Over the years, we’ve explored countless abandoned farm houses. The great majority are constructed of wood, the most common building material for rural dwellings like this, then as now. Occasionally we’ll come across ones of brick, but not terribly often. Very rare, but still seen every now and again, are ones in stone. We’ve seen examples of each. Here’s a new one to us and clearly something that’s a bit strange and out of the ordinary, the fine old home seen here, with walls of cement.
Majestic and elegant the building sits in the middle of an overgrown yard. Being swallowed up by encroaching vegetation the exterior is hard to photograph and once things green up, something near impossible. In spite of being open to the elements (no glass), the inside is oddly pristine, clean and tidy, and overall in better shape than one would ever expect. Bizarre since it’s been abandoned for close to five decades. Structurally it seems very sound. Of course I guess it should be given what it’s built of.
Particularly charming are all the nice touches and sometimes subtle details found all about the bundling, inside and out. The textured concrete with alternating smooth bands is a wonderful feature. The dormers with those pleasant reverse-curve fronts are super nice. There are little carvings everywhere, the gorgeous turned railings. corner details, decorative window frames, they’re all wonderful and impressive. At the same time the entire place reflects a quiet confidence and in form is both sort of understated and reserved.
To protect the property, we’re going to be vague when it comes to certain details about it, like in regards to location and the names of people connected to it. This old house is on private property (and is watched) and is not publicly accessible.
The immediate region where the house stands was not heavily settled until just before World War One. Most newcomers to the area, including the couple who built this fine structure, were immigrants from the Ukraine. The region today is home to many descents of those early pioneers.
The house is from 1915, confirmed by a date stamp seen on one outer wall. The couple that built it raised nine children here. They had big families back then! Around 1940 it was acquired by one son. This person stayed until the mid-1950s when they sold it. The new owners were the final ones to live here and only stayed until the latter half of the 1960s before moving out. Once bursting with life, the house has stood empty and quiet ever since.
We’re terribly curious why it was constructed of concrete, but have found no hard evidence in regards to that. To impress: I’m not really convinced. Maybe they just wanted the most solid structure EVER, one that would last to the end of time. Clearly, it’s not going anywhere soon!
Some old documents seen while researching this post, make mention it was hard to heat in winter. Here, the temperature can drop to the -20s and -30s and was often accompanied by a blustery wind and cement is not known for holding heat. I guess on those cold, cold days condensation inside was also an ongoing problem. Come summer it would be nice and cool, one advantage perhaps, but not one to overcome the other. No doubt it was costly and challenging to construct too.
In the end, it’s just not a practical material for a farm house, at least in this part of the world and that’s why it comes as such a surprise. I doubt we’ll see another. It’s not completely clear if the walls were made from separate cast blocks stacked atop one another and joined somehow or if some manner of slip-forming technique was used instead. Either way, it’s something. The back end of the house is rather plain in comparison to the front and to a lesser extent the sides.
On the main floor there is a living room, dining room, kitchen and one bedroom (the PINK room) and porches connected each to the front and back entries. Upstairs are four bedrooms and off the hallway, a door to a small outside balcony. A large open attic, easily accessed by stairs, was no doubt used for storage. Of course only the outer walls are of cement. The interior is traditional with wood framing covered by lath and plaster. The house is certainly on the big side of what would be usual for the locale and era. We noted a lack of insulation in any walls we could see into, which may seem odd, but was common in old farm dwellings. I know, they’re pretty exposed out there and it’s damn winter half the year! What the heck?
The dirt basement appears to have been used as a root cellar and is home to a huge central heating plant. There is no bathroom, so outside biffies must have been the norm to the end. What fun is must have been doing one’s business in the middle of the night or during inclement weather. Of course, people were tougher back then. It looks like the home was wired for electricity early on.
Looking at a few old photos we found of the place, at one time there was a covered porch with gentle arches and square pillars, presumably where the current front entrance is. The curved elements in the dormers are actually a false front with a normal peaked roof in behind. The interior is nicely painted up in many pleasant colours. Of course, it’s all peeling exposing older layers of different shades.
In one spot is the unmistakable ghost outline of a wall phone. Scribbled nearby are various numbers (one for the vet) in the old three or four digit local dialing format used way back when.
Outside a couple things left behind, a water jug, old cheese grater, a garter clip that was used to hold up stockings (oh-la-la, shades of Cameo Intimates Lingerie), the place was completely empty of personal effects. Strange, there is usually more left behind.
At one time, confirmed in old photos, there was a big barn on the property. Beside the west wall of the house s a small log structure, a chicken coop perhaps? At the far end of the property is a much larger log building, which appears to be an old dwelling. Maybe the first house here? For farm hands? Not sure. Some old granaries can be seen to the east of the house.
Caraganas have taken over the property. These were often planted in farm yards as decorative elements or wind breaks. Hardy and quick growing, in spring they are resplendent in bright yellow flowers that mature into bean-like seed pods, and if left unchecked they’ll quickly spread taking over any land they’re upon and turning it into a near impenetrable jungle.
Once they leaf up the cement farm house will be mostly likely be lost from view with only the roof being high enough to be seen at a distance. Remains of an old picket fence can be found in the old yard.
Joining us and in fact our host this day is good friend and sometimes partner in adventure Rob Pohl. An Edmonton based photographer, he shoots a monstrous large format film camera, this odd old-fashioned looking thing that seems terribly out of place among all our high-tech digital gear, but actually is something quite modern and even a work of art in itself. Set up of this “Ebony” (the brand) is not quick with each photo taking many minutes to complete from start to finish. Then he has to go home and process the film! An artist suffers for his work. Most of what he shoots is monochrome.
Rob’s site: Robert S Pohl…photographs, travels and stuff).
When we hang with Rob we break out the film camera too. Our rig is a more typical 35mm SLR, some old Minolta we picked up somewhere, similar to one that anyone who was into photography in the 1970s or 1980s might have used.
When documenting old farms we typically stay for an hour or two. This place was so inspiring, so compelling, we lasted far longer. Even with every possible angle and shot in the camera, we still didn’t want to go. It was hard to leave this special place.
Note: technically cement is not the same as concrete and instead is but a component of it. To the general public however, the two words are generally used interchangeably to describe that mix of stones and binders, which is how we approached it in this article too. We were in the industry at one time and even then “pros” used both. Still, we fully expect to hear from the “fact police”. Anyway, “1915 Concrete House” as a title, doesn’t seem quite right.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: March, 2016.
Location: Minburn County, AB.
Article references and thanks: Tom B, Theresa G, Local history books.
The cement farm house is on private property. BIGDoer.com visited with permission.