Old Homes, Historic Homes: Why are We Drawn to Them?

My previous post discussed the Ballantine House in Newark, New Jersey and touched upon the fascination and attraction of such spaces. Why do people decide to spend their leisure time or vacations visiting historic neighborhoods and sites, especially houses and homes? Aren’t they just moldy, musty aging places full of shadows of (largely) dead rich white men and their families? Little more than monuments to prejudice, greed, and excess?

In a very narrow and rather sad and cynical way, I suppose that the answers must be: yes and yes. Such places are “old” and they are preserves of past times and possibly lost customs. They were often—yet certainly not always—constructed for Americans of a certain social and economic status. A qualification is necessary: not all historic homes once belonged to robber barons, plantation owners, and other problematic figures from our local, regional, or national history. For instance, the Tenement Museum,  a former … well … tenement, is one of the more visited museums and historic sites in New York City. Tours usually require reservations well in advance.

Tenement Museum
Restored room of an Irish-American family’s apartment, Tenement Museum (Courtesy of The Secret Victorianist).

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