Old houses attract passionate people – especially houses that are falling down and need rescue.
Since we’ve been blogging about East Falls’ own fixer upper, we’ve encountered all kinds of other history nuts who’ve been thrilled to open their collections and share everything they know, including crazy theories, alternate histories, and dream scenarios.
But they’ve also provided wonderful insights about the history of their found objects, including notebooks of documentation to back them up. There’s a freedom in being an amateur because the “real professionals” often have reputations to protect or complicated academic methodologies to follow. Sometimes, it’s the amateur who can see things with “beginner’s eyes” and make big discoveries or creative leaps, kind of like these guys.
Whether it’s an amateur historian explaining how garnets formed in the Wissahickon Schist of Hohenadel’s foundation or bottle collectors digging in its back yard to discover the privy, the passion is the same — to understand what happened in the past and tell a story about it. Listening to those stories, it’s amazing what you can learn and the people you’ll meet.
We’ve lived in East Falls for years but never felt like members of the community until we started blogging about Hohenadel House. We were drawn to the house for many of the same reasons others were too — it seemed like a forgotten place from a long time ago. Although we didn’t know it at the time of our first post, we were entering a community of people who were curious about history in ways that we never imagined.
As we connected with these people and traded information, we began to see the Hohenadel story, and the larger story of East Falls, from the new perspectives of a community of passionate enthusiasts who were connected to “our” story but were telling it from completely different angles.
It inspired us to double check what we thought we knew or it provided novel context for a fact that had, at first glance, seemed straightforward and simple.
Learning through sharing stories is nothing new. It’s been around for as long as people have been walking upright, but a theory called “communities of practice” has become popular to explain how people build communities and learn by sharing information. In brief, these communities are:
“groups of people who share a common concern or passion. The group can evolve naturally because of the members’ common interest in a particular area, or it can be created specifically with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field. By sharing information and experiences, group members learn from each other and get better at what they do.”
The local Philadelphia history collector community is practically a textbook definition of a community of practice. With Hohenadel, we’ve found an interesting focal point that draws all sorts of these collectors together and taps into community memories and connections. We’ve had several neighbors share their stories about when Hohenadel was a dentist’s office or a rental property or just “the scary old house on Indian Queen Lane.”
It’s these stories that make Hohenadel a sort of neighborhood collector’s item, educating and connecting at the same time.