Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Abandonment Issues: Cat Lady House


Time to let the cat out of the bag. This is a sad story.

The Cat Lady earned the moniker, but was affectionately known by her friends and family as Fern. Her personality was colourful and vibrant, as was her wardrobe, and her home. She was a wealthy woman that lived with, and loved 14 cats in this fascinatingly unique home. Cat calendars and cat decorations and cat themed photo albums filled with cat photographs and cat themed everything else you can imagine filled the home.


A pair of photographs I came across depicted her car sitting in the glass ceilinged garage at the rear of the house, the license plate read 'CATS 14' and across the hood and automatic headlight covers were airbrushed images of...you guessed it - CATS!


This was the second stop on the East Meets West Tour with Freak, Doom and Dallas in late August of 2012. The home itself was set far back from the road down a long winding driveway along a wealthy stretch of a rural road in Burlington, Ontario. As we approached the home, anticipation was eating me alive. I'd been waiting for months to finally get my paws into this place and poke around, and the time had finally come.



A 360 degree greenhouse surrounded the circumference of the house, oddly filled with only fake plastic flowers and plants, and the pungent odor of rotting cat litter baking in the sweltering heat.




A fellow explorer by the name of Intrinsic volunteered some information that he had ascertained while researching the history of the property.

Fern was born Flora Fern Noak Miller in Vermont in 1909. She had three siblings, sister Grace and brothers Herbert and Irving. In 1934, the Miller family moved to Quebec. In 1914, she married Simon Ernest McCullough.

Fern relocated to this property around 1970 to spend her retirement operating a hobby farm, where she raised horses, ducks and geese. In her later years, she had this second home constructed on the property, so as not to be snowed in during winter months. She gave the original house, which is deeper on the property, to a young couple who would assist in maintaining the deteriorating property.

Fern passed away in 1999 at 90 years of age.

Two differing wills existed, one naming the surviving family as beneficiaries, the other naming Conservation Halton as beneficiary. The property dispute is still ongoing and Conservation Halton is watching and maintaining the property, sort of.

In photographs found throughout the home, Fern was always seen smiling,  usually wearing brightly coloured floral patterned outfits. Bright floral patterned wallpaper covered the hallways and rooms in her home as well, not just from floor to ceiling either, the wallpaper engulfed each room, up the walls and across the ceilings.






The large circular TV lounge room wallpapered head to toe was bizarre. I had looked forward to capturing this room with my camera but stood dumbfounded turning in circles and found it oddly difficult to photograph. I pictured Fern in floral patterned clothing sitting on the rounded couches, watching the X-Files VHS box set that was collecting dust on a table.



Much of Fern's furnishings, decorations and personal effects were still present, although it was obvious that some looting and vandalism had recently taken place at the residence.

The large two storey open concept kitchen and living room was a gorgeous living space and was still furnished and jam packed with Fern's former possessions. A glimpse into the latter part of her life was provided by a series of photographs, cards, and letters. And a glimpse into her surviving family's life in the years after her passing was provided by a series of notes and legal documents.







Quite ominously, Fern's quad cane stood alone beside the couch, as if she sat down there one day and never got up again. 


















Two left feet



Time to let the cat into the bag.






Heading upstairs to Fern's bedroom for some privacy, I closed the gate behind me, much like she would have done.








A degree of sadness overwhelmed me as I wrote this post, almost as if I am mourning a woman I'd never met. I got to know her here, just a little bit, and got the feeling I would have loved her if our paths had ever crossed. But alas, they did not, and Fern did what we all must eventually do, she left this world. Maybe I'm just mourning my own lost loved ones in an indirect way. Or maybe she reminds of my own mother, filled with such joy and love and light. Or maybe I just needed to cry today.

It is not a sad story though, is it?

It would appear that she lived life to the fullest and enjoyed herself. She embraced who she was and wore it proudly. Her wealth and her bright smile and style, her joy and her love of cats. Her family and her friends. Her luxurious property and her beautiful colourful home to match her vibrant personality. She had it all. She loved life and lived it to the fullest.

It is not a sad story at all, its inspiring.

Rest in peace Fern.

********* UPDATE*********
***February 2nd, 2016***

In the three and a half years since my visit to what the Ontario urbex community affectionately refers to as the Cat Lady House, a never ending parade of vandals have absolutely destroyed Fern's unique old home.

With cleanup underway and an impeding demolition looming, the story of the Cat Lady House came to an abrupt end last night, as the entire home burned down in a fire that has been deemed arson.

Photo found online

click here to check out all of jerm & ninja IX's ABANDONMENT ISSUES


Lyn said...

This story is very moving...Truly sad this place was vandalized! Thank-You for sharing. Really enjoy your blog...it is awesome how you research the history of each place you explore. I Love your photography and journalism.

Emma Cheesman said...

this is an amazing place. I am a photographer and avid adventurer. I was wondering if you knew directions to go to this location. this is a place i would really like to see in person.

Leslie N. said...

Beautiful story. How lovely to have Fern memorialized with a captivating photo blog of her life. This brought tears to my eyes, because it touched my heart. Thank you for sharing!

baronsamedi88 said...

Wow, what a lovely property and a very moving story. I'm in construction myself and it breaks my heart to see such unique places just left to rot like this. I recently stumbled across a derelict house at the end of a secluded road where I was working. The place had obviously been empty for decades and I went inside to have a look. To my surprise it was still full of belongings, although as usual vandals and thieves had been busy. I became almost obsessed with the place and spent a morning in there with a torch, trying to find out what happened. The house belonged to a former wing commander from the war, later made an OBE. He was also treasurer of the Surrey Masons. He and his wife had 2 children, the son eventually moved abroad and the daughter lived in the next street with her family. Around 20 years ago his wife suffered a brain injury and was left in a vegetative state, needing 24 hour care. Against the wishes of his daughter and the advice of medical staff he insisted that she be brought home. The daughter was now to share the duties of caring for her. A short while later, the father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Inevitably the mother passed away and the father remained in the 4 bedroom property, cared for entirely by the daughter. During this time, she went through a very messy divorce, culminating in her husband abducting one of their 2 children. She was by now finding everything too much and had started to drink heavily. By the time her father had lost his battle with cancer, she had lost her family, and career, and was now alcoholic. She had begun sorting through the parents house but had become very erratic and unpredictable. Her brother all this time had remained in USA. 2 years later she committed suicide. The brother now had full ownership of the property but refused to sell or restore it. After a few months of it sitting abandoned, thieves broke in and stole many valuable items. Since that time it has been crudely boarded up but also trashed by vandals. It would appear that the brother wants to demolish the property and redevelop but there are major planning issues. I found some letters in the house addressed to the daughter at her home so went to the address to see who lived there. To my horror I arrived at yet another abandoned house in a terrible state, the rear garden awash with brambles and gin bottles. Every one of these derelict properties has it's own story, some very simple, some very tragic. Hope someone found this interesting, I've tried telling friends about it and they show NO interest! lol!

Janie said...

Your photography is amazing, and what an interesting story. This is more like a vandalized museum- so much history here.
Very upsetting to see the dead cat - I hope it didn't starve to death.
Can just imagine the court case dragging out for years to come.

CheronSD said...

I have studied the photo of the so-called dead cat, which is not a dead cat at all. Look at the paws, those are the paws of a weasel. Look at the teeth, those are the teeth of a weasel.

Davilo Olivad said...

"Fern was born Flora Fern Noak Miller in Vermont in 1909... ...in 1934, the Miller family moved to Quebec. In 1914, she married Simon Ernest McCullough."

They were married in 1934, so I'm guessing that 1914 was the year the family moved to Quebec (unless Fern got married at the age of 5 :)

Thanks for the interesting, albeit sad story. I spent some time researching Fern & Simon McCullough and found it interesting that his occupations are listed as Civil Servant and Butcher and in 1958 Fern is listed as being an "Asbestos Partner", whatever that means. In later years she's listed as being a "Housewife".

I used Google Maps/Street View to view a couple of their former residences and the homes were relatively modest, nothing like the extravagant "Cat House" that was to come in later years.

So they must have come into some money somehow, possibly from some an investment or an inheritance of some kind. Or maybe Fern won it playing cards!

Lucky Roberts said...

Was up at the house today, all snowed in, you can't get up the driveway this time of year. Interestingly, when looking at the property from the air, there is an outline of an old horse oval, right beside the driveway on the right when approaching the house. There also appears to be a foundation behind the house which I'm assuming may have been the barn where her horses were kept? In suspect the horses disappeared from the farm as Fern became elderly.
There is also a very large pond on the property, on the other side of the driveway, surrounded by a small forest of fruit trees (apple and pear trees are abundant)
There used to be a sign at the bottom of the driveway, visible from the road which read "FERN____", Ferndale or Fernhill, obviously the name of her hobby farm, couldn't make out the last four letters in the name as the sign was very faded at the time. The sign is now gone, but the sign posts remain.

Natalie @ Ozzi Cat Magazine said...

Thank you for sharing and the photographs. Thanks to other people for investigating. I think it is like paying a tribute to someone lovely who loved cats. xx

Mark K said...

After watching video on YouTube, I was led here through the comments section. Great article! Thanks for sharing...

Mark K said...

After watching video on youtube, I was led here through comments section. Great article! Thanks for sharing...

Joan Stringer said...

Hi! Same as Mark K., I saw the video on You Tube and came to your page thru the comments. Thank you for this article! Fern must have been a unique lady, and as I love cats, I would have liked her a lot! I would love to see someone redo this house and fix it up before it gets in more of a state of disrepair. Was thinking it would be nice if people were trained in rehabbing and also professionals hired to rehab places like this to make housing for seniors and others. If Canada's population is aging as much as it is here in the US, it could give seniors a place to live and be active, get a property back on the tax roles, and the residents would be spending money in the town. This house would make a lovely residence for seniors with that wraparound porch. If I had the money, the would be on my bucket list! Going to try my hand at writing...if I can be lucky like JK Rowling, well...

Anonymous said...

The house is trashed :(
I was there today.

Unknown said...

Everyone calls that surround a green house.
It is called a cattery. People that love cats sometimes build them. They have to be kept extremely clean or the cats catch diseases.

Unknown said...

I had the oppurtunity once while on vacation to go to this house. So interesting

astardustparade said...

POS vandals ruin everything. Someone should trash their home and property!

Avotts in MS said...

I saw the you tube videos. Did not at the time see that the beautiful unique house had burned. I was trying to find or more about it. My niece has 5 younger kids. I thought oh how grand it would be for the little ones to grow up on such a great property.
I was absolutely sick when I heard the house burned.
They should have maintained this house. Really the only thing I saw wrong on some of the older videos was it needed a new roof. The roof damage lead to the other deterioration.
I found your article just by searching Burlington Cat Lady.
Very nice article indeed. Thank you so much for answering so many questions.

Joan Stringer said...

That is so sad! If they catch whoever did that, they should send them to Utah for practice for their firing squad. That would have been a lovely house for renovation. As a cat lover, that house would have been Heaven. Whoever sat that fire should go straight to Hell.

Anonymous said...

My son and I had the opportunity to go through this house many years ago. We like to view abandoned places. My son mainly for the pictures and me mainly for the history and trying to figure out the story behind them. This house in particular touched me deeply and I think my son knew it would when he took me. When I walked in and seen the artificial flowers and knick knacks and crafty things I instantly felt a connection because it brought me back to memories if my own mother and Fern had things in her house my mother had in hers when she was alive. My parents were from Germany as well and I could see some European flair in the house. I also felt a large sadness walking into the round room and especially in her bedroom. I'm not even sure it was sadness or gloom or what it was but it was really overwhelming. I couldn't stay in that area too long. As soon as I came back to the living room area it was gone. I would always look up to the house driving down Walkers Line because of the connection I felt. I'm sad to find out now that it burned down. It's too bad that not all people couldn't respect even abandoned homes and leave things alone that don't belong to you alone.

Janet Griffiths said...

We have one outside of our home too. It's not a wrap-around, it's 12' x 20' and our cats access it by doggie door. Our small dogs also use it. It is 7' tall.

Anonymous said...

Although it looks like a cat, on closer inspection, it appears to be a raccoon.

Ms. Anthrope Greumpii-Panz said...

I'm crushed to find out that this place has burned to the ground. I saw the video for the first time today (on YouTube) and immediately recognized this as the house I have been dreaming about for approximately 5 years. Strangely enough, there were four "Cat Lady" videos in a row, w/each one going further and further back in time, so that the house slowly appeared to be becoming more and more habitable before my eyes. I was almost in tears, and earnestly hoping that the "Burlington" referred to in two of the videos was Burlington, IA, not even a couple of hours drive from my current residence. I began to fantasize about tracking down the owners and begging that they let put my measly savings down on the place, and then....

I found this blog. I am so saddened. I feel like it was MY home that burned, never mind the anger I still feel towards each and every vandal. I know it's dumb, but....arggggghhhhhh.....

Do you have the address for the local gov't offices there? Perhaps I can find a floorplan, or even a set of blueprints. It won't be the same, but I guess it would be better than nothing....

Aerin Lena said...

I can't believe it 🙇 such a wonderful home!First messed up by reckless invaders and then burned down by vandals! I came across several videos about Ferns House in the past years! And every time more and more Vandalism was seen! That Conservatory group did a bad job! And the surviving family of Fern deserves a kick in the bum! They did nothing to save the house!Now ,the last will ahd testament of Fern is gone!! Only the videos are left!