Abandoned Island

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Editorial & Photography By: Christopher Cooper

I have great affection for abandoned houses. I find them beautiful and somewhat sad in their attempt to prop themselves up and not become merely dust in the landscape. Every-so-often I find myself so enamored with a long forgotten edifice that it almost haunts me, as did a little house I stumbled upon during a visit to Prince Edward Island, Canada some years ago.

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The breached roof on the little house had allowed water to enter which had rendered it a complete wreck however, it still stands as a testament to ingenuity and a meagre means of living. In my opinion these are some of the most important buildings to document because an important part of our history is based on the common man and woman and the humble houses they lived in, and raised their families in.

Floor Plan

I got down to the task of taking detailed measurements of the place as well as many photographs to document her before she is gone. I think the reason I have become so obsessed with this little house is the size of it. The main portion of the house which was built some time in the last quarter of the nineteenth century is a mere 16 feet by 12 feet deep – a total of 384 square feet on two levels of livable original space. You can imagine a good size family most likely inhabited the simple little farm house when it was new. Our concept of living has drastically changed over the last century, our modern problem being that we all have so much stuff rather than the mere necessities.

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At one point in the life of this little house a decision had been made to up-grade its size and the wall surfaces. Two additions had been added during the 1940’s or early 50’s to increase the house to a whopping 543 square feet, 57 square feet providing for a little kitchen off the back and 102 square feet for a first floor bedroom. I am sure it was quite the day when a meal could be made in a proper kitchen, however, there is no bathroom just a ramshackle outhouse located some distance from the rear of the place.

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When the house was originally built in the 2” x 4” balloon-frame style it was sheathed in 10” wide boards with lath applied vertically (which is rare) to the interior sides of the sheathing. Plaster was then parged over the vertical lath to help with draft and to provide a nicely finished wall.

The raw studding was sanded and white washed to blend into the walls as were the floor joists for the second floor and underside of the floorboards.

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The thimbles in the floors and the charming little two-brick-wide chimney flue, supported on wooden braces, indicate that the house was most likely heated by a cook stove in the front room. When the house was last lived in it was heated by a cook stove as well, except it was fueled by oil. The interior image is that of chaos with the front room’s floor completely collapsed into the center. It looks like an art installation with an old rusty 1950’s refrigerator and the oil stove propping each other up in an attempt not to fall into the abyss.

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The stair up to the second level has a couple of steps up to a small landing and a ladder continued up from there, the ghost of which is still visible on the wooden wainscoting in the corner, as is the ghost of a jelly cupboard long gone. I have noted with this house the use of sea grass which was a common for insulation and to stop the draft.

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The house, although devoid of an indoor bathroom, did have electricity, and had several attempts at modernizing. The additions of a wooden wainscoting of 2 ¼” wide tongue and groove fir and wooden panelled ceilings on both levels, were done sometime at the turn of the century or before the additions were added. When the additions were added a fibreboard panelling was placed on the new walls and the existing walls (over-top the interesting vertical lath and plaster). A sign that a house has been added onto is always visible in the roof areas of the additions. The telltale sign is that the original exterior cladding is seldom removed when an addition is placed onto it. And with respect to this little house, the original shingles are visible above the ceiling levels of the additions.

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The house was originally painted white and at some point in the past fifty years was painted a deep pink; a covered entry area in the front of the house was painted a happy yellow to distinguish the entry from the rest of the house.

I have become witness to the collapsing slow destruction of the little place, to see past her rotted interior, to proclaim her one of the most charming little houses I have had the pleasure to document. It is unpretentious and provides a distinct feeling of home.

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2 thoughts on “Abandoned Island

  1. When I was a small child, my mother took me to see the house which she had grown up in with her very large family, in Cape Breton, NS. By that time it was in a similar state as this house, with the addition of a goat in the living room. Not understanding that this was the result of years of neglect, I was amazed that my mother had grown up in a house with grass between the floor boards, many holes in the roof and half of the upper level floor missing. In the years that followed, I have pieced together my mother’s stories of this house and can now imagine it as it lives in her memory… a simple, clean and comfortable home full of joy.

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