Most people have only read about tree houses and their inhabitants, but Tom Haggerty actually built them when he was growing up in Scottsburg, Indiana. Tom and his young friends scrounged materials from abandoned houses and barns. Later, when he and his wife Cathy, both IU graduates, settled in Bloomington, they chose a house on West 14th Street primarily because it had two big oak trees in the front yard—and Tom saw the possibilities.

“I just couldn’t imagine not having a tree house,” he says, “but it is important to find the right tree. Soft maples aren’t any good, and I think that maybe the right tree has to find you.”

Over a decade ago, when the youngest of their three sons was in his teens, Tom helped the boys and their friends build a multi-story tree house between the two large oaks. Cathy recalls how Tom helped the boys research the use of cables to suspend the structure, so that it would not need to be nailed to the trees. “Tom insisted on safety, so everyone wore climbing harnesses,” she says. “Some of our sons’ friends had never used a hammer or a drill before, so it was a wonderful learning experience and fostered teamwork.”

When the leaves are gone, the intricacies of the tree house are revealed. There is a platform about 15 feet from the ground that was built first and is referred to as the “basement.” From there a ladder leads to the 320-square-foot main floor, which consists of a cabin with a sleeping loft surrounded by a deck. Above this is an upper level with a dance floor and Cathy’s hammock. From this vantage point high in the sky one can see the courthouse, the football stadium, and other Bloomington landmarks.

Cathy especially enjoys sharing the tree house with all of the wildlife. The acorns attract many squirrels and sometimes a raccoon pays a visit. Woodpeckers and many other birds are constant visitors. Though their boys are grown and gone now, both Tom and Cathy say they still love being up in the tree house.