The textures of old buildings

Fire damage is clearly evident on this end of the building
Fire damage is clearly evident on this end of the building.

When we moved in January to a new house on a corner of the farm where my wife grew up, we ended up with a variety of outbuildings that had had minimal use for years. We’re using the old garage for our riding mower and other lawn tools. Since it sits near our house, we had the old smokehouse restored.  So far, we haven’t decided what to do with the old chicken house.

Ten years ago, a fire destroyed two other buildings and damaged the chicken house. Except for wandering free-range chickens (if any), a chicken hasn’t been in there for ages. My wife’s folks stored hay in the building before the barn was built. Since her dad was a contractor, the building became a convenient place to store lumber left over from one job or another.

As the pictures show, Mother Nature keeps an eye on abandoned buildings, waiting for an opportunity to reclaim them for wild

Vines do their work slowly, but thoroughly.
Vines do their work slowly, but thoroughly.

things, nature spirits and haints. We had’t gone inside this building since we moved here. Well, obviously any rehab of the building is going to have to start with a lot of clearing away around the outside. Once we get fences put in, we’re probably going to get a few goats.

Could one end of the building be turned into a shelter for them? Maybe. Could some of it be used for storage. If so, we might be able to put the tractor in there. Right now, it’s taking up half of the old garage which sits much closer to the house. The tractor hasn’t been cranked up since last year; it needs a new bush hog if we’re ever going to use it for some of the grass that we’re currently mowing with the riding mower.

On the plus side, there’s probably enough lumber stored inside the building to rehab the building. We might need some more tin, though. (No, we’re not going with a copper roof in one of the colors currently in vogue in subdivisions.)  Well weathered tin and old one-by-sixes are part of the textured charm of old buildings. More often than not, buildings like these were never painted. You don’t see a lot of “barn red” around here.

This lumber will keep us from spending a fortune at Home Depot.
This lumber will keep us from spending a fortune at Home Depot.

When I served as the chairman of a historic preservation commission in the small town where we used to live, our group championed the cause of adaptive re-use. Our old cotton mill, for example, had been converted into a world of shops. This preserved the old building and also the character of the town. Atlanta has had some success preserving old brick factory buildings and using them for loft apartments.

We don’t need (or want) a chicken house. While a very conservative preservationist might tell us to make the building a chicken house again even if we never bought any chickens, there’s no evolution in that. We can adapt. For one thing, if we made it a chicken house, it would sit unused rather like a museum display. Nature would start working on it around the door frames and the gaps in between the shiny new sheets of tin. For another thing, having a ready-to-use chicken house sitting there is probably unlikely to help us resell the property some years down the road.

Idly, I wonder what we’ll do with the leftover lumber.  That’s not a big concern, because I think it will find its way somewhere, a place where it will keep its texture while serving a brand new purpose–like any old building or retired person.


KIndle cover 200x300(1)Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Pushcart Prize nominated “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” magical realism set in the Jim Crow era of Florida. A conjure woman ends up battling the local KKK with folk magic and, as the title suggests, the help of her cat.

Conjure Woman’s Cat web site


Back in Rome, Georgia is Interesting and odd

With all the usual hassles of moving, from building a new house on the family farm to selling the old house on the other side of the state, I had little time to think about how strange it is to be back in Rome, GA.

ROMEGAI lived in Rome between 1978 and 1980 while teaching journalism courses at Berry College. I met my wife in Rome, and when we left in 1980 to seek our fortune in Atlanta 86 miles to the south, we thought the Rome phase of our lives was over.

We came back to the area to visit my wife’s family as well as friends we met at Berry College. The town was slowly changing–a revitalized downtown, new malls, new streets, and more people.

So, now we’re back after living in Atlanta suburbs farther and farther out from the city itself. We ended up in a small town of less than 10,000 people 50+ miles northeast of Atlanta for eleven years before moving here.

We saw the move as economically beneficial as well as forward looking. The farm is a much better environment than our subdivision of look-alike houses ruled by a homeowners association.

Nonetheless, the move also feels sort of like going home, or maybe going back in time, or maybe as tourists visiting a place where all the people we once knew have moved on. The farm has stayed more or less the same during all these years, though sad to say, both of my wife’s parents have passed away.

The city is both alien and familiar. This will take some getting used to. So will the traffic–not out where we live–when we drive into town to bury groceries, get stuff from Home Depot, or buy gardening supplies from the nursery.

Ford Buildings at Berry College
Ford Buildings at Berry College

Berry College has grown since I worked there, adding new buildings and new programs. I get lost driving around the campus. None of the faculty, staff and students whom I once knew are there any more. The faculty house I lived in on campus is gone, destroyed by a fallen tree several years ago during a tornado. I feel like a ghost from another century (literally and figuratively) whenever I go there.

I think we’re getting settled in to the new house. We’ve repaired one of the falling-down out-buildings, put in new trees and shrubs, set up two, raised-bed gardens–even the cats are used to the new house.

I’m not yet settled in to Rome, though. It’s a pretty nice town, but I keep seeing it as it was and wondering just what kind of destiny brought me back to a place I once said goodbye to.

If only I could write a short story or novel about all this, I might figure it out.


KIndle cover 200x300(1)Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat” which can be purchased today and tomorrow for Kindle for only 99 cents.

The Falling Down Smokehouse Blues

That old smokehouse been fallin’ down,
Yes, that old smokehouse’s fallin’ down,
Seen wind and rain, babies born, babies grown,
Seen cotton, corn, and okra sown,
While roof and siding been fallin’ down.

When my wife and I had a house built on the site of her family’s original homestead, she became the 5th generation to live on property that’s been in the family since the 1880s. We moved here in January and found the site none the worse for wear for all the trucks, people, dumpster and piles of building materials that have been coming and going since last June.

We told the builder not to run over, back into, damage, knock down or even dent the old tractor garage, well house, and smokehouse. Along with the property’s one hundred year old trees, these remaining outbuildings represented the land’s history and the continuity of family over the years.

Several years ago, a tornado tore out one of the more ancient trees and, in the process, damaged the well house roof and the smokehouse. Now they have been repaired. We’re trying to stabilize everything old and restore a sense of “home” to this patch of ground, and that includes the two rose bushes we planted where my wife’s grandmother once had two rose bushes, and keeping watch over day lilies that bloomed this spring after spreading while people came and went.

Here are two BEFORE pictures:


Here are the two AFTER pictures showing the new door, two new corner posts, new siding and a new roof:

smokehouseblogBMoving to this place has been–and continues to be–an adventure. We need more trees and shrubs in the yard, some fencing, a closer look at the well to see if we can get water from it again, and we need to finish unpacking things inside the house.

But today, that old smokehouse no longer has the blues.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”