my parents purchased it, so I’ll see if I can tease it out of them. What I do recollect is the condition of the barns. They were in rough shape even then, though I’ll save those memories (and a few photographs from my 2012 return to the property) for another post focusing specifically on the barns. Spoiler alert: one of the large barns had to be torn down when I was still a baby…
But let’s fast forward almost three decades and take a look at the house, albeit from a different angle, when I returned with my parents and an old neighbor in 2012.
Following a community cider day at the one time home of Louise and Dwight Coldwell, we were fortunate to be offered a ride and an introduction to the new owner of our old house. Wilbur McIntyre, a dairy farmer who lived a couple of doors away, took us down the long wooded driveway to see the home and barns. We met the adult son of the owners and were invited to look around. Ostensibly undergoing some maintenance, the main door to the exterior had been removed and a blanket hung in its place. Chickens pecked around on the floor inside what had been our dining room once upon a time. We abbreviated our inside visit and returned to the yard noting some changes like a small pond that had been dug at the far end of the home. The barns, to my satisfaction, were still standing and in remarkably fine fettle for utility buildings clearly neglected for many decades. There’s something about a well built barn, even as nature punishes it relentlessly day after day, year after year.
In some respect the outside of the house looks virtually unchanged. The sag in the roof is still visible, and there’s an even more pronounced sag in the single story addition at the far end of the house (the location of our kitchen in the 1970s). Inside the house appeared to be in a state of advanced disrepair, but for all I know we might have caught a thorough rehabilitation effort in the early phase. Perhaps today the interior is bright, sturdy, inviting, and the chickens are back outside in the yard.
The Farm in Cossayuna
I’ve talked elsewhere about the curious pull this house exudes upon me, but for now the matter at hand is how this property — neglected before and after my parents’ short stewardship — has endured so admirably, so unmuddled by “makeovers” and ill conceived additions. The existing addition I’ve already noted predates my parents’s purchase, and it is perhaps an architecturally unfortunate departure from the simple colonial bones of the house, and the windows were clearly replaced at some point, perhaps also prior to the period my mother and father loved this little home in the woods. In short, this property appears to have endured more neglect across the decades than preservation, and yet it endures. It affords a gentle optimism that even the inhospitable winters and the relatively moist year-round conditions are nevertheless allowing for this one-time farm to exist another year, another decade, perhaps another century.
During this last visit to The Farm in Cossayuna Susan and I had already undertaken the brunt of Rosslyn’s ambitious 4+ yearlong rehabilitation. Work on the grounds was ongoing, and the 2011 floods had devastated the boathouse and waterfront, so we were once again working against the odds. In addition to salvaging the boathouse after about three months under water, we need to rebuild stone wall terracing, replant gardens, lawns, and trees. Rehab ad infinitum!
Rosslyn, no longer being preserved by neglect, was now being historically rehabilitated with intention and determination. And to this day, our commitment has not wavered. The current boathouse gangway repairs and the icehouse rehabilitation project are only the two most current efforts to ensure that our stewardship of this historic property allows it to be enjoyed for generations to come. And yet we are well aware that our good fortune, the longevity and endurance of this stately property, is due in no small part to preservation by neglect, much as…
What do you think?