Ever wonder just what makes an old home an historic home? Ever done a web search on Zillow.com for Cincinnati historic homes for sale?
We did. At 8:12 AM, September 12, 2019 EST.
The search pulled up 57 homes for sale classified as “historic”. To be clear, That’s 57 homes in all of the 79.54 square miles of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Cincinnati was settled in 1788 and had a population of 115,000 in 1850. In 1900, it had 325,000 people. And in 1950, the City had grown to over a half million. All those people were living somewhere. So where did all their houses go?
It’s pretty safe to say that a search on Zillow.com is not capturing all of the historic homes for sale in Cincinnati. So. What makes an old home an historic home? If you are living in an old home, what makes it an historic home?
A look at the National Register of Historic Places–or, National Register for short–is a good place to start. The National Register is the official Federal list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that are deemed worthy of preservation.
Typically, to be considered historic and eligible for the National Register, a home is over 50 years of age (there can be exceptions however, just like anything in life).
The home also meets at least one of the four National Register Criteria. For houses, most of the time this is for its architecture (Criterion C). Specifically, the home “embodies distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction“.
Sounds pretty fancy, right? It is. It pretty much means that old family farmhouse your great uncle built back in the day with his buddies isn’t going to be listed.
There’s more to it than that, though. A home must retain integrity relevant to whatever it is that makes it eligible for listing in the first place. Basically, if the home is eligible for the National Register under Criterion C, it cannot be “muddled up”.
A 1901 Queen Ann style Victorian home with vinyl siding, replacement windows shorter than the original windows, a new and smaller-sized (!) front door, and a pressure-treated wooden deck instead of a porch is definitely not going to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C.
However, a home like 3807 Eastern Avenue, in Cincinnati’s oldest neighborhood of Columbia Tusculum, is a pretty great candidate. Built in 1835, this two-and-a half story wood frame building is a mixture of Federal style with vernacular elements. It features original clapboard siding, two enclosed porches, and brackets supporting the cornice. Actually, this home–the Kellogg House–is more than a great candidate for the National Register of Historic Places, it was listed back in 1979!
So that is Criterion C of the National Register in a nut shell.
Is structure and time period, the only thing that makes a historic home? Not at all!
The remaining National Register of Historic Places criteria include association with an important historic person, an historical movement, and the data we can glean from the home such as an innovative construction technique (the first concrete homes, built in 1908 by Thomas Edison come to mind).
The ranch style home pictured here is currently in the midst of an extreme makeover.
According to the Hamilton County auditor’s data (Yeah, Cincinnati is in Hamilton County), the home dates to 1954, so it is over 50 years old.
Could this home–especially after its transformation into a two-level structure–be considered a historic home and eligible for the National Register of Historic Places?
Probably not. But someone obviously felt some attachment to the home, enough to save its outer shell to create a new home.
Thus, at the other end of the spectrum from the National Historic is the simple history associated with a home. An old home may not be illustrious but it is still an important part of the continuum of history.
People lived there, experienced life there, and, in the duration cared for and maintained the home. There is a richness that comes from the simple history of a home. It is this that can make any old home an historic home and definitely worth preserving.