My Hundred Year House

Photo by Will Clayton

Several weeks ago, my house celebrated its centennial birthday. On August 5 1912, the first family moved into their brand new house designed and built for them on South Capitol Parkway. That date is the “official date” that water service was turned on to the house according to records of the Montgomery Water Works and Sewer and that date is recognized by the city of Montgomery for historic designation purposes. The Titanic had just sunk and the personal income tax was not yet established. The house would exist to “see” the invention of the first traffic light and the execution of the Russian czar and his family. When the house was completed, women had not even gained the right to vote!

The street, which had just been plowed, was dirt and open with no trees. It must have been unbearably hot on that August day. Hopefully a breeze was blowing across the ridge, which is 300 feet above the level of Court Square Fountain in the center of town below. Other houses were being built at the same time, so there must have been a flurry of mule wagons and carts moving the neighbors into their newly completed homes. My first occupants were the Lewis family for whom the street just below was eventually named.

C. D. Lewis had contracted with Frank Lasseter to build this house that had been designed by Richard S. Whaley. Whaley had just finished a home for himself designed in the trendy “arts and crafts” style on nearby North Lewis Street. Whaley knew the bungalow style popularized by the Green brothers of California. The style was making a big hit in other areas across the country such Chicago, Pasadena, Asheville, and Birmingham. He probably took a published pattern book design and tailored it to our open terrain, southern climate and local culture.

My house features an asymmetrical front elevation with triple gables. The rafter tails support the wide eaves with decoratively cut ends that once supported gutters which emptied into an intricate underground drain system. The deep, L-shaped porch is paved with small hexagonal blocks, probably made on the site during construction. The porch balustrade is made of delicate pickets and wider slats featuring heart cut-outs. The roof of the porch and attached porte cochere (carport) are supported by graduated brick piers topped with square columns. The deep profile cypress siding was originally stained a pumpkin color and the roof was cedar shake shingles. Screens covered the lower half of the windows and caught the breezes that blew over the ridge. A sleeping porch with windowed walls allowed for cool sleeping in the hot summers. There still exists today a copy of my house with a reversed floor plan on Gilmer Avenue. The only other difference in design is the club motif inscribed in the porch balustrade, proving that Whaley had somewhat of a sense of humor!

Whaley clearly knew about southern architectural styles and adapted components in his interior designs. The hallway is 35 feet long and, like the popular southern dogtrot style, tunnels a breeze through to keep the adjacent rooms cool. The ceilings are 11 feet high and the transoms over the doorways bring both light and air throughout the house. Other interior bungalow features include box-beamed ceilings, french doors, glass front cabinetry, pantry, and lots of assorted built-ins.

Some houses built on the Parkway were summer homes only, allowing families to get away from the heat and humidity of the river. Because my house was built as a full-time home, it was fitted with a central air system serviced by a coal burning boiler in the basement and it only has one coal burning fireplace. The original chicken house continues to survive as a tool shed in the back yard.

I purchased the house in 1991 from an old house aficionado who had bought the house just a few years before from the longtime resident. He had done many updates and lots of cosmetic work to the house. Over the last 21 years, I have just “junked up“ the ¾ acre lot with pass-along plants and yard art. Living Christmas trees have been planted year after year, and this plethora of assorted sizes of cedars, cypress and arborvitae keep the yard green year round. For an exterior paint job, I used the documented period Rookwood colors from Sherwin Williams as lots of the other houses on Capitol Parkway are also returning to early 20th century paint colors.

So what does one give a house on its 100th birthday? It will have to settle for the gift of continued care, maintenance and appreciation. I once read an article by Patricia Poore, founding mother of Old House Journal and Old House Interiors. She had restored several houses, done lots of research and tackled new skills. But her advice was to just enjoy your family, friends, animals and yourself in your old house. There would always be things to fix, projects to take on, shrubs to trim, etc. and nothing would ever be totally perfect. So that’s been my inspiration: My house has been standing here for 100 years — through rain, sleet, wind, snow, wars, recessions, 100 Christmases, 100 Thanksgivings, etc.—surely, it can survive me!

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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