A Tear-Down or the Realization of a Dream?

I’d been waiting a year for this moment. Well, a year and a lifetime. It was late. Darkness and silence surrounded me. The rest of the house slept. I lay on the air mattress on the floor of the living room and I thought about the journey that had brought me here.

As a child, in this sleepy, Colorado mountain community, I’d always loved this house. I didn’t know then that the proper name for the roof style was “gambrel”. To me it was simply “that barn house”. Towering cottonwood trees lined the front of the property. A creek wound it’s way through shrub oak and among the pines between the old barn and the southern boundary. The Greenhorn Mountain rose tall to the west. Strong. Constant. Beautiful. I didn’t know anything about the place, it’s history, it’s owners. I was a kid and knew only that I loved it.

I would leave this place, this community. Not by my choice. Not willingly. Not without tears and an aching heart. My journey away from here took me first to Arizona, then eventually to other parts of Colorado, to Indiana. I was privileged to live in some other cultures and see some of the world. I’d lived in Europe, traveled to Asia and Africa, had a baby in Holland. But somehow, in the back of my mind and deep in my heart a love for this place remained.

Nearly thirty years after leaving, I returned. When I did, I drove by this house, this barn house. I couldn’t tell if it was occupied or not. The car in the drive might indicate it was, but the place looked abandoned. I would learn that the house was going into foreclosure. That started an exercise in patience that would last nearly 10 months. 10 months of waiting. 10 months of working on contracts, repair estimates, financing and appraisals. Just before closing we almost lost the house when our lender quit the business and did not notify anyone. But finally, finally we were here.

I lay in the dark that night remembering the broken, winding road that had brought me here. So thankful to have this place. So grateful to be here … and wondering if I’d made a huge mistake.

The smell of dog urine was so strong as to be nearly unbearable. Every window was open to the August night, and still I found it difficult to breathe. I was thankful that the kids were upstairs, removed from the foul and toxic odors, bedrooms newly painted and floors newly refinished. I remembered the words of my friend and realtor when I’d first talked with her about buying this house. “I think that house is a teardown.” I wondered now if she was right.

Of course the floors had been mopped and bleached, but urine penetrated the wood floors and the odor hung heavy in the still, night air. The bank had winterized the house in March, an exercise in futility since by that point bitter cold temperatures had already wreaked their havoc.

The plumbing would all need to be replaced as well as the water heater due to freeze damage. Soot covered the ceiling and walls around the water heater. It was unclear if it was due to poor venting or a fire, but either way, it would need to be addressed. A toilet bowl was cracked where water had frozen. The well pump was failing. Cracks had formed on some of the walls and the living room ceiling was failing where a poor attempt had been made to patch a former leak. Walls were black with woodsmoke, tile had fallen from the shower wall, windows were cracked or broken.

My mind played that list over knowing these items were just scratching the surface. And again, I wondered if maybe my friend was right. I thought of all those others who had wanted this house, who had placed their offers and received the news that theirs was not the highest and best. Maybe it wasn’t too late to sell it to one of them. But I was used to trusting my instincts and my instincts told me that this place was worth saving. That the bones were great. That I couldn’t tear down 100 years of history.

So I used the sheet to cover my nose and filter the foul air and I remembered all of the reasons I’d loved this house in the first place. I drifted off to sleep determined to address the odors and dreaming of what this place would become.

It isn’t finished yet. Weeks before closing on the house, I had started a new business. It would grow rapidly and consume my time and energy, requiring long days and more than an occasional evening. I bought and rehabbed the Greenhorn Farmhouse. Kids got married and wedding preparations replaced rehab. But little by little it’s improving and I have very high expectations for the coming year.



I’ve been replacing windows one at a time and have just three remaining. If you’ve never done that before, I’ll show you how in an upcoming post. It’s not nearly as hard as it sounds and you can save a great deal of money by doing it yourself.

Today, my crew worked to repair and stabilize the barn. A back wall was pushing out and I was concerned about the structure.  They removed years of accumulated manure, now composted and compacted with dirt. With picks and shovels, they dug holes in the rocky ground. New support posts were set in holes and concrete was poured.

Tomorrow the walls will be pulled back into place and attached to the posts. Someday I will re-side the barn and install proper barn doors but for now I’ll rest easier knowing the horses are safe and the historical building will continue to stand there along the creek and among the trees.