Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Haunted House Gives Up Ghost

I found this article, transcribed below, in a Nitro antique shop, framed.  I love old houses, especially haunted houses, and was delighted to read that this particular house once stood approximately where my place of employment now stands!  This article is by Charlie Connor, with photo by Jack Tiernan.  It appeared in an November 1968 issue of the Charleston Daily Mail newspaper.

Charleston's old "haunted house" is coming down and no one is happier than Andrew S. Thomas Jr., prominent city businessman.

"Certainly, it was haunted," Thomas declared.  "I've known that all my life.  When I was a boy, us kids used to see lights bobbing around from window to window, and ghosts flitting here and there.  The house was haunted.  Quote me."

The "haunted house," so known by a generation of Charlestonians whose boy-and-girlhood goes back to early years in this century, is the former Baines home at 311 Broad St., an elegant structure that rose in the 1890s and has stood in recent years as the lone residential survivor in a growing business district.

Across Washington street from it is the modern, nine-story Heart O' Town Motel.

Thomas, vice president of the Thomas-Field & Co. and the Kanawha Block Co., grew up in the neighborhood.  His family home was on the Lee Street site of the present Top Value TV stamp store.

Thomas said the ornate, brick home was built by Dr. Baines, one of the early medical men in the valley, and owned by his only daughter, Miss Alice Baines, following his death.

"As I recall, Miss Alice had an elderly aunt who lived in the house by herself as a recluse.  I was a kid in those days and our backyard adjoined the Baines property.

"This aunt of Miss Alice's, a Miss Whittaker as I remember her name, was rather peculiar.   The grocery boy would deliver groceries and leave them on the back porch, then pick up his money the next day where she'd leave it out for him.

"No one ever really saw her.  I do know that we always had a baseball game going in my back yard and every time we knocked one into her yard, she'd dash out, grab the ball and run back into the house.

"A doze baseballs cost 75 cents in those days at Thomas-Field, so we boys would go out, cut grass, do errands and other jobs to raise money to buy the balls which Miss Whittaker would collect.  She had a nine-foot high fence around the property, so we never got a good look at her.

"The only time I was ever inside that old home was at her funeral.  It was a scary place to me then and all the kids regarded it as a haunted house.  I just don't know where the ghosts are going now that they're tearing it down."

The property was left in perpetual trust for the benefit of the First Presbyterian Church, but one condition was that it would remain standing so long as Dr. Donna Grace Russell, a retired osteopathic physician, chose to live there.

For almost 40 years, the old home had been rented by Dr. Russell and Dr. Olive Ailes.  They had a joint medical practice there.  Dr. Russell continued to live in the old home in retirement following Dr. Ailes' death several years ago.

A few weeks ago, Dr. Russell, 86, sold her furniture and other belongings and moved to Sidney, Ohio to live with a niece.  The Kanawha Valley Bank, which administers the trust, reported that the land, after the house is razed, will be used for parking.

Eventually, a much higher use is contemplated for the property since it will lie near the I-64 Brooks-Broad Street interchange.  Income from the property goes to the church.

Before she left, Dr. Russell was aked if she had ever seen any ghosts.

"Dear me, no.  I've lived here 40 years and I haven't heard a thing.  This is just a nice old home and is about the last one left downtown."

The passing of the ornate old home is a sad thing, just as the departure of ghosts causes a tug on the heartstrings of Charlestonians who remember it as the old "haunted house."

Where will the ghosts go?  Because Thomas is happy they're leaving, maybe they'll take up residence at his Loudon Heights home.

Boo, Mr. Thomas!

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