Building Description Kenworthy Hall - Carlisle-Martin House, Marion Alabama
The house is brick with brownstone trim, two-and-a-half stories plus a four-story tower, and features an asymmetrical design with a shallow hip roof, projecting gables, rounded and elliptical-arch windows, and a recessed entrance, The house is basically a center-hall plan with a separate two-room kitchen building, once connected to the main building with a covered walkway. The house was built with an arcuated front porch, a second-floor front balcony, a back verandah which extended the full width of the building and connected to the covered walkway, and a small verandah which functioned as the family's private entrance on the west side of the house. The original front porch was removed and replaced after 1912 and the back verandah was removed after 1949. The house's main facade faces south towards Highway 14, the Marion to Greensboro Road, and the north side faces a kitchen garden.
Carlisle left an invaluable record of his plans and preferences for his Italianate villa in his correspondence with R. Upjohn & Co. The configurations of the rooms have remained unchanged, although their uses have altered depending on the number and nature of the families living there. Unlike his brother-in-law, Leonidas N. Walthall, whose whims caused frustrating alterations in his house plan long after he had declared it final, Carlisle knew exactly what he wanted his house to look like and how he wanted it to function. Once the plan was established after several months of exchanging letters and drawings, Carlisle raised complaints only when Upjohn did not follow through on the plan as written in the contract, which happened with frustrating regularity.
Carlisle was specific about the use and occupancy of each room. "We wish a small basement room," he wrote in his initial letter, "for Fish, Molasses, Lard, etc." The basement eventually contained three rooms, and Upjohn convinced him that there should be an interior servant access to the space in addition to an entrance from the outside, below the verandah. The first floor, after consultation with the architect, contained a 13' wide entrance hall, a parlor, library, sitting room, dining room, sewing and smoking rooms, as well as a pantry and storage area. Carlisle determined not to have the verandah reach from the north side of the house around to the library, and instead replaced the threat to interior light with, "another window in the Library" which "we think needed." He likewise added a verandah on the west wall of the house, spurred on by what he saw as a design flaw in his brother-in-law's house. "Instead of the closed hall as in Mr. Walthall's house extending beyond the sewing room," he preferred theirs become, "an open verandah." The second floor featured a wide upper landing at the top of the main stair, three bedrooms for immediate family, "another for intimate acquaintances," two bedrooms for guests, a private hallway, a trunk room "in that part of the house designed for the family," and "closets connected with all the best rooms." Because the family built the house when their only two children were young adults, the plan does not seem to reflect the needs and uses of young children.
Throughout the house Carlisle requested the finest materials, the best construction and the simplest designs, all at the most economical cost. He did not, however, seek economy at the expense of adornment. The house design maintained a theme of arches, flowers, and foliage, particularly on the cornices, medallions, and in the stained-glass design on the first floor. Fine materials and simple designs, he felt, were more reflective of his tastes.
The landscape may or may not have been part of the Upjohn plans for the house. While trying to work out the final design for the front portico, Carlisle offered a glimpse of his plan for the landscape, "the house will front on an open lawn," he wrote. At one time the house did have planted terraces, boxwoods, low brick-walled gardens, a sunken garden, entrance pillars, and a circular driveway and may have even included a lake to the east. One of Carlisle's granddaughters recalled the family speaking of a gardener imported from Scotland to tend the grounds, and who returned to Scotland during the Civil War.
The only early image of the house available is the architect's original watercolor rendering that R. Upjohn & Co. sent to Carlisle as an illustration of his house at mid-point in the design process. The rendering represents the house after the decision to add a second projecting gable over the parlor section of the house. "We prefer if there was a gable where the low tower is," he wrote 19 July 1858. The rendering was made, however, before they had agreed upon a suitable design for the portico as one with a single front entrance rather than with two side entrances. One of the main differences between the watercolor illustration and the house as it stands today is that the rendering shows the kitchen building with a brownstone watercourse and brownstone surrounding the elliptical-arch windows, both of which Carlisle vetoed as an unnecessary expense once he received his first estimate for brownstone. Likewise, rather than a left-hand window and door entrance on the right, the illustration shows the reverse, a change in design not represented in the correspondence.
The house has never received a major or permanent structural addition. There have been a number of alterations, some through modernizing the utilities and general maintenance of the building and some in rectifying vandalism and neglect. Alterations also reflect the continuous private ownership of the building, with changes representing the needs of current private residents.
Few records exist which reveal the Carlisle family's treatment of Kenworthy Hall after its initial construction. As long as the family and their descendants owned the house, however, little seemed to change except for their use of it. Carlisle built the villa as his primary residence and as a showcase to the Marion community; even if he conducted business in Selma and Mobile, he listed Marion as his permanent home. After his death in 1873, the villa was used as a summer home for his wife, Lucinda, their son and daughter, Edward Kenworthy Carlisle, Jr., and Augusta, and for the growing number of grandchildren. Lucinda kept full ownership of Kenworthy Hall until 1899 and seems to have remained there as long as she could. She may have bought a house in Selma, between Mitchell (now Pettus) and Lapsley Streets on the north side of 2nd Street (now Furniss Street). A local map from 1890 shows a Mrs. Carlisle as owning a home there, although this may have been her daughter-in-law, who was widowed young. The postwar southern economy, the Kenworthy Hall's eventual role as a secondary home, and Lucinda's continued ownership of the house that had been her husband's dream, likely aided the more conservative treatment of its space, with no attempts to add updated conveniences or to alter the structure. Augusta and her husband, Dr. Alexander W. Jones, made their permanent home in Selma, where he became a notable businessman, continuing in the Commission merchants and cotton factoring business as well as developing businesses in banking and the railroad. In addition to summer visits, Augusta Jones returned to Kenworthy Hall in all seasons, family sources reveal, to give birth to her children in the balcony room below the tower.
By the time Lucinda died at the age of ninety-three in 1912, the house was largely reputed to be abandoned, with its grounds and buildings falling into disrepair. The caretakers at the time, reports one of the great-grandchildren of the Carlisles', burned some of the old trees out of the front lawn as firewood and charged entrance fees for local people and college students to enter the building. Even as early as 1901, a group of Judson College girls pried their way into a second floor window to explore the house, and are believed to have taken household objects as souvenirs, including silver-plated doorknobs, servants' bells from the back verandah, and the family papers in the library and attic. Even the son of the head of the Alabama Department of Archives and History took documents out of Kenworthy Hall's attic in 1912. The earliest photo of the house which has surfaced at the writing of this report documents a 1912 picnic outing by Judson College students. By chance the young women posed for a group photo on the steps of the house's original portico. The portico, one of the student's reported in her story about the trip, "has partly fallen away." A ca. 1920 postcard revealed a different portico, a 1930s photograph another, and a late 1940s photograph yet another.
Some of the most notable additions to the building occurred in the 1930s and involve the installation of basic utilities. There is some conflict of memory and documentation over what was installed and when in this period. A real estate brochure produced by The Jemison Company announced that the owners (The Tuckers) put in basic hot and cold water in the pantry, converting it into a kitchen, and that they had installed a bathroom in a second-floor dressing room. Frustration at not being able to get electricity installed convinced the Tuckers to sell the
property, eventually selling it to Commander Levoy Hill in 1934. According to the recollections of the Hill children, who lived in the house when they were children and young adults, there was indeed no electricity in the house, and nor do they recall there being any plumbing or a kitchen in the main building. Some people, Mrs. Daniel Rex said she heard, had even used the fireplaces for cooking. They also recall that many of the rooms were painted bold shades of blue and green, the types of colors readily available in the 1920s and Depression years. The Hills purchased the property in 1934 but spent a year cleaning, painting most of the rooms a neutral color, replacing damaged and missing drain spouts, and installing more plumbing. In general, says the eldest of the three children, the family worked more on the interior of the house than the exterior, except for necessary maintenance and minor landscaping. Many of the original gas fixtures and silver-plated doorknobs were already gone from the house, except for one silver doorknob in the library, and at least two brass fixtures on the first to second-floor section of the spiral stair, which the Hill's removed. It took a couple of years before the family was able to get electricity installed, even though the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was in operation in the area at that time. The family used Coleman lanterns and heated with coal and wood in the fireplaces. Putting in the light switches and electric lines damaged much of the plaster, particularly noticeable because it was not patched very skillfully. In some instances it is difficult to discern which damage came from the initial electrification or from the later addition of more lights and outlets by a subsequent owner.
The plumbing additions in this period included adding a kitchen where the pantry used to be and two bathrooms, a half bath in the closet at the base of the spiral stairs and a full bath on the second floor, in the dressing room off of the private hallway. The Hills also opened a passageway between the storage room and the old pantry, creating a larger workspace that did not require walking through the dining room to get to the kitchen. Installation of plumbing fixtures included running pipes through the attic to vent sewer gases and raising the floor level in the second-floor bathroom to accommodate the pipes. The fixtures in the second-floor bathroom are still the ones installed at that time. Earlier residents may have used the pantry as a kitchen space; an opening for a stovepipe still exists and was likely the cause of much subsequent ceiling and wall plaster damage as it disrupted the ceiling above. There were at least three tenant cabins on the grounds which may or may not have been slave quarters, a barn, an outhouse, a corn crib, a cotton building, a chicken coop, a wash-house, a well house, a well near the tenant quarters, and a carriage house.
The most serious alterations to the building were the result of some irresponsible residents, vandals, and thieves. The house stood vacant much of the time between 1952 and 1957. Most of the twelve marble mantles were either damaged or stolen, and all of the windows, including the skylights, were smashed out. The gaping openings allowed in all seasonal elements, causing damage to the plaster, plaster cornices, and wood floors, particularly on the west side of the building. Vandals also tore out the spiral-stair banisters, broke the stained glass in the main entrance hall, cut locks and knobs from many of the doors, chopped holes in the floors, cut into some of the wood paneling, and burned the cupboards, shelves, and doors of the upstairs linen storage, the entire insides of the library bookcases, and some of the floors. Some of the verandah may have gone up the chimney at this time as well.
Subsequent owners struggled to undo the damage wrought in those years. Kay Klasson put in all new windows, replaced and mended many of the mantels, and stacked up the loose remaining shutters and remnants of the rear verandah and covered walkway in the carriage shed. Klasson tried to reinstate some dignity into the house by furnishing it with antiques she gathered across the south, filling rooms she had not necessarily repaired beyond the windows and mantels. According to the Martins, when they moved into the house, Kay and her parents had cleaned and painted only three of the rooms and the grounds had been allowed to grow wild. The Klassons had attempted to repair some of the plaster damage, but had been unable to find anyone who could restore it to the quality of the original. They also installed more electrical outlets and unsuccessfully tried to place electric lights where gaseliers once hung.
When the Martins purchased Kenworthy Hall in 1967 they began their transformation of the house simply by cleaning. They attacked the decades of mold and mildew build-up, and gradually gave all the rooms and walls a coat of white paint, except in those places where grainpainted trim survived. They replaced more of the damaged plaster, including many of the places that Klassons had had repaired, which failed primarily because of inadequate preparation of the surfaces. Mr. Martin also steadily had the damaged doors rebuilt, piecing in new wood to match the old and replacing the mortise locks. All of the staircases required at least some repair, but the spiral stair needed all but six new banisters lath-turned. Mr. Martin likewise had the missing sections of the library bookcases rebuilt, and reconstructed the shelves, doors, and drawers of the linen-storage space with minimal original materials to turn to as examples, completing some of the work himself and hiring the rest done.
More transformative alterations to the house were the addition of another bathroom in the old sewing room on the first floor, a platform porch at the back of the house replacing part of the verandah, and new brick steps at each of the entrances, including into the kitchen building. Several of the rooms now have propane heaters feeding into the old fireplace chimneys, and the first and second-floor bathrooms, spiral stair hall passages, and several other rooms have wall-to-wall carpet. The Martins concern themselves with the grounds as well as their living quarters. Since purchasing the property, the Martins have removed a tenant house which was once west of the house, and used the materials from it to build the various new steps with the brick and a small barn, pig pen, and chicken house with the lumber from the structure. During a storm several years ago, one of the older trees fell and damaged the cistern, knocking many of the bricks into the brick and cement-lined hole.