History and a Name
This week I received a phone call from Jan (Mom). She called to ask after a few things from the house. I expect I’ll continue to receive these calls as long as she’s able. Their evacuation of the house was just that: a hurried exit after Jan’s health became endangered and Jim wandered off triggering a Silver Alert. While their children (who are in their 60s) packed up as many things as they could after they left, I imagine they had greater things on their mind than a book of Poems by Robert Service and the suede fringe jacket that Jim wore on a 157-mile ride on horseback from St. Francis, Kansas to Denver, Colorado. While I did find the jacket and the book, most of the items she requested are likely with her kids. Or, like the butterfly puzzle, in the garbage.
What else did she say? Oh, I asked about the Russian items I found. She and Jim did travel to Russia a few times. Not the 1980 Olympics, or as she said, “not *those* Olympics.” She asked if I had found the envelope with the prior house deeds in it. Sadly, no. She went on to say that the house was commissioned by Brigadier General George Taylor during the Civil War. (I’m going to have to take her word on this, my searches online have turned up nothing. If I want to search historical deeds, that likely means a day at the County Clerk’s office.)
General Taylor was a grandson of the town’s most important businessman, Robert Taylor of the Taylor Iron Works. Originally Union Iron Works, Gen. Taylor’s grandfather took it over during the Revolutionary War when the original owners, loyal to England, fled the town. It's still operational today under a new name.
General Taylor never made it home to live in the new house.
He died of a leg wound taken during a skirmish with Stonewall Jackson in Manassas, Virginia. Jan said other Taylors lived in the house until around 1900. In fact, Jan had coincidentally met the last Taylor to be born in the house at a party in NYC. This was 50 years ago. She couldn’t remember her full name, only that she was traveling as part of a Chicago show group that was putting on a play in the city.
By the time the 1920s rolled around, the stately property had become a smuggler’s house. The garage was converted into a speakeasy and was a popular stop for prohibition-era drinkers. When Jan and Jim moved in during the 60s, the bar was there (they sold it). Today, when you walk into the garage, you’ll see old tin light fixtures, along with remnants of the stage. The area around the garage is still littered with oyster shells—the remnants of big clam bakes and seafood boils for the rowdy drinkers.
When Jan and Jim moved in they nicknamed the place Speakeasy Hill. Given the amount of alcohol left in the house, I think they were able to live up to that name. As much as I love it, it feels like it belongs to the prior owners. Brian and I have considered the possibility of a new name. We haven’t stumbled on anything that clicks for us just yet.
What would you call it?