Photography

Favorite subjects: Crown Hill Cemetery

Is it weird to like photographing cemeteries? I’m drawn to them. When I’m on a road trip I stop to tour even the most ragtag patch of graves. But I prefer beautiful cemeteries, and Crown Hill is easily the most beautiful of any of the cemeteries I’ve photographed. It could be my favorite favorite subject of all.

A cemetery could be the best place for an introverted photographer to go when he needs some alone time. I seldom encounter other people in cemeteries, and when I do, they leave me alone. But my wife sometimes comes along. I know it’s love because being with her is nearly as good as pure alone time. We love to take photo walks together. She took this photo of me at Crown Hill on one of our walks.

A portrait of the photographer

Nikon N60, 28-80 mm f/3.3-5.6 AF Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2015. Margaret Grey photo.

The Civil War still raged when Crown Hill was founded in 1863. It was the city’s second major cemetery even though it was located, at the time, outside the city limits.

CrownHillMap.PNG

Imagery and map data © 2017 Google

Spanning 38th Street along the Michigan Road, Crown Hill started at 236 acres and expanded over the years to its current 555 acres. More than 200,000 people are interred here, from everyday citizens to titans of industry, celebrities of their time, one President, and three Vice Presidents.

The cemetery got its name from a notable hill on the property that came to be called the “crown” of Indianapolis. It’s the highest elevation in a notably flat city. Standing on the crown, you can see for miles.

Let’s start our photo tour at the crown and take in the view. I’ve shot it over and over. I love it.

Indianapolis from the heights

Olympus OM-1, 50mm f/1.8 F. Zuiko Auto-S, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200, 2015

Long view

Nikon N2000, 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E, Kodak Ektar 100, 2014

Many of the most prominent names in Indianapolis have tombs on this hill. But at the very top lies a poet who, in his day, had rock-star celebrity status.

Looking uphill at Riley's rest

Pentax ME, Fujicolor 200, Sears f/4 80-200mm zoom, 2013

It’s hard to imagine now how any poet could be so adored as Riley was. At around the turn of the 20th century he was the nation’s most-read poet. His public appearances could bring out thousands of people. Indiana schools were required to teach his poems in the 1910s! His 1916 death was front-page news across the country. His body was allowed to lie in state in the Indiana Statehouse, an honor previously bestowed only on Abraham Lincoln. So it was small wonder that he was buried at such a prominent and visible place.

Riley's rest

Kodak Pony 135 Model C, Fujicolor 200, 2013

Schoolchildren traditionally leave coins on his tomb. It is all donated to the Riley Hospital for Children.

James Whitcomb Riley

Olympus Stylus, Kodak Gold 200 (expired), 2013

This little child, sitting next to Riley’s tomb, will forever read Riley’s rhymes.

Riley reader

Canon PowerShot S95, 2011

Many of Crown Hill’s most interesting grave markers are on the hill.

Home Sweet Home

Pentax ME, 80-200 mm f/4 Sears Zoom, Fujicolor 200, 2013

Head

Pentax ME, 80-200 mm f/4 Sears Zoom, Fujicolor 200, 2013

Short steps

Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E, Kodak Portra 160, 2015

Crown Hill is also a showplace of cemetery architecture. As a bridgefan, I love the bridge that carries 38th Street over a road that connects the north and south portions of the cemetery. When you drive along 38th Street you might never know the bridge is here. It was built in 1925.

Crown Hill bridge

Canon PowerShot S95, 2011

On one visit, we met mama deer and her fawns at the bridge.

Under the bridge at Crown Hill

Canon PowerShot S95, 2011

One of my favorite photos from Crown Hill is this one from under the bridge.

Tunnel *EXPLORED*

Nikon F3HP, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Kodak Plus-X, 2015

Crown Hill has two entrances. This gate, built 1885, awaits at the south entrance.

Gates

Olympus Stylus, Kodak Gold 200 (expired), 2013

The actual gates are ornate iron affairs.

Cemetery gate

Yashica-D, Kodak E100G, 2014

Just beyond the gate stands the Waiting Station, built the same year.

Crown Hill gate

Kodak Pony 135 Model C, Fujicolor 200, 2013

The 1875 Gothic Chapel is just down the road from the Gate and the Waiting Station. It held James Whitcomb Riley’s body for a year while his burial site was prepared.

Chapel

Kodak Pony 135 Model C, Fujicolor 200, 2013

57 private mausoleums dot the grounds, and they can be stunning.

Columns

Voigtländer Vito II, Kodak Plus-X (expired, cold stored), 2015

This mausoleum holds the body of Carl Fisher, who founded the Indianapolis 500 and the Lincoln and Dixie Highways.

Fisher

Sears KS-2, 135mm f/2.8 Auto Sears MC, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200, 2015

Many of the less prominent gravesites have interesting markers, too.

Grave marker

Canon PowerShot S95, 2011

Test

Certo Super Sport Dolly, Model A, Kodak Ektar 100, 2017

Even graves that have plainer markers seem more interesting because of the lovely setting.

Barney

Nikon N2000, 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E, Kodak Ektar 100, 2014

Autumn is stunning at Crown Hill. It’s my favorite time to go.

Autumn at Crown Hill

Nikon F2AS, 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor, Kodak Ektar 100, 2015

Autumn at Crown Hill

Nikon F2AS, 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor, Kodak Ektar 100, 2015

Autumn at Crown Hill

Nikon F2AS, 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor, Kodak Ektar 100, 2015

My favorite subject within this favorite subject is the National Cemetery. Established in 1866 and administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, this 1.4-acre site inters primarily Union Army soldiers who fought in the Civil War.

Crown Hill National Cemetery

Yashica-D, Kodak E100G, 2014

795 soldiers are buried here.

At Crown Hill

Nikon F2, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros, 2016

The plain markers’ sober, dignified typography makes them compelling.

James Richard Bradford

Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros, 2016

Charles H. Ackerman

Yashica-D, Kodak Ektar 100, 2017

I have regularly taken my sons to Crown Hill for the portraits I make of them. There are plenty of places to make portraits that are not obviously in a cemetery. But this spot before military graves was interesting enough to me that I photographed it anyway.

Damion

Nikon F2AS, 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor, Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros, 2016

Let’s take one last trip up the big hill for a parting view of the city.

Overlooking the city

Voigtländer Vito II, Kodak Plus-X (expired, cold stored), 2015

I believe I will miss Crown Hill the most of my favorite photographic subjects. Maybe I can get Margaret to drive down with me sometimes. This is one worth hanging onto even if it does take me a lot longer to drive to it now.

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Road Trips

I love the Michigan Road, but I don’t always like living near it

The Michigan Road sucks. At least it does where it passes near my northwest Indianapolis home.

It’s still the Michigan Road, built in the 1830s to connect the Ohio River to Indianapolis to Lake Michigan, opening the entire northern part of Indiana to settlement. I will always love it.

But a long section of the road has been a part of my daily life for more than 20 years, and frankly, I try to avoid driving on it.

As a major artery, Michigan Road’s speed limit is 45 MPH. Especially since the late 1990s when the last portion of the road was widened to four lanes, traffic really flows fast. The road is designed to swiftly move lots of cars. Yet lots of businesses and even entrances to residential neighborhoods line the road. People turn left all the time, and there is no central left-turn lane. Rear-end accidents are common. It has happened to me twice.

MRBumperBash1

These photos are from the first accident, which happened a half block south of the 1852 Aston Inn house. Can I admit to still feeling satisfied, even five years later, that the other guy’s car sustained so much more damage than mine and was probably totaled? I was stopped behind a car turning left when I noticed this guy coming up fast. The crash was unavoidable, so I pressed hard on my brake to avoid hitting the waiting car before me. It’s amazing the crash didn’t do more damage to my car. And yes, someone’s head smacked the other car’s windshield in the accident. That fellow disappeared the minute I called the cops. Arrest warrant? Here illegally? Hope the concussion was worth it.

MRBumperBash2

Lesson learned: drive in the right lane, even if left-lane traffic is moving faster. The frequent left turns just create too much risk.

MR_NW_Ind

Imagery and map data © 2017 Google.

Meanwhile, this 2½-mile section of Michigan Road, from Kessler Boulevard north just beyond 71st Street to the former town of Augusta, has seen happier days. It’s a sad sight to drive through.

This strip’s heyday was probably the 1960s and 1970s when this road was still US 421. A building boom brought strip malls, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and motels.

Today, those strip malls are aging. You won’t find a Kroger or a Target here — it’s all second- and third-tier retailers and service providers. The motels, gas stations, and restaurants that remain have been repurposed for other uses. Many of these buildings have received minimal maintenance and show their age.

This mishmash of shabby businesses provides a poor introduction to the area, which is filled with middle-class neighborhoods.

This used to be a shoe-repair shop, but has been vacant for a while.

Pink building

I applaud the creative reuse of this former motel as a day care, but I wish it could be made more attractive.

Kiddie Factory

This aging strip of shops is at least kept tidy. The barber shop owner gave his overhead sign a fresh coat of paint in the last couple years; it had faded to near illegibility.

Barber

The pedestrian trail built a few years ago robbed this little strip of some of its parking. I can’t imagine that these tenants were happy about it. Here’s a 2008 photo that shows cars parked at these doors.

Getting your hair done on the Michigan Road

Mr. Dan’s is a small local burger chain. I photographed it in 2015:

Mr. Dan's

I don’t know what happened that the joint is called Mr. Dee’s now, but their reuse of the existing signs has all the grace and style of a knuckle sandwich.

Mr. Dee's

Ace Lock and Key has been on this corner for longer than I’ve lived in Indianapolis. This building looks like its first use was as a gas station. It’s an attractive little building.

Ace Lock and Key

When I mentioned the kinds of retailers you won’t find along this stretch of Michigan Road, I mentioned Kroger and Target specifically because this strip once contained both. Kroger was on the left, and Target was on the right. They moved out just before I moved to the area, and the buildings were vacant for years. Now it’s a grading facility for school standardized tests.

Fomer Target/Kroger strip

The strip mall on the southwest corner with 71st Street/Westlane Road has changed a lot since I moved here. This was once a full-line Marsh grocery store, but for most of the time I lived here it was a dim, dirty store with only basic grocery items. They chained up the carts. Someone at the service desk had to come unlock one so you could use it. Such class. Then Marsh closed it and discount chain Save-A-Lot moved in. Unfortunately, they also tore out Marsh’s attractive facade and rebuilt it with this windowless wonder. At least it didn’t go vacant.

Save-a-Lot

Across the street is the dry cleaner I’ve used all the years I’ve lived here. It was once a drive-in restaurant.

Griffith Cleaners

By all accounts, the food at this Vietnamese restaurant is delicious. The former fast-food building could use some love, however.

Pho 54

Here’s another tidy, aging strip. The clock-repair shop has been there longer than I’ve lived here. I had them repair a watch once, and they did a nice job.

Strip mall

It sure seems to me that this solidly middle class part of town would be able to attract higher-line businesses and improved facades.

Houses are sometimes sandwiched between the various commercial buildings along this section of Michigan Road. Many of them have seen happier days.

House on Michigan Road

A few houses have been well cared for, but it’s far easier to find ones that could use some TLC.

MCM

Over the years some buildings have seen great improvement. This building was vacant for years, and was clearly in sorry condition a couple years ago when this funeral center bought it and renovated it.

Serenity Funeral Services

St. Monica’s Catholic church and school has always been well cared for. A couple years ago, fire destroyed the section of the building at about the center of the photo. The church immediately rebuilt it.

St. Monica's

When I moved here, this U-Haul location was dingy and depressing. Some years ago it was renovated inside and out, and looks great.

U-Haul

This lot was vacant for a long time until this church was built.

Praise Fellowship Family Center

A bowling alley once stood on this lot, but it went out of business five years ago or so. This storage place opened only in the last year or so, and its graceless design says “industrial park” more than “shopping district.” Its setback from the road is also considerably shallower than anything else nearby, which makes it an imposing presence. It’s wrong for this section of the road.

Storage

A few auto-parts places were built along this corridor in the last 10 years or so, and they’re well kept. This is the one I visit most often.

Advance Auto Parts

I do understand this much about retail: the shiny, new shops always go where the money has moved to. If you drive just four miles north of here on Michigan Road, into Carmel, you’ll find solid retailers like Target, Best Buy, Kohl’s, and The Home Depot, plus shiny chain restaurants and coffee shops. Perhaps that’s why this section of Michigan Road is left to molder. It only takes ten extra minutes to get to the nice shops from here.

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Road Trips

Historical structures on the Michigan Road in northwest Indianapolis

On my recent bike ride up the Michigan Road pedestrian trail in northwest Indianapolis, I passed a number of historical structures that I photographed when I surveyed the Michigan Road in 2008. Surprisingly, they have changed very little! Here are some then-and-now photos where the then and the now are pretty similar.

While the old Crooked Creek School building was demolished in the 1980s, the entrance arch remains allegedly on its original spot just north of Kessler Boulevard. Here it is in 2008.

School No. 7 / Crooked Creek Elementary School

And here it is in 2017. Sadly, the top of the structure is a little damaged. How does damage like that even happen?

Arch at Crooked Creek School

This 1840s farmhouse at 6358 Michigan Road was vacant and for sale in 2008.

1840s farmhouse, 64th and Michigan

It remained vacant for a long time before someone finally bought it and lived in it. I think it’s been sold one more time since then. I live around the corner from this house and drive by frequently. I’ve watched many exterior improvements be made — all faithful, thanks to protective covenants Indiana Landmarks placed on the house.

1840s farmhouse

A you-pick blueberry patch went in next door. It is kind of startling to find such a thing within the city limits! I’m pretty sure it’s run by the people in this old farmhouse.

Blueberry patch

The Aston Inn at 6620 Michigan Road was built in 1852 and, for a time, served as an inn for travelers. In those days, it was still a full day’s journey from here to downtown Indianapolis! Here are my 2008 photos.

Aston Inn

Aston Inn

Little has changed in 2017, except that the trees and shrubs in front of the house have grown to block the house. I’m sure the owners hope the greenery will turn down the volume on the traffic noise from always-busy Michigan Road. But it’s a shame not to be able to fully see this great old house.

Aston Inn

Aston Inn

In Augusta, the 1832 Boardman House, at 7716 Michigan Road (right), stands next to this block house that looks to be from the early 20th century. I photographed it in 2008 both before and after the owner de-ivied it.

Augusta

Augusta - Bordman House

Boardman House de-ivied

Boardman House

I met the owner of this house once and he said that it is an extremely sturdily built structure, with walls a foot thick (I think) on the bottom story and hand-hewn exposed beams overhead in the cellar. He has since sold the house. The new owner has cleaned the place up nicely. The block house has been de-ivied, as well.

House in Augusta

The Boardman House

The Boardman House

Across the street, at 7711 Michigan Road, stands this little structure that I feel certain is a log cabin beneath that siding, which looks from a distance to be aluminum. The shape of the house suggests it strongly. The center door is flanked by windows. There’s a large space above the door and windows before the roof begins, suggesting a typical loft above the ground floor. The sloping-roof addition is a classic way to expand a log cabin. I first photographed this house in 2010.

Log cabin?

In 2017, the siding is dirty and the gutter is hanging low — time for a little basic maintenance. But the house still stands. And I’m still dying to know whether I’m right. I hope the owner stumbles upon this post and leaves a comment.

Possible log cabin

Here’s hoping that I can come back with my camera in another nine years and find all of these structures still in good condition.

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History, Road Trips

Tracking the changes at Kessler Blvd. and Michigan Road in northwest Indianapolis

Michigan Road bicycle tripI wish I had started photographing the Michigan Road near my home as soon as I moved to the area in 1995. So much has changed. It would be interesting to have photographs that show the evolution.

But I only started photographing the Michigan Road in 2008 after a lot had already changed. And then I never could have predicted some of the changes that have come.

I live near Michigan Road’s intersection with Kessler Boulevard on Indianapolis’s Northwestside. Michigan Road is the Michigan Road, built in the 1830s to connect the Ohio River to Indianapolis to Lake Michigan. Kessler Boulevard itself has an important place in Indianapolis road history as an early but unfinished attempt at a beltway around the city. In 2013 when the Historic Michigan Road Association erected wayfinding signs along the Michigan Road Historic Byway, I personally donated funds to ensure signs would be placed at Kessler Boulevard.

MR signs at Kessler/Michigan

Over the last 20 years or so, commercial structures have been replaced and some land has been cleared to build new commercial structures. That happens all the time on any major road. But this is the major road I live nearest. These changes affect my everyday life. Here’s a 2017 aerial image of the intersection, courtesy MapIndy. On the northwest corner is Crooked Creek School, which has been there since 1837. On the northeast corner is a Starbucks; behind it is a Walgreens. On the southeast corner is a gas station and a McDonald’s; a Walmart Neighborhood Market is to its south. And on the southwest corner is a building with a fried-fish joint and a physical-therapy office, and a car repair garage.

KesslerMichigan2017

The first change was on the southwest corner. Crooked Creed flows close to the road here, creating a narrow wedge of a lot. When I moved to the area in 1995, the Gillum family operated a large and popular produce stand on it from spring to autumn. In the late 1990s they built a building on the site and operated their stand all year, adding a deli counter and high-quality and organic grocery items. While I applauded their attempt and stopped in frequently, the store failed within a couple years. I don’t know the real story, but I assume that this middle-class neighborhood couldn’t support Gillum’s quality goods and associated high prices. I wonder also if the lot’s awkward access hurt the business — its’ challenging to turn left off Michigan into the lot, or left out of the lot onto Michigan. The building stood vacant for a long time before it was reconfigured and a Dunkin’ Donuts moved into its south half. Fisher’s Fish and Chicken later moved into the north half. Dunkin’ Donuts didn’t make it (despite my near-daily patronage!) and later a physical-therapy office moved in. Here’s how the site looks in 2017.

Fisher

Its neighbor to the south, the Michigan Road Auto Center, has been steadily serving customers the whole time I’ve lived here. They’ve had a front-row seat to all of these changes!

Michigan Road Auto Service

The second change was the Amoco/BP station on the northeast corner was razed so that a Starbucks could be built. It’s been there for quite some time now, as my 2008 photo shows.

Kessler and Michigan

Little has changed on the northwest corner — Crooked Creek School isn’t going anywhere. The first photo below is from 2008. The second photo, from 2017, shows the 1924 concrete-arch bridge on Kessler Boulevard over Crooked Creek. The third photo shows the new pedestrian trail the city built along Michigan Road where it passes by the school property.

Kessler and Michigan

Kessler Blvd. bridge

Trail

Things have changed the most in this intersection’s southeast quadrant. For years, it was large wooded area next to a large lot with an abandoned-looking one-story brick building. I never photographed the building, but an old house faced the street in the wooded area.

House along the road

This McDonald’s stands in about this location today.

McDonald's

The McDonald’s came after a Walmart Neighborhood Market was built on part of the wooded lot and where the brick building used to be. While I’m not a giant Walmart fan and would have been happier with a Kroger, having a grocery store here at all has been a giant blessing and has made this part of town a lot more livable.

Walmart site

That great old house wasn’t demolished, thank goodness. It was moved to the end of a dead-end street that borders the Walmart property. Here it is behind Walmart’s fence.

House on Michigan Road, moved

I lifted my camera up over the fence to get this shot of the back of the property. As you can see, even the outbuildings were moved.

House on Michigan Road, moved

Completing this intersection’s transition, a Shell station built in the 80s was razed in favor of a new, larger convenience store and gas station. This was one of the few Shell stations remaining in the area with this style of canopy, and I was sad to see it go. But it really is nice to have a full-scale convenience store here now.

Shell

Former Shell station

Circle K

Frankly, the section of Michigan Road from Kessler north a couple miles to just past 71st St. is pretty depressed. When Walmart went in I hoped it would encourage a rebirth north of Kessler, but so far little has changed. I’ll share some photos in an upcoming post.

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Road Trips

The Michigan Road pedestrian trail in Indianapolis

Ten years ago walking or biking in most of Indianapolis meant taking your life into your hands. Large portions of this city have a suburban or even rural character thanks to 1970’s merger of this city and its county. Lots of cul-de-sac neighborhoods, strip malls, and industrial parks have been built since then, especially in northern Indianapolis. Wherever new development went, so did bigger and better roads optimized to move lots of cars and trucks. Bikers and walkers were largely out of luck.

That didn’t stop people from walking or biking those roads anyway, especially the poor and working class trying to reach jobs beyond the last bus stop. Rush hours were dangerous for them. The city has been working to change that, and to encourage leisure walking and biking, by building a network of bike lanes and pedestrian trails. They connect walkers and bikers to jobs, shopping, and parks.

My bike

A few years ago the city completed a pedestrian trail along Michigan Road from 42nd to 86th Streets, a distance of about six miles. I’ve been meaning to bike it since it opened but just got to it the other day. I picked it up near my home at Kessler Boulevard and rode north. This is the northbound trail as it passes by Crooked Creek School on the northwest corner of this intersection.

Trail

This asphalt trail was routed along concrete sidewalks wherever they already existed. In some places the trail adjoins the road and is bordered with a curb. In other places a grass strip separates the trail and the road.

Yield to Trail Users

The trail’s character changes frequently and, usually, abruptly.

Michigan Road Trail

From Kessler to just north of 71st Street Michigan Road is a mixed bag of retail and light industrial, some of which has seen better days. Then the road reaches Augusta, a former town. If you didn’t know it was once a town, you wouldn’t guess it. Strip malls and box stores simply give way to a collection of older homes, most of them repurposed as businesses.

On the Michigan Road trail

North of Augusta the trail’s terrain begins to roll gently. It makes me wonder if Michigan Road once did here, too; the road has been flattened.

Michigan Road trail

North of 79th Street, the road passes by some newer residential subdivisions and crosses a little creek.

Michigan Road trail

This is the loveliest section of the trail that I rode all day.

Bridge on Michigan Road trail

Oh, just one more photo near that creek, just because it’s so lovely.

Michigan Road trail

I’ve lived here long enough that I remember when none of these neighborhoods existed. This was all farmland through the late 1970s, and some of it was still farmed as late as the mid 1990s when I moved here.

Northpoint Village

As the road nears 86th Street, the character changes again as it enters a major shopping district. The Pyramids, a local landmark, come into view.

Nearing 86th St.

The portion of Michigan Road I covered on this ride is busy with vehicular traffic all day, especially at rush hour. I drive it a lot and find that most traffic exceeds the posted 45-mile-per-hour speed limit. Walking or biking this road used to be risky at best. But now it’s easy and even enjoyable.

Even with the pedestrian trail, Michigan Road remains challenging to walk outside daylight hours as there are not enough street lights. This is a problem in many areas of Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Star interviewed me briefly last autumn for a story about an elderly man who was struck and killed on Michigan Road near my home. The Star tries to link lack of streetlights to his death. Read that story here. Very recently, the city has struck a deal to add 4,000 street lights into unlit portions of the city. So many Indianapolis streets are unlit that I wonder if 4,000 lights will be enough, but it’s certainly a start.

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History, Road Trips

For sale: Michigan Road Toll House

Toll house

When railroads came to prominence in the mid 1800s, traffic dropped dramatically on roads like Indiana’s Michigan Road. What followed was an early example of privatization: many roads were sold to private companies to operate.

Toll house markerThe Michigan Road was one of them. Several companies bought pieces of it, made various improvements, and operated it as a toll road. One such company was the Augusta Gravel Road Company, which operated a segment of the road that passed through northwest Indianapolis. In 1866, they built this toll house (read more here.)

And it’s for sale. With two bedrooms and one bathroom, this 1,100-square-foot house comes with two lots totaling more than 10,000 square feet. It’s been a rental in recent years, and is in sad condition inside. See photos at the listing on Zillow, which also has better exterior photos than mine.

Toll house

Its price is so low that if I weren’t in the middle of paying huge college bills for my sons, I’d buy it. I don’t know exactly what I’d do with it, as it’s too small for my family, but I sure would hate for this house to fall into the hands of someone who can’t appreciate its place in history.

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