An old house + A new computer program =
The travel opportunity of a lifetime…to another century!
Abby Thomas is spending the summer in a run-down old house with a bratty pre-teen named Merrideth she is supposed to tutor. It’s not her idea of a dream job, but it does come with perks.
There’s John Roberts, a devastatingly attractive neighbor who is almost too wonderful to be real.
And then there’s the virtual trip to the 19th century she gets to take via a strange computer program called Beautiful Houses—also too amazing to be real! No one knows how it works, but with the program, Abby can rewind and fast-forward the lives of all the people who ever lived in the house, including that of young Charlotte Miles.
In 1858, Charlotte’s house is a train stop on the Alton & Chicago Line. And she is stuck there serving meals to the passengers, wondering if she’ll ever get to have any fun. But then she meets two travelers who change her life forever.
There’s James McGuire with whom she falls in love. And there’s his boss, a young Springfield lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. His debate with political opponent Stephen Douglas catapults him onto the national stage and leads to his presidency during the dark days of the Civil War. Hearing Abraham Lincoln pour out his heart on the debate stage inspires Charlotte Miles to take up the cause of abolition and to turn her house into a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Abby and Merrideth gain new perspective on their own lives as time and again they see God’s plans to bless Charlotte Miles and the other inhabitants of the old house unfold on their computer screen.
A 200-year-old treasure waiting to be reclaimed.
Abby Thomas’ 11-year-old student Merri is finally warming up to her. And her friendship with John Roberts is also heating up. He’s definitely marriage material. Except for the fact that when she tells him about Beautiful Houses he thinks she’s crazy.
Because a computer program that allows you to rewind and fast-forward the lives of people from long ago is surely pure fantasy. But then John sees for himself that it’s not.
Together they use Beautiful Houses to help the “Old Dears” next door with their family tree. Rummaging around in their history, they discover that the 85-year-old twins have been keeping a secret from each other since 1941. And the ladies’ ancestors have a few secrets of their own, too.
Convicted in 1871 of murder and arson, Reuben Buchanan is a blight on the Old Dears’ family name. But was he really guilty? Abby and John must get inside the mind of a murderer to find out.
But there are also heroes in the ladies’ family tree—like Reuben’s ancestor Nathan Buchanan. Abby and John’s amazing software takes them on a virtual trip back to 1803 when Nathan log cabin sat just outside Lewis and Clark’s Camp River Dubois where the men spent the winter gathering supplies and training for their cross-continental expedition.
Nathan Buchanan’s cabin was added onto through the years, and at one time it was a stage coach inn called Shake Rag Corner. Today it is a condemned derelict. But while watching its history unfold, Abby and John discover a 200-year-old treasure waiting to be reclaimed—and that God’s promise to bless a thousand generations really is true.
Their discovery on the third floor of Hickory Hill is almost too much to bear.
Since the Beautiful Houses computer software worked so well for the Old Dears’ family tree project, Abby’s college roommate Kate hopes the computer program will help her find out more about her ancestor Ned Greenfield.
Abby and John reluctantly agree to help Kate, but only on the condition that she and her fiancé Ryan promise to keep the program a secret, because if the government ever discovered they possessed a computer program that allows you to rewind and fast-forward the lives of people it would surely want to get its hands on it.
The two couples take a trip to the tiny town of Equality, set in the hills of southern Illinois and the breath-taking Shawnee National Forest. According to Kate’s research, Ned Greenfield was born there at a place called Hickory Hill.
The mayor, police chief, and townspeople are hospitable and helpful—until the topic of Hickory Hill comes up. Then they are determined to keep them away. Eventually they find Hickory Hill on their own—both the mansion and the lonely hill it sits upon. And what a perfect old house to time-surf in!
Built in 1834, Hickory Hill stands sentinel over Half Moon Salt Mine where the original owner John Granger accumulated his blood-tainted fortune with the use of slave labor in the free state of Illinois—the Land of Lincoln.
Abby and her friends meet Miss Granger, Hickory Hill’s current eccentric owner, and they eventually get the chance to run Beautiful Houses there. Their shocking discovery on the third floor concerning Kate’s ancestor Ned Greenfield is almost too much to bear. What they learn sends them racing to the opposite end of the state to find the missing link in Kate’s family tree. And there they are reminded that God is in the business of redemption—that one day he’ll make all things new.