Saturday, March 18, 2017

When You Lose Your Family Home

My family recently lost a treasure that should not have been forgotten to the ages. We all have one, or perhaps, "had" would be the better word, as many of these heirlooms no longer exist in the name of progress, ignorance, or apathy.

photo by Nora Seidel

I'm afraid that until a local news article came out about the demolishing of a town's historical landmark home, our family's loss was due to ignorance.

...and the alleged apathy of the home's owner, who I must add does not even live in the town, but an hour away.

The home I speak of was built in 1792 in the little town of Morgantown, PA.

Let that date sink in a moment.

Our country was in its very beginnings at that time as the United States; George Washington was still president, the Louisiana Purchase had not yet occurred, and the U.S. Postal Service had just been created that very year.

Amazing to think of life then, right?

Now, how does the house pertain to my family and I?

When I saw the article it said one of the long time owners was "Plank". That being a family name, I texted my mom to see if there was a connection. She texted back that she had looked it up and we were direct descendants.

Crap.

I was already aghast at the demolition of such an old home, but now it just got personal.

The history of the house started when Colonel Jacob Morgan had the house built for his daughter, Mary Hudson. She and her husband, John, had five children that were born and raised there.

Fast forward to 1869 when Dr. David Heber Planke and his wife Ida bought the home; this is when my ancestry gained a link to this home. Dr Planke practiced and saw patients in his home there, and his wife ran a girls school. They lived there until 1913. After that the house was rented out to various families.


In 1952 William Bertolet Planke bought back the family home when he and his wife resettled in their hometown. His wife and daughter continued to live there after his death until it was sold at an auction in 1989 to a Thomas Abbinizio of Wynnewood, PA for his daughter, Angela Zager. She rented it out to families for a few years and then let it fall into disrepair, then abandoned it altogether.

I don't know why anyone would hold on to a house they aren't using, but it makes me mad no matter what the excuse to let such a home rot.

A distant relative of mine and a descendant of the Planke family, Rosine Plank Bumback, succinctly expressed what not just myself, but I'm sure the whole town feels at the loss:

“I am distressed that a building so connected to the town’s historical and social fabric, including to its founder, should have been allowed to rot and finally disappear. There will be no more physical vestige of its habitants who lived in it over two centuries. My great-grandfather, Dr. Heber Plank bought the Plank House in the mid 19th Century and raised 5 sons there with his wife, Ida Eugenia Bertolet Plank. Their second oldest son was my grandfather Walter Frederick, who died before my father Lt. Col. Walter Frederick Plank was born. I remember visiting the house in my youth at which time it was occupied by Helen Beck Plank, the widow of my great uncle William Bertolet Plank, professor of mining and engineering at Lafayette College, and their daughter Adeline Jane Plank. My only great uncle Plank I really knew was Rev. Alfred Quintin, an Episcopalian priest who served at St. Mark’s in Washington as well as parishes in Baltimore and new Jersey. He sent yellow roses to Ft. Belvior Hospital on my birth, upon learning that my name was Rosine.
I stayed at the Plank House in the 70s with my mother when Cousin Adaline Jane was living alone there, the last Plank to do so. I was shown the ground floor office where Dr. D. Heber Plank received his patients. There was a photograph on the wall of uncle “Bertie” with Max Plank, apparently a French Huguenot relation. Upstairs in the attic, there was a large portrait of a rather fierce looking Dr. Theodorus Zwingerus holding a scull under whom Delaplanche or DePlank ancestor studied medicine in the late 17th Century at the University of Basel, Switzerland before crossing the pond to America. Under the portrait was a chest where I found and avidly read Dr. Plank’s journals written on the eve of the Civil War, in which he reflected on the challenges of the Republic. I sensed the many human events that transpired within those walls. I could even almost hear the voices of the Plank boys clamoring down the staircase.
One by one, each house that held a family connection for me in Morgantown has been demolished. This included the Finger house where my grandmother Lettie Finger Plank lived with her siblings, and the neighboring houses where Dr. Plank’s brother and family lived. As cars zoomed by the modern drug chain store and whatever replaces the Plank House on Main Street, there will be little evidence of the town’s unique cultural, architectural, and historical heritage, charm, spirit, and complexity.”

I have a picture of the portrait she spoke of from our Plank family history book. It is now all I have as a link to "what was". (sorry for the cel pic)


It pains me that I knew only too late all the links I had to a town I once went to school and lived in when first married. I had more of a link to the town than I ever thought, and now that physical link is forever gone.

My dear friends...find your roots. Your homesteads. Claim them back or protect them. Let's not lose our history or heritage.

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