My Family’s Time in the Sentelle-Brown House
When we moved to Davidson in 1979, we had the good fortune to live at 119 South Main Street, in what was then referred to as the Sentelle-Brown House. According to local tradition, the house came pre-cut from the Sears Roebuck Company, with everything from lumber and nails to window glass and fixtures. These Sears houses were built between 1908 and 1940. It was originally built for Professor (later Dean) Mark Sentelle, whose sister Agnes Brown and her children lived there with him for a number of years.
There were many companies selling house plans and kit houses during this period, including Sears, Montgomery Ward, Lewis Manufacturing, and Aladdin. Plans were widely duplicated or imitated among the various companies. In addition to the structure itself, some companies provided Craftsman furniture options (some built in), bathroom and kitchen fixtures, color schemes, paint options, and light fixtures. Some even had plans for garages and other outbuildings. Kit houses were not the flimsy affairs you might imagine. They were built of quality materials and had many Craftsman design elements. According to a builder who renovated such a house in Charlotte, it was “built like a fortress.”
House catalogs from Sears and other companies are available on the internet, and provide a treasure trove of pictures and plans. Almost every company had a bungalow similar to the design of the Sentelle house. Closer inspection, however, reveals key design differences in these bungalows. In many cases, these homes lacked a second story, or the chimneys were in different locations, the windows were smaller, and the floor plans were different. None of the many catalogs I looked at had a plan identical to that of the Sentelle-Brown House.
Indeed, the house may have had other origins. In her history of Davidson, Mary Beaty noted that in 1916 the college trustees announced their intention to build a “Bunglo” for Sentelle next to the grove (what we now know as the village green). The home was not to cost more than $2800, and they suggested plan #327 from the Yoho Book of Plans. This book was published by Jud Yoho,”The Bungalow Craftsman,” who was located in Seattle. He published only plans and did not provide pre-cut houses or house kits. An image of #327, however, is remarkably similar to the Sentelle-Brown house, although it is not frame but finished with stone and half-timbering.
According to the December 6, 1916 edition of The Davidsonian, the house was nearing completion. Mrs. Brown and her two children arrived in Davidson before the Christmas holidays, where they moved in to live with Dr. Sentelle in the Hudson home until the new house was finished. The new house was completed in mid-January, by which time the family was settled there.
After Dean Sentelle died in 1949, Agnes Sentelle Brown remained in the house in until her death in 1977. For some years she rented an upstairs apartment to faculty members. Gill Holland came to live there in the fall of 1961, joined shortly by his new wife, Siri. They lived there only a year and remember Mrs. Brown as a wonderful woman and a great landlady. In later years, the college rented the house to faculty and staff. Before we arrived in 1979, the house was occupied by political science professor J. Harris Proctor and his family.
We lived there until 1989, and it was a wonderfully comfortable house in which to raise a family. Centrally located, it was near the school, and the village green felt like our own personal playground. When we left, Professor Michael Toumazou and his family lived there. When it came time to build the Davidson Public Library, the house was moved to 148 Lorimer Road and sold. It is currently occupied by Dr. Steve Justice and family.
Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989. After a career as an archives and special collections librarian, she retired to Davidson in 2015. She has published a number of books and articles on local history, and has just completed a history of the Ada Jenkins Center.