Piecing the Past Together

May 21, 2016 | Historic Preservation, News & Announcements

An example of how photographic and documentary evidence has helped us understand a piece of Happy Retreat’s past came when the 1960s era screen porch was removed last fall. The porch foundation was masonry, with gravel infill. As the gravel infill was removed, a small stone patio with steps was revealed outside the west door. They had been left in place when the porch foundation was laid. The immediate question was how old the patio and steps were. 

A photograph from the 1940’s shows a wooden portico where the stone steps stood, so we knew the steps were not original to the house. An article by Tom Fairbairn published in the 2007 issue of the Jefferson County Historical Society Magazine completed the history. The article, titled “Life in the Goldfish Bowl: Happy Retreat 1945 -1954“, recounted Fairbairn’s boyhood memories of living at Happy Retreat. His parents worked for R.J. Funkhouser, who bought Happy Retreat in 1945. After his father died that same year, Fairbairn and his mother moved into the house as caretakers. He recalled in the article the extent of restoration carried out by R.J. Funkhouser throughout the house including that “[p]atios were constructed at both ends opening off the sides of the wings.” This pinpoints the construction of the steps.

Based on Fairbairn’s article, we also think the stones for the steps may have come from a stone slave quarters near the house that was torn down contemporaneously. The stones will be preserved on site for closer examination. We are grateful to Kable Construction Company for its help with the demolition of the screen porch.

Shepherd University Archaeologist Dr. Charles Hulse was on hand to inspect the ground uncovered by the removal of the screen porch. Further archaeology of that area will be conducted in the future.