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The dominant credo of these multi-generational tree houses seems to be that “what happens in the tree house stays in the tree house.”
Tree houses don’t exactly pre-date people, but they didn’t come long afterwards. What began as necessary housing in areas where predators roamed at night has long since been a children’s recreation vehicle, as well as a centerpiece for family bonding.
Tree houses are sprinkled through the urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods of the Roanoke Valley and they come in every level of complexity and expense, but the most family-oriented of all of them are those built by the families, working as a team.
We sought out several good examples of them recently and here are their stories.
“We knew we wanted to do something special, simple, nothing elaborate, and something we knew our children would enjoy,” says TK Sharpley. “We wanted the bare minimum, a lean-to, and nothing involving a kit to resemble the park playground equipment. It had to be a structure that was safe, sound, and provide an escape from under the regime of our watchful eye.”
So, 35 years ago Ron Sharpley (now a retired dentist), laid in some lumber and went to work on a tree house in South Roanoke that is now entering its second full generation for children of the Sharpley family. It was originally constructed for Walter (now 41), Sarah (Carino, 39) and Lauren (Hartman, 28). Now their young children are enamored with the tree house, which has considerable wear, occasional cobbling back together and is the home for stories.
“What happens in the tree house stays in the tree house,” says Sarah, smiling broadly. Over the years, the treehouse has been home for many sleepovers, booming rock music and graduation over-nighters. The house has undergone occasional renovations (Lauren painted ocean waves inside and Ron has shored up the base upon occasion), but it remains basically the same, about 40 feet from the house and slightly above it.
Says TK: “We realized that children could care less about design, function and neighborhood curb appeal. Treehouses, after all, are meant for forming life-long friendships, sharing secrets, and living in the pretend world, as long as possible.”
And, she says, “Whatever Walter, Sarah, and Lauren tell you ... believe what you must. Fact or fiction, only the walls of the shelter in the woods know for sure.”
Archer Hall, who is now 13, nailed up the first board to what would become the tree house in the Halls’ fascinating back yard in Salem three summers ago. That suited for a while.
“It was a death trap,” says dad Lynwood. Mama Aimee called it “a co-pay platform.”
Then, the idea of a real tree house, constructed among three large trees, was born, and the whole family pitched in. The wood came from a neighbor’s razed barn. Archer designed the two-phase ladder system and her mom and dad, Aimee and Lynwood (he is in creative services at Foot Levelers, she is an events coordinator), went to work on the upper floor, a triangle with railings, a simple design.
“It’s not much, but it’s a lot,” says Archer. “We didn’t want it to be as crappy or as dangerous” as it was, says Archer.
Now, it’s just right. “You should see the sunsets from up there,” says Aimee, who goes up to relax upon occasion. Archer goes up to play music and to talk the way teenagers talk. “We took a little pool up there once,” she says.