Bob and Carolyn Orchid never intended to become the caretakers of Samuel Noble’s bathtub.
When the retired couple decided to move from South Carolina to be closer to their kids, they fully intended to buy a little house in Georgia, not an 1882 home that holds the history of Anniston within its walls.
The Orchids have spent the past two years refurbishing the house that originally belonged to town founder Samuel Noble. They have now opened it as a bed-and-breakfast and event venue named Springwood Inn.
Along with the house, they are preserving the stories.
Carolyn Orchid has quite a tale to tell about the bathtub in the couple’s private master bathroom. "Samuel Noble was extremely popular in this town. He made it the ‘Model City,’" she said. "When he died, 5,000 people — white and black — gathered for the funeral at Grace Episcopal Church."
Noble died suddenly on Aug. 13, 1888. He was 54 years old. Physicians of the day blamed his death on a long walk in the hot sun combined with drinking soda water and iced milk.
The funeral was delayed until out-of-town family could arrive in Anniston. To preserve the body, the story goes, it was put on ice in that very bathtub.
Downstairs, the home’s grand foyer looks much as it did when Noble greeted prominent visitors, fellow businessmen working to build a post-Civil War New South.
Preserved in an upstairs bedroom is an unusual fireplace made of cast iron. It likely burned the same coke fuel that powered the furnace at the Woodstock Iron Company, owned by the Noble and Tyler families and the very reason for building a model company town.
"The history of this town is here in this house," Orchid said.
Threatened with demolition
George Noble started construction of the grand house around 1882, and quickly sold it to his brother, Samuel. The house was originally built on a small hill overlooking the new city — where Anniston High School now stands.
After Samuel Noble’s death in 1888, the house passed to his daughter, Josephine Noble Keith. In the early 1920s, the house was acquired by a dentist named Dr. Lightwood, who changed the exterior dramatically.
Not long after, the house was sold to J.M. Eastham, who was said to have drilled more oil wells than any living man and made and lost two fortunes. Eastham added rooms to the upstairs, including a smoking parlor where the city fathers would gather to play poker.
In 1947, the house was acquired by Gerald Woodruff Sr., then passed to his son, Gerald Woodruff Jr., in the 1960s. The younger Woodruff and his wife, Harriet, began extensive renovations on the house, but were interrupted when the Anniston School Board took possession of the property to build a new high school.
Instead of letting the historic house be razed, the Woodruffs decided to take it apart and move it to a hill overlooking Coleman Drive, in the woods of Booger Hollow.
Like most renovation projects, this did not go smoothly. A fire broke out as the house was being deconstructed, destroying the roof, the pine floors and much of the second floor.
As the house was being pieced back together, the family added new layers of history. Woodruff rescued columns from the old Carnegie Library. He salvaged pine floorboards from a Baptist church in Friendship and a girl’s school in Munford, as well as massive timbers from an old theater at Fort McClellan. As a colorful finishing touch, the Woodruffs added a stained glass window from the old Noble Opera House.
The house becomes an inn
Bob and Carolyn Orchid moved into the house in 2014 — on the day of Snowpocalypse, to be exact. They spent the next two years refurbishing the rooms and clearing the overgrown gardens and the 23 acres of woods surrounding the house.
They brought their own layers of history to the house. Paintings by their children and grandchildren hang on the walls. Many of the decorative objects hold personal memories.
In the garden, a replica of the Bird Girl statue, made famous in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," is a reminder of South Carolina, where the Orchids lived for 12 years. Carolyn were able to reuse window treatments from their home in Virginia Beach, Va., where they lived for 23 years.
At first, they thought they were just fixing up the house for themselves. "But then we realized we’d always said that it would be fun to have an inn," Carolyn said. "We thought it would be nice to share it."
They named it Springwood, after a spring that flows down the mountain through the woods outside the house.
They named the four guest rooms after the men who shaped the house: Noble, Lightwood, Eastham and Woodruff.
In the side yard is a wooden swing for the grandchildren, ages 15, 8 and 6. There’s a hammock under the magnolia. Mount Cheaha is visible from the front porch. Bob grows orchids on the glassed-in side porch.
Samuel Noble’s house was moved from a very public location to a very private one, but Carolyn Orchid wants people to be able to see it again.
The bed-and-breakfast hosted its first guests in July, a local couple who needed a quick weekend getaway. Orchid greeted them with a bottle of wine and homemade cookies, and the next day made them strawberry French toast and omelettes for breakfast.
The house is also available to rent for luncheons or dinners, weddings or meetings, even movie-watching parties in a screening room with an enormous projection screen. Orchid will also give tours upon request. "The people of Anniston should be proud of this house."
Lisa Davis is Features Editor of The Anniston Star. Contact her at 256-235-3555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.