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Pete Seeger Builds a House -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Pete Seeger Builds a House

 


Folk icon Pete Seeger performs at Habitat Greater Newburgh’s July benefit concert, which raised much needed funds and awareness for the affiliate’s efforts. Photo by Hilary Duffy

 

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PETE SEEGER If I Had a Hammer: Concert for a House

   


On July 4, musician and activist Pete Seeger lifted his voice in support of Habitat’s efforts right in his own backyard. “If I Had a Hammer: Concert for a House” was held just across the Hudson River from Seeger’s homestead in Beacon, N.Y, a wooded spot where Seeger and his wife Toshi built their own house all on their own more than 30 years ago.

Asked why he decided to undertake the construction project, when he admittedly had enthusiasm but little building experience, he replies with trademark simplicity: “Didn’t have any money.”

Seeger started in the only place that made sense to him. “The main thing I learned is there’s a thing called a library,” he says. “I went down to the New York Public Library, looked up L-O-G C-A-B-I-N, and it saved me from making some very bad mistakes.”

Following the instructions he gleaned from the books he found, Seeger and Toshi — “she really was a complete hero,” he says — did the lion’s share of the building themselves, benefiting from a reuse-recycle ethic and the generous expertise of others in a way that will sound very familiar to Habitat stalwarts.

For example, the couple was moving from New York City’s Greenwich Village, and Seeger spied a house demolition taking place across the street from their old residence. “The windows and doors were just sitting on the sidewalk for anybody to take who wanted them,” he recalls. “We had a Jeep station wagon, and I tied them on the roof. So I got the windows and doors for our cabin.”

And when it came time to begin construction, Seeger says, “we didn’t know how to use trowels. We were using pancake turners. We had a neighbor who was a mason, showed us how to mix cement and what kind of cement.”

The Seegers eventually finished the cabin and have lived comfortably there with their growing family for many years. It’s an experience he remembers fondly, a memory that fuels his ongoing interest in Habitat as “an idea that grew into a movement.” The biggest lesson learned from his own construction experience? “You’d be surprised how much you can do with just a little.”