Monday, April 25, 2016

The Restoration Of A Summerville Icon From The Golden Age--White Gables

Splendidly tucked away in the protective shadows of the iconic property's massive magnolia tree, one of the oldest in the area, the empty but not forgotten white gabled mistress from the Golden Age of Summerville has survived a great earthquake and a category three hurricane during its possible 185 not-so-odd years--built by the Peake Family somewhere between the 1830's and early 1850's. Her massive eighteen inch thick walls have served her well, but the winds of change and passing time regrettably have taken its toll through its twilight years.


On its front door, a metal, oval rosette doorknocker with a "W" imprinted on it recalls the last name of a famous former owner--The Woodruffs. Next to the door, a metal plaque from The National Register of Historic Places authenticated its antiquity.


















Inside, in its center hall, which ran the full length of the house from the front door to the back entrance, the atmosphere was tinged with the ashy odor of creosote. Its aged fireplaces in the adjoining rooms flanking the breezeway on both sides had just undergone a smoke test. The center hall and flanking rooms were a classic design for old southern homes and reminiscent of the old "mosquito houses" built in Summerville's infancy. The layout was duplicated on the second floor as well. Before the restoration began, a carved mirror hung in the second floor center hall--also presently being restored.

In different areas throughout the first and second floor, the exposed bones of the house's skeleton bore witness to its heavily built structure and by-gone construction techniques. The unmistakable signs of human incursion were even more apparent on the third floor, where a cedar shack roof was exposed--a wooden jigsaw puzzle meticulously cut and fitted by its original workmen. All of this is the preliminary steps to what will be a long and thorough restoration of a Summerville icon called White Gables.


There is a world of difference between a restoration and a remodeling. By definition, remodeling means to change the structure or form of something, to fashion differently, whereas restoration means the action of returning something to a former owner, place, or condition. Returning the Classic Greek Revival house to its original glory is the noble mission of its new owners, and they are committed and passionate.

From San Diego, California, the new owner, Denise, has developed a strong love for Southern heritage and its history through the years. She is fulfilling a longtime dream. A dream that started many years ago in her early youth. Her enthusiasm was unmistakably perceived by me as she related her own unique story. A story that will no doubt be integrated into the house's future narratives.

With a sparkle in her eyes and a broad smile, Denise more than willingly gave me a tour of the house and talked about her knowledge of White Gables' distinctive story coupled with her objectives and strong commitment to its future. It was an enlightening conversation capped-off with a story of her own that went as follows:

She was nine years old. Her mother had made plans to take her to the movies. There were two theaters in the town in which she lived. One theater was showing "The Towering Inferno" and the other "Gone with the Wind." Her mother's choice between the two movies did not favor hers. Her mother wanted to take her to see "Gone with the Wind." She was less than thrilled. So, to ease the pain of disappointment, her mother offered her an incentive. The incentive: "If you do not fall in love with the movie, I will let you see whatever you want for the next year." It was obviously a win-win situation. They took their seats and the movie began. Within ten minutes of watching the movie, she was awe struck by the splendor of Tara and the colorful culture of the antebellum South as portrayed by its larger than life characters in the opening scenes.

From that moment on, she fell in love with everything "Gone with the Wind." She searched books, magazines, and traveled to various places to learn everything she could about the antebellum South. In time and with her husband's blessings, she struck out on the search for her own Tara, which would lead her to a place in Georgia. The house had many similarities to the Tara of Scarlett O'Hara fame, but it would not be the one. It needed too much work. As fate would have it, all roads in time led to Summerville, where on a chance happening and a misdirection her husband and her turned a street corner and happily beheld for the first time the legendary house that was once an inn, and to her delight, serendipitously for sale. While doing a walk-through, their eagerness was hard to contain as they irresistibly fell in love with the house. Its purchase was now just a formality.

After the renovations are completed, Denise plans on having a full-dress Southern antebellum party. The anticipated celebration will be refreshing good news. White Gables is fondly remembered by many of Summerville's older residents. Sara Woodruff, whom I named "The Scarlett O'Hara of Summerville," would be overjoyed her Tara will be a Grande Dame of Summerville once again.

You can read about the story of White Gables, Sara Woodruff, and the man that lived on the third floor for years without Mr. Woodruff ever knowing about the arrangement made by Sara:
The Scarlett O'Hara of Summerville Past And Her Tara--An Epic Story.

3 comments:

Jayne Violette said...

SO happy to hear that someone is going to love Sarah's house. I am curious about the 3rd floor shack. Could that be where she kept "Henry Clay" so many years ago? Could you put me in touch with the new owner, Rick?

Rick Dunbar said...

Jayne, thank you for your comment. Henry Clay lived on the third floor of the house for many years. I do not have contact information. I visited White Gables and the new owner gave me a tour of the restoration being done. If you would like to meet her, arrangements can be made.

Anonymous said...

What a saving grace this couple from San Diego.. I met them at a party on the property, they opened it up to local high school girls for their graduation party. This is a massive undertaking they have taken on. When you talk to Miss Denise you know right away this property can't be in better hands. Can't wait to see it when it is completed.