I have just returned from a vacation in the high country of Colorado. It is gorgeous this time of year–hot sun during the day, dramatic thunderstorms in the late afternoon. The rain makes the mushrooms and flowers particularly plentiful and colorful.
What is often of interest to me is how the hand of humans has adjusted our landscape and how the evidence of our manipulation during the gold rush era is still observable but fading from sight.
Here are some examples, for the observant:
This photo doesn’t look like much but on the left of the trees is a ditch and on the right is a berm, created from the removal of the dirt from the ditch. This ditch was dug by miners of the Buffalo Placers Mining Company in the early 1900’s.  It follows the topography around this hill to reroute the water to a mine that could then wash the stone which would leave the heavier gold behind. Only a segment remains but the berm provides a great walking path to Lily Pad Lakes. one of the “standard” hikes we take every time we are in CO. Imagine having to dig this. Oh, did I mention it is at 9800 feet above sea(ttle) level! 🙂
My husband is standing behind some bleached wood lying perpendicular to the Wilder Gulch Trail.  This is a “corduroy road” of whole logs laid perpendicular to the travel path and placed in this swampy location, usually with a gravel overlay.  In the areas where access to a sawmill was possible, these were hewn logs and a much smoother ride was possible. That type of road was called a “plank road.”  It was obvious that whole logs had been laid here. Not a smooth ride but it still made the trip over this boggy area easier. This 6 foot segment is one of just a few remnants of the road on a three mile trail that ends at 11.765 feet, significantly above tree line.
Here is a picture of Buffalo Cabin on the Buffalo Mountain trail.  We have been hiking this trail for 30 years. The first time we saw the cabin we could see where the windows were because the logs were stacked up higher than now. You can still see the threshold of the door but barely–it’s the cut log at the grade level on the right where the logs are scattered. It’s located at 10,400 feet above sea level.
The mines themselves are not visible but the remnants of the miners existence are still visible to those to take the time.
But what does this have to do with House Histories? I contend that like genealogy we can look for the surface information in the documents we read or we can truly start to understand the context of the lives of our ancestors. House Histories is not “just pulling documents” as some one suggested to me nor is it just about a building or even just about a parcel of land. to truly understand the occupants you also need to understand the stories the house, the parcel and the environment is telling you. The interpretation of what we see adds to the richness of any documents we may look at. And sometimes it is in the smallest of clues which tell a story of the passion and the will and even the loneliness of the miners of earlier times.
We can look but we must also see and interpret what we see. The documents add to our understanding but are only a portion of the story.
1. Mary Ellen Gilliland, The New Summit Hiker and Ski Touring Guide, (Alpenrose Press: Silverthorne, CO, 1987), Lily Pad Lake Trail, p. 86.
2. ibid, Wilder Gulch Trail, p. 56.
3. Wikipedia, “Corduroy Road” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corduroy_road : accessed 10 September 2013).
4. Carl Abbott, “The Plank Road in the Antebellum Middle West,” Indiana Magazine of History, vol. 67, no. 2, June 1971, p.96. According to the article, Toronto had the first plank road in in North America in 1836. By 1843, Syracuse had the first plank road in the United States.
3. Guilliland, The New Summit Hiker, Buffalo Mountain Trail, p. 88