Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Dolan House, When the Stutlers Lived There

The Dolan Hotel, the Stutler home, was the big white house that stood in downtown Orlando for at least 75 years. In the late 1940s Oras and Edith (Skinner) Stutler bought the big white house from the Dolan family, who had run a hotel in it as well as used it for living quarters.

Today it lives vividly in the memories of a dozen or so grandkids. Before we forget, we'd like to record what the house was like in the 1950s and '60s, when the Stutlers owned it. Like every house in Orlando, it was pretty much like all the other houses, and at the same time it was unique.
To the right above is the first photo we have of the house, (Click on the thumbnail picture below to see downtown Orlando at that time.) To the left is how it looked when it was sold in 1976. The house was torn down maybe ten years after that.
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Soooo, welcome to the home of Oras and Edith Stutler. To the left, on their front porch, are Oras and Edith with granchildren Nancy and Gary Stutler, ca. 1960. You can't see the two huge porch swings, one swinging north-south, the other swinging east-west, that Oras built and that Edith loved to swing in while she strung string beans.

As you enter, the wooden screen door slaps closed behind you and you are greeted with the smell of old, old dry wood, blended with whatever smell the day's activites bring: home cured bacon frying, coal burning, starched cotton being ironed. You are facing a hall the length of the house, with a door to the left and right, and a long, dark wood staircase facing you, going up. The door on the left is open, the door on the right is closed. Turning toward the open door, there's a huge, dark wood hall butler to your right, with mirror, hooks for hanging coats, and drawers, for who-knows-what.

The Main Room
Through the open door is the large general room, about 20 feet square, maybe a 14 foot ceiling. Oras & Edith's bed is in the far corner. Their marriage license is framed, and hangs at the head of their bed. There's a nondescript couch and comfy overstuffed rocker and few other furnishings grouped around the coal fireplace, the only source of heat in the room. The fireplace is beautiful wood with a two-shelf mantle, making it an imposing feature, even in this large room. The mantle shelves hold photos and creations of the grandchildren. It is a coal fireplace, which is extremely shallow, too shallow to build a wood fire, and has the grate attached to the back of it, rather than sitting on the floor of it..

To the right is Oras and Edith, with granddaughter Sandy Burgett, of an evening in the general room. (Sandy married Roger Conrad and they raised their three kids on Three Lick.)
Until the mid 1950s the house had gas but no electricity, so gas lights had to be lit each night. After electricity was installed there was an old radio sitting on a library table under the front window, where Oras sat by the hour, listening and smoking the cigarettes he rolled with Prince Albert tobacco in the can. It wasn't until the last 1960s that television reception became generally available in those hills. Then a television joined the room's furnishings. Between the fireplace and the east (Kitchen) wall is a built-in wooden unit, drawers on the bottom and above, a cabinet with frosted glass in the doors. There's nothing special about it, but for some reason we kids always thought it was more magical than anything Mary Poppins ever came up with. In the center of the east wall is a swinging door into the kitchen.
The Kitchen
The kitchen is about the same size as the main room, about 20 feet square and 14 feet high. In our earliest memories there was a wood stove immediately to the left. Before electricity the ironing was done in the kitchen with flat irons that heated on the stove. There is a home made wooden pie cupboard on the right side of the room as well as the refrigerator, which we call the ice box. Was there ever an actual ice box? Because the earliest refrigerator was gas powered, there may have always been a refrigerator in the Stutlers' time.
A counter runs the length of the north wall of the kitchen, with cupboard doors running underneath, providing storage space. The left third of the wall has shelving for dishes and glasses. The center third of the wall is windows. and to the right is a sink. Before the house got plumbing, the sink drained out of the house through an open pipe in the wall. The pump was on the back porch and water was carried into the kitchen.

.To the right is Edith of a winter morning, getting ready to go out to do the morning chores of caring for the cow and feeding the chickens.
Immediately to the right of the sink, on the east wall of the room, is a large mirror with a flamingo, of all things, painted in the corner, like a souvenir of Florida. Before there was a bath room in the house this mirror must have served for a shaving mirror. The window in the center of the east wall looks out onto a covered, L-shaped, ground level porch.
To the right is Oras sitting on the back porch. It was taken looking east, outside the kitchen door.
Near the back door, on the opposite side of the room from the stove, is a small, ancient gas space heater with broken tiles that provides whatever heat is needed beyond what the stove provides. Remember, the house has gas outlets throughout for heaters and lights, and whatever else could be operated with natural gas..

In the center of th ekitchen is a large round oak table and wooden, cane seated ladder-back chairs. A door on the south wall leads into the hall.
This kitchen has the craziest smells. Mostly, of course, we notice the cooking smells. Frying home cured hame was unimaginably stronger and more pungent than anything you can imagine, and when the ham hits the pan, the look on the faces of Edith's kids is nothing less than beatific. Depending on the day of the week, there may be baking bread or baking deserts or a chicken frying. Or, maybe there's starched cotton being ironed, or the ammonia of a New Tonette home permanent or . . .
Under those changing smells is a distict and one-of-a-kind smell, with several components. Well water always brought a subtile iron smell to the room. However, when the Barnetts, next farm to the north, allowed natural gas drilling on their property, sulfuric fumes were released and ever after that, the water smelled and tasted miserably of rotten eggs. And that is the only source of water; no one ever heard of bottled water in that time and place. Another smell, since Edith kept a cow, is raw milk. Raw milk, fresh from the cow, has a smell kind of like a baby's breath, but stronger. You either love it or hate it. Because the pigs' slop bucket sits out of the way between the stove and the cupboard, the corner over by the cupboard always has a slight, milky/garbagy smell, but as Edith is an impecable housekeeper, and the slop goes to the hogs every night, it's not a strong or unpleasant smell.
Stepping out of the kitchen into the back hall, turning left presents several options including cousin Neil's bedroom, which is small and in the "lean-to" addition at the back of the house. From the late '50s on, there is also a door to room that is much too large for the sink, toilet and bath tub/shower that it holds. There's no window as it has no outside wall.
The Spare Room
But directly across from the kitchen is the door to the spare room. It is another large, maybe 20 square feet, room with a high ceiling. It has a coal fireplace on the west wall and shares the flue with the fireplace in the formal living room. This room is used as a spare bedroom, but it is so lare it also holds other furniture, including an old, old horsehair and leather hide-a-bed. It's a good place to put a kid with the measles, or to play 45s on the record player with friends. After the house gets electricity, it's also a nice out-of-the-way place to iron. On the east wall there's a door to a work room, but for now we'll take the door on the right, which goes into a tiny closet with a door on both sides. Through the second door os the formal living room..

The Living Room
In the south west corner of the house is the formal living room. You've just come through a closet on its right side of its east wall. A coal fireplaceis in the center of this wall. The room has huge, overstuffed, oversized furniture in a deeply piled, but simple, burgundy velvet. It is dark and quiet in this room as the windows are never opened and the shades are always pulled. On hot summer days it is always the coolest room in the house. It is a great place to sneak away to.
It seems the grandkids mostly found their way into this quiet room by themselves. Some of the cousins found it spooky, sensing a presence that they didn't like, especially in the two large, old-fashioned photographed portraits that hang on the north wall. For others it was mysterious and magical. Part of the majgic came from the closet on the left side of the fireplace. There were old Dick and Jane style school books, and old paper dolls, and more.
The living room was rarely used, but we grandkids can recall at least three uses. One is Christmas Eve. The tree was magically already decorated when the door was opened on Chrismas Eve for us kids to rush in.
To the left are grandchildren Donna (Witzgall) Gloff and Joe Burgett with the world's scariest Santa.
The living room was also used for Aunt Virginia's1 funeral in the 1950s. Her open casket was in the room, just as we do in a funeral home today and people came to pay their respects. The day she was buried the lid was closed with a prayer and her body was taken to the Methodist Church where it was lovingly carried to the front. The lid was opened again and we said our last goodbye. After the service the coffin was driven up the steep hill to Orlando Cemetery, where she rests with her parents and their parents, and their parents. When Oras died in 1967 Edith had his funeral out of Alkire's Funeral Home.
Jackie (Witzgall) Holbrook tells us that the living room, and the spare room behind it, was also used as a Lewis County poling place. Read bout that in the June '07 entry coming soon.
Other Parts of the House
There are lots and lots more details to write down just about this, the main floor of the house. There are also the second floor and the rooms, first and second floor, of the additions. There are also numerous out buildings and areas that were used for special purposes outdoors.

To the left is another shot of the house.

1 Oras and Edith's oldest child, Virginia, had married Lambert Beckner and moved to Detroit. She died there, at home, of tuberculosis. Virginia and Lambert had two small boys who went to live with the Orlando grandparents. Bill lived with his dad's parents, Josie and Red Beckner and Neil lived with Oras and Edith.
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Here's Edith (Skinner) Stutler with most of her grandchildren and their families in the 1960s on her last visit to Detroit. Also, her brother-in-law Jack Stutler and wife Theresa are in the upper left corner.

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