Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - May - 2003 Issue

"Within These Walls" Tracking Down The History Of Your House

Mikereview1

“Within These Walls” Exhibition on Smithsonian website. Courtesy of Smithsonian


By Michael Stillman

There is most likely a piece of American history right under your nose at this very moment. It may be old; it may be new. It may be famous, but probably isn’t. It undoubtedly appears in several written works, but not as a main character. But it could be. In fact, the Smithsonian, the premier repository for all things American, thinks it should be the lead character in a book. What’s more, they want to help you write that book.

The character we’re talking about, of course, is your house. It may have a long history behind it, or it may not, but that’s all right. People are already writing about George W. Bush’s presidency. It’s never too soon to start keeping a record, because your house is one small slice of American history, and if your written work never achieves mass appeal, it will always be massively appealing to those people who live in or are familiar with it.

The online exhibition we are looking at is the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History exhibit entitled “Within These Walls.” The Smithsonian has taken a 250-year-old house from Ipswich, Massachusetts, and looked at the lives of five of the families who lived there in the roughly 200 years it was inhabited. Actually, they’ve done a lot more. They’ve taken down the house and reassembled it in their museum in Washington. You aren’t expected to do anything quite so dramatic. You are permitted to tell the story of your house while leaving it physically in place.

The Ipswich house featured in this exhibit certainly has an interesting history. Abraham Choate, the builder and first owner, was a fairly wealthy individual in the 1760’s. In time, the area became a mill district, and the owners were no longer so well-off. A century later, the home had been divided into two apartments and housed recent immigrants struggling to get by. And while the house would never regain the prestige it gave the Choates, there were some advantages that accrued only to later residents. As the exhibit points out, it wasn’t until the 1940s that Roy Scott, one of the later residents, installed the home’s first indoor toilet.

If you visit this online exhibition, you’ll be able to learn a little about these five families and their times. If you visit the Smithsonian, you’ll even be able to see the house. However, we want to focus on the do-it-yourself part of the exhibit. Here it tells you how to learn more about your home (presuming it’s an older one).

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

Review Search

Archived Reviews

Ask Questions