It’s not odd at all to have a connection with an old house. A place where bits of life happened for you. But what about a house that you have no personal connection to other than noticing it’s distressed beauty peering out from amongst a thick blanket of trees? I cannot even begin to explain the flood of excitement and admiration that washed over me the first time I spotted the subject of this post. Like with most places I find, I was out on a random drive. While speeding down Route 2 in Mason County, West Virginia toward Point Pleasant, a road I’ve been down countless times, something in the distance caught my eye that I had never noticed. I quickly turned around and headed off the main road. The trees parted as I began to slowly ascend up a one lane back road and I simply could not believe what laid upon my gaze. How could something so beautiful and majestic just be sitting here all alone? Needless to say I immediately fell in love with this antebellum gem. Dozens of questions flooded my curious mind as I made my way up the muddy and narrow driveway.
That was in December of 2015. I was going through a horrible breakup at the time and a large part of my grieving process apparently is to aimlessly drive around the tri-state area with a sad-bastard soundtrack on blast. Most of that period of my life is a blur really. I slept an average of 2-4 hours a day, I barely ate, and I put more miles on my car than ever before or since. Every day was spent in a hazy hellish dreamlike state. The only reason I mention this is because stumbling upon this house was something I very much needed at the time. A plus side to this horrid period was that I always had my camera with me and I found quite a few interesting locations during my random travels.
Over the following year I periodically made the 45 minute or so drive to shoot photos of this house I named Margaret. No matter what my mood it always made me feel better. It's still a mystery to me why I immediately felt such a strong connection with a home that I’ve never lived in. Perhaps she knew I would be coming along one day and admire her how someone once had. Perhaps at that time she needed me as much as I needed her. I know that sounds moronic and lame but at the time it was a glimpse of hope for the future. I sure as hell can’t fathom why someone would ever leave this house behind.
While on a visit in February 2017, at that same first glimpse of it as the trees parted that made me fall in love, this time made my heart fall to the pit of my stomach. At first I thought maybe someone was demolishing the old home. As I drove closer I realized that it was far worse. Margaret had been torched. How!? Why?! I had just visited a few weeks prior and judging by what little is left she burned for a while. Who the hell would do something like this?
I discovered it was constructed in 1825 according to what history I could gather. Eighteen fucking twenty five; before the railroad, before the silver bridge in Point Pleasant, and before the very road I drove to get there. It was originally built as the home of the family of General Peter Higgins Steenbergen who served in the French and Indian War. The original tract of land consisted of around 1,600 acres and to this day still has a cemetery that includes the graves of Revolutionary War soldiers. The Lewis Farm, aka, Poplar Grove as it was originally known was sold at auction in 2008. According to a Point Pleasant news article about the fire, a couple lived in the home as caretakers until a fallen tree cut the electrical service before it sat vacant for several years until some asshole came along and torched it.
This is partially why it matters so much to me to photograph these locations I come across. Here one day and gone the next just like us. Every time I was there it was like the earth stopped spinning. On each visit I wanted desperately to take a look at the interior but I’m not about breaking into places. If a door is open then I’ll gladly go in but I’ll be damned if I’m going to damage someone’s property for the sake of me taking photos. I will forever miss you Margaret.