History, Heartbreaks and Happiness
One house touches the lives of so many
BY: KRIS BEASLEY
Traveling through the streets of Southport, I often daydream about what it would be like to live in one of those old, historic homes. You know, the ones with all the gingerbread adornments and those black plaques hung beside the front door. It would seem like such a fairy tale to live in one of those homes. Sometimes when I see an owner of one of these beautiful homes outside watering the flowers or collecting the mail, I want to shout out, “Hey! What’s it like living the dream?” Not wanting to freak anyone out, I control the urge and just drive by quietly.
Thanks to Verilyn Mackee of Southport Realty, I got my chance to get up close and personal with an historic Southport home. The E.H. Cranmer House, or the Rainbow Cottage, at 318 N. Atlantic Ave. is listed for sale with Southport Realty. It’s a one-and-a-half story house that was completed in the summer of 1895 by A.J. Robbins for E.H. Cranmer. Verilyn arranged for Pat Pettinger to join us to talk about her connection with this 120 year-old home.
We met at the Southport Magazine office and as soon as she walked in, Pat handed me a brochure for a self-guided walking tour through Southport. She pointed to number eight and said, “Read this and then we will talk.” It said, “A.E. Stevens House – 1984. Mr. Stevens built a 3-story house on the corner of Brown and Potts Street (now 319 Atlantic Ave.) for his bride-to-be. The engagement ended when she said ‘No’ and married his best friend. The newly-married couple built a house across the street. Mr. Stevens never married.” Pat then said, “That was my grandmother!” She is the granddaughter of E. H. Cranmer and Mary Elizabeth Pearce. Mary was the girl who said no to Mr. Stevens and married his best friend, E.H. Cranmer, and they built a house across the street, the E.H. Cranmer House.
It took me a while but I finally connected the dots. She recalled the story in great detail of how her grandmother, Mary Elizabeth, came to marry E.H. Cranmer.
“Well, she was living in her mother’s home and I guess a couple of people in town had telephones by then but it was not widespread,” Pat explained. “So you still sent messages by little boys, whoever you could grab on the street. They were happy to run an errand for you for a nickel or a dime. And so he sent this little boy to the house with a message that said, ‘Do you see any reason why we shouldn’t be married this afternoon?’ And so evidently she replied yes because they arranged to get married. So she goes out for a walk with her younger sister as a chaperone, because she wouldn’t be allowed to meet him by herself. So they meet up with him by accident and they go the Methodist parsonage because he is Methodist, she is Episcopalian, and the parsonage is not at home. So they just head right on down the street to the Baptist church. Well the little sister by now realizes that something is going on and she runs home to tell what’s happening but doesn’t matter because by the time anybody found out, they were married!”
Pat said her Grandmother Pearce had long black hair when she was young and many thought she was part Native American. “Of course, I wasn’t around then. I only knew her with grey and then white hair. She always wore hair in a coronet, a braid that she wrapped around on top of her head. And when she washed her hair she sat out in the yard and she combed it in the sun. And she was very careful to keep all the hair. You didn’t let hair escape because the birds might get it and put it in their nest and you would get a migraine headache!” Pat laughed. She also remembers her grandmother scolding a young girl who wasn’t going to vote. “She was a feminist before the word was invented,” Pat said. She told that young girl how hard they fought to get the right to vote and she better go down and vote.
E.H. Cranmer was elected Mayor before the age of 21 and had to wait until he turned 21 to be sworn in to the office. He studied law and Pat explained how her grandmother would stay up at night with him and fix him coffee to keep them awake so he could study. He passed the bar exam with the highest score that anyone had ever made. “I have the framed letter from the Governor congratulating him,” she proudly boasted. He later became a judge and then served one term as a state senator.
Even though Pat was not alive when her grandparents lived in the Rainbow Cottage, she remembers listening to her mother and others tell stories about the house. Apparently the woman who lived behind her grandparents raised geese. There was this one goose that took a dislike to her uncle and would chase him around the yard, nipping at his calves. The woman who owned the goose would run out of her house yelling at the children to quit teasing her goose.
We took a ride over to look at the house on 318 N. Atlantic Ave. Standing outside, Pat pointed out features that were there when she was young, like the brackets paired below the cornice along the broad frieze. I glanced to the backyard and pictured a little boy running around being chased by a goose. And I glanced across the street at the home of the A.E. Stevens who was E.H. Cranmer best friend. The one who had hoped to marry Pat’s grandmother but was rejected. I wondered if A.E. and E.H. remained friends and how hard it must have been for him to live across the street from them.
When we left, Pat said that Southport Trinity United Methodist Church on Nash Street had a stained glass window that was dedicated to her Grandmother. Verilyn and I took a trip to see the beautiful window, which hangs to the right of the organ in the sanctuary.
What started out as a tour through an historic home ended up being a long and winding road filled with colorful stories and characters all connected by one common thread, the E.H. Cranmer House. I felt so honored to have spent the afternoon with Pat Pettinger who opened up her heart and shared the stories of her childhood. I couldn’t help but hug her as we said goodbye.
The beautiful, historic homes of Southport are definitely something to stop and breathe in. But what is really special are the stories of those who created the homes and the history. As you look at the pictures of the E.H. Cranmer home, take time to look beyond the roof and walls and remember the stories and the people.
The house has large windows in its three gables making the half-story a usable space. The downstairs contains a living room, separate formal dining room, eat-in kitchen, library, den or third bedroom, full bath and screened porch. The upper floor features two large bedrooms, a large bath with claw foot tub and walk-in closet. The home has been recently restored with refinished heart pine floors and fresh coats of paint inside and out. It has a new metal roof, new brick underpinning, new countertops, new stainless appliances in kitchen, new ceramic tile floors in both baths, new HVAC, new screen porch and patio, and new plantation shutters. The living room, dining room, and master bedroom all have fireplaces. There is also extra pull-out storage in master bedroom.
This is truly one of the most unique and historical homes in Southport and it is on the historic register. You can view this home online at www.southportrealty.com, MLS#692219. Or to set up an appointment to see this home, contact listing agent Verilyn McKee of Southport Realty at (910) 457-7676.
PHOTOS BY KRIS BEASLEY AND SOUTHPORT REALTY