Friday, October 2, 2015

The Story of the Sutton House Project

There are a lot of aspects to recording the story of a community. We claim to be collecting and preserving the artifacts and information about the history of Sutton and we’ve accumulated stuff and information, mostly with the help of Sutton area residents.

Our latest run of items has been scrapbooks. We’ve received several with an emphasis on old postcards. Those go along with furnishings, paintings, photos, old documents and photos, school annuals and much more that the generous citizens of the area have given to the museum. The information comes from donated books, articles and papers about the area but largely from Sunday afternoon conversations around the table at the Historic House or a brief visit at the grocery store or someplace else in town.

It is very important to the success of the museum that the community be involved. Everybody knows something about our past and it seems a bit selfish to sit on it and never share. You were taught to share once, weren’t you?

Now we are looking for a specific kind of information to record about the Sutton Story and you can help.

We recently started “The Sutton House Project” on our website: done mainly in response to a common question we’re asked that goes along the lines of, “I just bought this house in town. Do you know when it was built and who built it? Who’s lived in it?”

We generally don’t have an answer. But if you know some part of the story of one of Sutton’s houses, we’d like to hear about it. You tell us once, we capture and preserve that tidbit of information and it will be available for anyone or everyone for a long time to come.

Then there are the “names” of houses. Street names and house numbers were not an original thing in Sutton and people developed the habit of referring to a house by a name. It’s usually the name of a family that lived in the house at some time but there are other sources of names. The “Maltby Hosue” was where the Ebert Sisters lived. The name came from a later time when the house was a Bed and Breakfast using that name. True, it is within the 80 acres homesteaded by John Maltby. But so is about ¼ of the town.

For recent arrivals, as in the past 25 years, or like me, grew up in Sutton but was gone for 44 years, most of these names don’t mean much. For instance, where is the “Clark House?” There were at least three: the home where I. N. Clark lived, his brother’s house and his son’s house. The Plettner family has owned the house built by the son (Bertie Clark) for several years.

But my cynical response is that the real Clark House wasn’t a home at all. We have an old photo with a business, the first business on Saunders Avenue clearly labeled in huge letters on the side, “CLARK HOUSE.” It was the hardware store of I. N. Clark and the pharmacy of his brother Martin V. B. Clark in 1872! Later it was a hotel, offices, stores and torn down more than a century ago. Jim Griess included a picture of that early Clark House from its hotel period in his book.

The practice of naming our houses never really caught on in much of the U.S. William Jennings Bryan’s Lincoln home is called Fairview; Omaha has its General Dodge House but those are exceptions. The practice is more common Back East. My ump-teenth great-grandparent’s house in New Paulz, New York is still called the Bevier-Elting house. (An interesting finding in a recent afternoon conversation at the Historic House is that that couple is likely also Sallie Barbee’s ump-teenth great-grandparents.)

We did use to name our farms and you’ll see a few on old plat maps especially in the south part of the county.

Houses with names are common on the East Coast but not nearly as much as in Europe. Francis Mayes introduced us to Bramasole in her book, “Under the Tuscan Sun.” That was the name of the house she purchased on the steep, eastern slope of the Cortona, Italy hill where the sun goes down over the hill in early afternoon. Bramasole in Italian means “yearn for the sun.” What poetic name fits your house?

At least two Sutton houses began their stories serving as one-room rural school houses. Would I be called an Unrepentant Romantic if I began to think of names for those homes that might capture their special stories? Yeah, probably. Photos of those two houses slipped into last month’s article.

So there were at least two motives to look into the histories of the houses in Sutton: the background of the building, the builder, past residents and the ambiguous and sometimes misleading names that have become attached to the houses.

But we don’t generally have those answers.

Enter: Crowdsourcing. What’s that? It’s a ten-year old word now in the dictionary that means, “The process of obtaining services, ideas or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people.” It is based on the radical notion that a big bunch of people knows more than a small bunch of people.

So rather than the handful of people in the Sutton Historical Society try to write the history of the houses in Sutton, how about a bigger bunch of us do it?

The method we chose to crowdsource the stories of Sutton houses works like this.

First: we’ve posted pictures of several of Sutton’s houses on our website – about 75 so far, and counting.

Second: we ask a simple question, “What do you know about this house?”

Third: we provide instructions of how to answer and a single place where you can see what others have said and respond to them, or more likely, start that conversation yourself.

The historical society published a calendar in 2008 featuring distinctive houses of Sutton – 23 of them, two per page but our Historic House was Miss January all by herself. The captions to those houses are in the respective houses in this project to start us off.

Guess what? People are posting comments about the houses and starting real “conversations.” Check out 608 S. Way Avenue and 603 W. Cedar Street for starters.

The process is simple. Go to and locate the “Pages” section in the right column. Click on the second item, “Sutton House Project.” This takes you to a page cleverly titled “Sutton House Project” where we describe the project. Scroll down to the directory of houses under the line “Links to individual houses:”

The directory is sorted alphabetically by street names and numerically by house numbers. Your house likely isn’t here – there are fewer than 80 as I write this bit a few more go up every now and then.

Click on an address and arrive at the page for one specific house. There is a photo, an excerpt of the instructions and hopefully, a few comments at the bottom. Click on the line “Post a comment” or “No comments” to leave your own note.

There is a requirement to “log in” so the host website knows that you’re real. A gmail account is an easy way but you can comment as “anonymous” or via other log in procedures. There may be a silly question to answer. The reason for this check is to preclude rogue software from commenting. You may have seen comments on blogs describing how someone’s sister makes $63,000 a month in her with her computer. That’s likely an automated post a simple check could have stopped.

I mentioned earlier that there were at least two motives for initiating this project, anticipating questions about the background of a house and secondly to see what names people may be using to identify or reference Sutton houses. Another motive is more subtle. The big frustration about spending a lot of time maintaining and growing the Sutton Museum is that so few people are involved indicating just how poorly we’ve managed to let others in on the entertainment value of being involved in such an enterprise. It seems to be big hurdle for people to stop on a Sunday afternoon to see what we’re doing and to visit a bit.

So here you can become involved without getting out of your chair, and at any time you want. And maybe we can have some fun with it. Thank you in advance. Now, have at it.

No comments: