The following was written by Laurie J. Sargent, my daughter, as a tribute to the house we call home.
"I lament the passing of a fine old lady. Born a country girl, she had grown up with the town of Harlem, getting a few make-overs and sheltering at least seven families in her lifetime and would know their names: Shockley, Clary, Hawes, Hagerstrom, Sargent, Radford and Smith. She was born in 1853 and died just before the first sunrise of 2004.
Not a human, a house, but more than that: it is the home of my childhood, and just as that is gone except in memories and photographs, so is she.
The old yellow house at 360 North Hicks St. in Harlem is now ashes. Way back she was born as a dogtrot, with two rooms and a breezeway; she evolved into a cottage, with two rooms and a hall. Eventually two more rooms were added, as was a bay window, electricity and indoor plumbing in the 20th century. My memories are my grandmother cooking delicious meals, my grandfather repairing and painting, and my mother planting flowers in the yard. The front porch was perfect for watching the world pass. Mayberry was real; my generation grew up there. We were sometimes cold in the long dark Georgia winter nights and sweltering in the hot summer days.
The house would remember more: Awesome wood-burning locomotives; horses and wagons; her other families. She saw the hoboes jumping off the trains in the 1930s to ask for some of Grandma's cooking. She saw Harlem grow up around her through three centuries as the cotton fields that once surrounded her became a fine town.
But all we build is tenuous. Ancient pine is no match for fire, and huge joist headers and sills bound by pegs, and clapboards clad with square nails to rough-sawn studs must yield eventually.
I believe in angels. Just as they shelter us and keep us safe, so do our homes. And now, old lady, may angels sing thee to thy rest."
My parents moved to the house when I was a month old, and I lived there 61 years. An early resident, Dr. Julian P. Shockley, was a prominent physician in town, caring for the sick and injured. He was an important political figure in the development of Harlem, serving as mayor for one term and as a member of town council for several years. He died in 1885 while in office.
The house, built before the town was born, was full of history and should have been put on the National Register. Our hopes were that the structure would be rebuilt as it was, but those hopes faded when what remained was set fire and reduced to ashes to make way for progress.
(Bette Sargent is a Harlem historian.)
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