Storytelling is a selective art, and since buildings and landscapes form the foundation of my stories, I cannot capture them all. Yesterday afternoon, while perusing Facebook (you know you do it too…), I flinched at the photograph of a bulldozer tearing into a small house in Paris, Kentucky. The realization that I photographed that house last summer, filing it away on the list of topics to explore “when I have time,” further jolted me from my late afternoon drowsiness.
I take lots of pictures of buildings, and while I struggle to remember how I’ve electronically filed them, I rarely forget a house I’ve seen. Last June, I spent a most pleasant (albeit hot and muggy) Sunday afternoon walking around downtown Paris, capturing images of anything that caught my fancy. This one-story brick house was located beside Southside School (now known as Paris Elementary School), and under the cover of several large trees, it looked forlorn, empty, and teeming with stories.
I took photographs from the street, so a close examination of this house wasn’t possible – and unfortunately, this dwelling was never surveyed, with a form on file at the Kentucky Heritage Council. This oversight is simply that – surveys, unless specifically designed to do so, don’t record every historic building – there often isn’t time, money, or the people to carry out such a task. Historic Paris-Bourbon County. Inc. has done tremendous work for decades in preserving and documenting the rich history of Bourbon County – but you simply can’t get everything all of the time.
In the 1877 D.G. Beers Atlas that covers Bourbon County, there is a house in this general location, owned by a J.W. Ingles. Deed research (a chain of title) would provide the evidence necessary to determine if this indeed is the little house destroyed yesterday. What appears to definitely be this house first shows up on the 1886 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Paris – this isn’t proof that the house dates from that year, simply that the parameters of Sanborn’s coverage first included this area in 1886.
The house was what we call a “T-plan” house – these house forms typically have a front gable projecting from the main mass of the facade, forming a footprint that resembles the letter T. The house was one “pile” or room deep, with front and rear porches. It was four bays wide, with a fenestration arrangement (windows and doors) of window/window/door/window – and given the slight elongation of the window openings, it appears likely that this house was built in the 1860s or later (probably between 1860-1875). The doorway, with its transom and sidelights, conveys the lingering classical influence of both the Federal and Greek Revival styles, but the dimensions, like those of the windows, suggest the Italianate style was in force when this dwelling was built.
The relatively small size of the brick chimneys indicates that the fireplaces in the house were likely only used for heat, and either with coal or some sort of stove, rather than the large brick stacks you see on many Kentucky houses constructed prior to 1860. The small front porch, with its chamfered posts and scalloped frieze, was likely modified in the last quarter of the 19th century. The house rested on a stone foundation, and its brick was laid in a common bond pattern, while the windows and doors were topped with plain stone lintels (the sills were stone as well).
And that is about all I can conjure up about this little house from the three photographs I took last year. I have no idea how long it had been empty, or its overall condition. I mourn the loss of a story I will never know, and the lost opportunities for restoration, adaptive reuse, or even failing that – a deconstruction that would have allowed reuse of some of the building materials. The feeding of landfills is never to be celebrated. I know I can’t tell all of the stories of the places I pass through – but the failures still rankle.