Where do you begin researching the story of an old house? You can try googling the address, but that will only get you so far. Real estate websites like Zillow and Trulia will list what year the house was built—a date usually drawn from county tax records—but such dates may not be accurate for older houses, especially those built before 1900.
Can you close your eyes and think about a home from your childhood? Picture opening the front door and walking inside. What do you see? Furniture, objects, people, maybe pets? Your old bedroom, your favorite toys?
It seems amazing that certain spaces and places can remain so alive and 3-dimensional in our minds even after decades. Even if those buildings are now long gone — maybe burned or razed or replaced by another building or a highway — their intricate interiors can still exist in our memories, and we can move around and interact with that space.
Our homes have witnessed the greatest joys and tragedies in our lives. So it’s no wonder that they can occupy such a vibrant expanse in our memories. And older houses have witnessed such life-changing events many times over, as different families have come and gone.
When my family moved into this old brick house in 1975, we knew essentially nothing about the house’s history. Our curiosity was briefly piqued when, a few months later, my mom noticed a map in the Apollo library that looked something like this map from 1876, with the lonely-looking square in the upper right labeled S. Truby.
“I think that’s our house,” mom said. “I think we’re living in an old farmhouse. It’s probably the oldest house on our block.”
Well, that’s neat. But we weren’t really sure, and we knew of no easy way to research the history of the house in those pre-Internet days. So we let the matter drop.
When Apollo celebrated its 175th anniversary in 1991, I thought for sure we’d finally learn more about this old house and S. Truby. But no such luck! S. Truby wasn’t even mentioned in any of the booklets or articles or presentations put together at that time. And our house wasn’t listed among any of the town’s historic buildings.
So as the town’s 200th anniversary neared (Apollo, PA, was founded in 1816), it seemed time to stop waiting for someone else to unexpectedly hand us interesting facts about the house. It was time to get our butts in gear and scour the Web, local libraries, and awesome historical and genealogical societies for more information about S. Truby and his family.
We uncovered much much more than we’d ever expected — about the house, its families, and the town of Apollo. And there’s still a boatload of information I’m still working to discover.
I now know that Simon Truby was a farmer whose land now makes up about one-third of the total acreage of Apollo Borough. He likely built this brick house —the Truby homestead — around 1843, which makes this one of the oldest standing houses in Apollo. I know that in 1850 his farm produced 400 pounds of butter, 60 pounds of honey, and 100 pounds of wool from 40 sheep. And he grew potatoes, oats, corn, and hay. I know that Simon’s wife Elizabeth and their 9 children helped out on the farm, and farming ceased around 1892 as the town encroached on the land.
As I’ve learned more about Simon Truby and the other families who’ve lived in this house, I try to imagine the rooms as they saw them, and I can sometimes visualize them moving about the house. I stand at the top of this old staircase and try to envision wood planks instead of red carpeting. And I imagine Simon Truby standing at this very spot, ready to descend the stairs and start the day’s work on the farm, milking cows, mending fences, or shearing sheep.
I also wonder which bedroom was Simon’s and Elizabeth’s, and where did their kids sleep? I hypothesize that Simon chose my bedroom, in the northwest corner of the house, as it would have had the best view of the river and the farm. And just this past summer, I noticed that the big dipper regularly appears in the center of the north-facing window each night. So again, I try to mind-meld with Simon, who surely looked out this very window, studied these same stars, marveled at the beauty of the moonlit landscape, and got a glimpse of what the next day’s weather might bring.
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– Vicki Contie