There aren’t many great, old farmhouses like this left.
It may speak to you if you let it.
It might be the earthen floor in the fruit room in the basement, with the claw foot tub around the corner, situated so that you can come straight from the garden, dump the potatoes you grew into the built-in potato bins, then duck into the downstairs bath to clean up before emerging upstairs to the civilized part of the house.
It might be the civilized part of the house that speaks to you: the curved wooden staircase, the unnecessarily beautiful plasterwork on the bedroom ceilings, done (according to the fussy previous owner, who sold us the place in 1974 after restoring it himself throughout the fifties and sixties) by “an Italian master craftsman.”
The house speaks to the people who visit it. “What a cool old house,” my high school friends always say. You can see it for about a mile when you’re coming from Belleville.
Even if it speaks to you, though, we know you might be skeptical. You always hear stuff like, “Old houses don’t have enough storage.” “They’re drafty.” “They’re gloomy.” None of that fits here.
That original fussy renovator in the fifties and sixties—his name was Mr. Raymond Hayden—put in tons and tons and tons of storage, in nooks and crannies as well as two very large (for the time) closets in each upstairs bedroom, a cedar closet for moth-bait clothes, an extra upstairs closet, a downstairs linen closet, storage over both the stairways to the basement, a hall closet, a pantry, a bathroom closet, another nice closet in the master bedroom as well as a built-in chest of drawers with a mirror. He couldn’t stop putting in storage. There’s base drawer storage in the walnut built-in bookshelves in the sun room. There’s nice big cupboards in both the upstairs and ground floor bathrooms for overflow from the medicine chests, and more (really beautiful) built-in cupboards in the partially finished half of the basement—another bureau as well as some basic cupboard storage, and a big area under the stairs. That’s not even counting the large furnace room or the nearly-complete “basement apartment” with a sink, kitchen cupboards, bathroom, fireplace (with tricky hidden compartment), and built-in decorative shelves on the basement landing. Oh, and a built-in basement desk with bookshelves and a glass top. He really couldn’t stop.
As far as it being drafty and gloomy—nope. Nope, it’s tight and sunny. The house has lots of west and south-facing windows for sun, and is built tight as a drum. It feels like a strong house—if you happen to be inside on a windy day you’ll see. And if you want to know why it feels like that, in the basement you can check out the exposed joists Hayden left especially to illustrate how sturdy it is.
So, let’s admit the obvious: Dad never allowed Mom to change the wallpaper, curtains, or kitchen appliances (except for a new refrigerator at some point). So it needs some cosmetic loving. But you’re going to want to improve the cosmetics of any house you buy, right?
And there’s no predicting what little part of this old farm and farmhouse will speak to you. Maybe: Mr. Hayden lovingly built his wife a built-in vanity in the main bathroom, with a huge mirror and special lights for putting on make-up.
When Mr. Hayden was outside, he couldn’t stop fussing around with little extras in his wonderful assortment of outbuildings. His barn by the road is a wonder—old-timers used to build them close to the road like that so they could rely on county-maintained roads to drive the hay-wagons up to unload into the loft. The loft is cozy, and has big flip-down windows at the top for ventilation and an old railroad boxcar metal ladder to get up there. Downstairs there’s the livestock area with built-in mangers (which kind of livestock are you thinking? Llamas? Goats? A pony?) and a thoughtful porthole-window to spy on your little herd from the front door. And there’s a built-in livestock ramp that leads to a door for easy loading (into a truck that can park on the county road). There’s a couple of extra rooms for storage or working on tractors in the winter out of the cold. There’s a heated automatic drinking fountain (hasn’t been used in awhile, so “as is,” though it worked last we knew) at the back of the wellhouse, and a roof over the main watering trough—further thoughtful touches. What we call “the tool shed” is a drive-thru (drive a car or tractor in from either end) and has another porthole so that the farm cats can run away from big dogs, diving through the hole inside the shed to safety.
Will the built-in workbench in the tool shed, or the one in the garage speak to you? All the room to store your tools and such? There’s a picture window in the garage so you can watch the backyard and chicken house from inside on a rainy day.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the garden area and chicken house are what speak to you. The chicken house needs attention to make it totally fox-proof, but otherwise it’s very usable. And the garden area below the terraced main lawn is huge (that little house down there was originally my sister’s “playhouse” but turned into the garden shed). There’s room enough in the garden area not just for standard tomato and zucchini but for more interesting crops as well. Want to grow your own horseradish? We used to. We used to grow beans and peas and pumpkins that we’d carve our names in when they were small. That garden area gets good light all day, and in the evening when you’re harvesting or weeding, the faithful barn swallows will catch as many mosquitos as they can for you.
The barn swallows swoop and fly along the ground every year—and that’s what you might be proudest of. They picked your farm. The barn swallows return faithfully every summer to very few places in the world—and this is one. Swallows apparently think the old Hayden-Hopper farm is kind of a cool place to live, and raise their babies, and it’s a blessing that they come back every year. Prize that.
Maybe that’s what will do it. More than the cozy barn loft to get hay to throw in the mangers to the llama (alpaca?) on a frosty morning. More than learning the exact most efficient way to fly up and down the curved staircase when you’re late for the schoolbus. More than learning good bugs from bad bugs and listening to spring peepers and having some outside farm cats for mousers and a tool shed to fix up an old classic car in some summer. Maybe the swallows’ faithfulness speaks to you, knowing this is the swallow’s farm here in Liberty Township in Hendricks County.
Maybe it’s yours, too.
–-Charlie Hopper, whose family moved here at age 11 in 1974
4311 S. County Road 200 E, Clayton, Indiana