Friends, one of the best parts of my visit to Florida was a tour of Emmett’s boyhood home while in Chipley.
It was wonderful on many levels: First, the current residents are lovely people, and, even though I had only corresponded with them by email for a few months, they generously allowed me to walk through and take photos of the place where Emmett lived as a young man.
Second, the house, built in 1894, is about 90 percent unchanged (structurally), so I got a very good look at Emmett’s house as he would have seen it. The only major changes, according to what they said, was the addition of a bathroom, and that the kitchen moved from one side of the house to the other.
(I did walk around the yard a bit, looking for what might have been an outhouse area, but Florida is very lush this time of year anyway, so it was very hard to tell where it would have been.)
Third, the current owners are in the process of having Emmett’s home placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It qualifies, according to their investigations; but, the house needs some repair. Also, the current owners tell me the appearance of the house needs to be as close to what Emmett and his family had in terms of decor as possible.
In other words, if Emmett’s family had wallpaper with green and purple stripes, then they have to have wallpaper with green and purple stripes.
(I don’t really think that Emmett’s father and stepmother would have gone that route, but you never know. I’ve seen many examples of intense-looking Victorian wallpaper. A historian in Pensacola told me these kinds of wallpapers were quite common. Personally, I couldn’t sleep in a room with this wallpaper. It’s too loud.)
With that, let’s visit Emmett’s home!
So, when Emmett first lived in this house, he was about 12 years old (the family lived elsewhere in Chipley from about 1884 to 1894; I am still tracking that location down). He’d likely walk the four or five blocks into town to run an errand. Walking home, this is what he’d see:
He’d walk up to the front porch, most likely. (There is a side porch entrance; that was used by his father, Dr. Wilson, as his surgery. Patients called at that entrance.)
On a hot day, his stepmother, Kate, may have sat there with a pitcher of lemonade. “Have a seat, Emmett,” she’d say. “Here’s some lemonade. Did you have a good time in town?”
The house was not air conditioned back in Emmett’s day, of course, but with the 10 foot ceilings and the transoms, you’d be comfortable. In fact, it was hot day when I visited, and the a/c was not on in the house — and it was quite comfortable.
Emmett would come into a large foyer. He’d perhaps hang his cap on an umbrella tree. There’s a fireplace in this room — in fact, there are fireplaces in every room (mostly coal-burning, but two are wood-burning). I imagine Emmett and his brothers would have to bring in the coal and wood on brisk days in Chipley.
Emmett’s sisters played the piano, which was probably their mother’s piano. The room to the left was the formal parlor; it had a wood-burning fireplace. This is where the family would sit after dinner, perhaps read stories out loud or listen to the girls play from their vast sheet-music collection.
Straight ahead through the foyer is a large hallway. It’s spacious; you could almost call it a room. If you turn to the left, you would see Dr. Wilson’s home office/surgery. He had a little porch with its own entrance on the side of the house.
If you go into Dr. Wilson’s surgery, and turn right, there are two rooms one behind the other. The room in the very back was the original kitchen; the room between the kitchen and Dr. Wilson’s surgery was the dining room. The owners have told me that when the house was built, the idea was to keep the kitchen as far to the other side of the house away from the bedrooms as possible, because of fires.
The current kitchen used to be part of a very large screen porch directly in back of the house. Today, the space is half kitchen, half porch.
I can see Emmett and his siblings perhaps sleeping out there on that porch, on very hot nights.
The rooms directly in front of the screen porch are two bedrooms; the first one probably belonging to Dr. and Mrs. Wilson, and the one behind it to Emmett’s sisters. In between the two bedrooms today there is a bathroom. It seems like that the hall entrance to the bathroom was once to another small bedroom, because records indicate there was probably an outhouse on the property in 1894.
I wonder if Emmett had one of these cabinets for his own use?
Emmett lived in this house from age 12 to 17; he, and his two sisters Dora and Katie, moved in with his married brother in Marianna. Emmett was going to college then, and the older girls had better marriage prospects in Marianna. Emmett’s twin, Julian, and his youngest brother, Walker, lived on in the house for awhile.
I will admit that while I was there, I was looking for things like window sills with perhaps Emmett’s initials carved into them with a date, or, a doorway with a children’s growth milestones and dates marked as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t see anything like that. However…I will admit having the feeling that a tall, dark haired, dark eyed fellow was lurking quietly about the rooms, just out of my range of vision.
I felt as if I learned a lot about Emmett just standing in the rooms where he stood, ate, slept, read, dreamed…I can’t describe it, except that I had a good feeling while I was here, and that he was pleased.
Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
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