About a year ago, I stumbled across a grand old Charleston house tucked in among the massive buildings of the downtown medical complex made up of Roper Hospital and Medical University of South Carolina buildings. It seemed so out of place. It was obviously no longer a private residence, so I ventured onto its porch to read the placards posted on either side of the door.
This was the first one I read. Interesting, but no big deal.
Then I read this one, posted on the opposite side of the door.
This one got my attention. Home for nurses? My great-grandmother came to Charleston for nurses’ training. Was this where she lived the two years she was here? That one question got me started on a research project I had loved but abandoned when my first child was born. I mean, face it, how many of us have time for genealogical research while raising young children?
My hopes were dashed when I found out that she graduated from the Charleston Training School for Nurses in 1903, predating the establishment of the Kinloch Home for Nurses. I returned to the house later and worked up the nerve to enter. This might not be the place, but at least it was from that era. This is what I found inside.
Yeah, I know. I total mess. What was once a grand home is now in great disrepair. That majestic stairway looked more than a bit shaky from up close.
This is what they look like when you stand at the bottom and look up. By this time, I had roped Cathy into coming with me to explore. It took several visits before we found someone who (1) gave us permission to venture upstairs, and (2) assured us it was safe to do so. But in those visits prior to going upstairs, we wandered around the first floor, noting delightful details like this:
The place just felt right. It had to be the place! I just had to prove it. Curiosity stoked,the research kicked into high gear. We were able to learn that this house, once a private residence, had been converted into Riverside Infirmary during the time period that Granny would have been in Charleston. And get this – the infirmary occupied the first two floors, but the nurses in training lived on the top floor. EUREKA!
Last week, we returned to the house once again, determined to make it to the top floor. We were in luck. We encountered Melissa, whose construction company is under contract with the hospital system and who has an office (of sorts) on the second floor. She not only assured us that it was safe (as long as we watched our step), but that we were welcome to look around as much as we would like.
Yes, it was a mess. Cathy is such a good sport to humor me like she does. (Ha! Don’t be fooled. She is as caught up in the research as I am at this point!)
I walked from room to room wondering, “Was this your room, Mary?” (Somehow it seemed okay to call her that, since she was far from being a Granny at the time she lived there.)
Most of the third floor windows were shuttered, but from one that was not, I got a glimpse of the kind of view she would have enjoyed, minus the power poles and modern buildings, of course.
After seeing as much as we could see for the day, we descended the stairs as she would have done countless times. “I hope she was surefooted,” I thought, remembering the dress and shoes of the day that she would have worn – a far cry from the jeans and running shoes I wore. I held on to the rail as I made my way down. I’ll be back. There’s more to the story that took place under that roof, and I want to learn it.
Here is the Jonathan Lucas House/Kinloch Home for Nurses – home to my great-grandmother Mary Reagin (later Beaty) from 1898-1900, now and then.