Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Re-Thinking The Captain's House
That's it, the house I live in, always to me a nearly-perfect-Fairhope house, constructed in the early 20th Century by the firm of Fobes and Sheldon, for Captain Ed Roberts and his family. In the slight restoration we did when I moved in in February 2004, the workers found a board in the floor molding signed on the back "Ed Sheldon, Fairhope, Alabama."
Even with its perfection of Craftsman "airplane bungalow" design, it could use a little updating. I am going to have it painted an elegant cream color, and have the yard landscaped. I've told the story hear of an early visit from the Captain, but it bears repeating when I consider having more work done on his house.
One of my first nights in the house was stormy and rainy. Upstairs I heard doors and windows banging, and the situation seemed eerie. I knew the house had been built in 1916 by Capt. Ed Roberts, one of the pilots of the bay boats that ferried people back and forth before the causeway was constructed in 1929. Never having met the man, I felt a certain bond with the captain, and from the first I was proud to be the owner of his house. However, on this rainy night, I felt that somehow the captain considered me an interloper and was trying to deal with me from the beyond.
I took a deep breath and went upstairs to see what was causing the banging. There were no doors or windows swinging. There seemed to be no source for the noise. I gathered my wits and said in a loud, clear voice, “Captain. I bought this house, and I love this house. I’m going to do my best to make it a good place to live again.”
When I came downstairs the banging had stopped. I haven’t heard such noises since.
Capt. Roberts went into the jukebox business, among other ventures, when the bay boats stopped plying local waters. Paul Gaston told me there used to be a jukebox on the sunporch when he was a teenager and was dating Phyllis Roberts, the captain’s daughter. There were many parties with dancing on that porch. The sunny porch is the lightest room in the house, and it fairly rings with happiness still.
The house was then occupied by the Beasley family, who raised a son and daughter in it; then it was bought by Dennis and Harriett Gray, from whom I bought it. The Grays also raised a son and daughter in the house. At the time I bought it, there was no air conditioning and the Grays declared they hadn’t found it necessary because of the huge attic fan, probably installed as the latest technology by the captain. Being an over-evolved tenderfoot accustomed to conditioned air, I added central air soon after moving in, but I still love running that attic fan for as long as I can in the spring. I’ve never seen anything quite like it – it’s the size of a Volkswagen. An oddity, I show it proudly to new visitors to the house. My grandsons love it.
When I had work done on the bathroom last spring, the workers were properly appreciative of the house. They loved the remaining details and the simplicity of design, to say nothing of the sheer sturdiness of the construction. Few houses of this vintage have survived the onslaught of development in recent years.
You'll be getting a blow-by-blow description of the work as it progresses. I have already met with one landscaper, who has shown me a rather fussy, overplanted cottage garden, some of which will remain, but some will be edited down to be in keeping with the essential naturalness of the house and its setting. The first painter has given me an estimate. The electrician will put the finishing touches on rewiring, including installing the juice to operate a second air conditioning system for upstairs before the daughter and grandsons return for a visit late this month.
And you can enjoy it without the inconvenience of having it actually happen to you. Coming This Fall -- a new look!