Bay Street home still rolling with the flow of characters

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comOctober 23, 2012 

  • IF YOU GO

    The Historic Beaufort Foundation's Fall Festival of Houses and Gardens is Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Beaufort. It includes a walking tour, a Ramble Around Beaufort tour and a Kitchens & Cuisine event. Each event costs $45. Tickets are available online at www.historicbeaufort.org or by calling 843-379-3331.

    Friday

    Walking Tour: 3-6 p.m. or 4:30-7:30 p.m.

    Beaufort historic district. Homes on the self-guided tour include the Miles Brewton Sams House, the Daniel Blythewood House, several homes in The Point, as well as a tour of the Verdier House.

    Saturday

    Ramble Around Beaufort: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. or 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Properties on the tour include the Sheldon church ruins, the Edward Barnwell House, the Cuthbert-Scheper-Simmer House, the George Parsons Elliott House and the Elizabeth Hext House.

    Sunday

    Kitchens & Cuisine: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. or 12:30-3:30 p.m. Five local chefs will create meals in the private kitchens of five homes in Beaufort and on Lady's Island.

Oh, the characters who could dance over the heart pine floorboards if all its residents could be spirited back to 1405 Bay St.

The tall white house on the bluff in downtown Beaufort has been building stories, and clasping secrets, since 1815.

On Saturday, it will be among the homes on the Historic Beaufort Foundation's Fall Festival of Houses and Gardens.

It is known as the Edward Barnwell House, for the wealthy planter who built it as a town home for his family.

In the Civil War, it was home to Yankee officers who used its high roof as a signal station looking straight down the Beaufort River.

Broadway actress Maude Odell "Tillie" Doremus called it home, when she was not performing 400 nights in "The Prisoner of Zenda" -- and before she keeled over dead in the dressing room as the curtain was rising on her role as Sister Bessie Rice in "Tobacco Road."

The "High Sheriff of the Lowcountry" raised his family there. James Edwin McTeer was known for voodoo powers that could trump root doctors during his 37 years as the Beaufort County sheriff.

At one time, it was literally a house divided when two feuding brothers built a wall down the middle of the two-story home so they did not have to see each other.

When the current owner, Geddes Dowling, moved in, he was 9 years old and somewhat embarrassed his parents were moving from a normal home on Ribaut Road to one with four 20-foot Doric columns.

His father, G.G. Dowling, was an attorney, banker, state representative and state highway commissioner. His mother, Edith Bannister Dowling, was a poet and artist with an undergraduate and two graduate degrees from Oxford University in her native England. They were instrumental in the formation of the University of South Carolina Beaufort, where both were adjunct professors.

"She utterly enjoyed this house," Geddes Dowling said, looking at the desk where his mother wrote, facing a window with a view of red cedars, mossy oaks and the dancing river beyond. "Her spirit is still here."

Geddes Dowling moved back home in 2005 after 30 years as an architect in Atlanta, and now as many as 70 Dowlings gather at his home every Father's Day. He finds a lot to kindle the imagination as he peels back layer after layer of history with the help of contractor Troy Alcott.

"We've decided to not finish a lot of things," he said. The home's later stories are just as valuable as its original one.

The home was "in construction" when it was on the tour in 2005. And naked wall boards and plaster painted numerous times over the years still provide accents no decorator can.

Brasso, Old English oil and touchup paint are out as Geddes Dowling, his friend Elizabeth Enloe and others prepare for Saturday's stream of guests.

The cast of characters may change. But like the river it overlooks, the old house remains in motion.

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