Oaklea Mansion Has Ghosts?
Yes, but not in the sense you are thinking. We are talking about architectural ghosts, not the spooky kind. Architectural ghosts come in three forms:
The first is when a building is torn down, but you can still see leftover parts of the building. The building is no longer there, but you can see where the building was.
The second is "ghost signs" which are painted signs and murals advertising a store or product that are often faded away to where you can barely see them.
The third is the type Oaklea mansion has. It is when an older building has been remodeled, and the original parts of the building are covered or removed, leaving a "ghost " where, say, an opening or original wall was. Architectural ghosts are very interesting, and most small towns have them. We are going to take a look at some of Oaklea's more prominent ghosts.
Doors to Nowhere
Doors to nowhere are unused doors that have been closed off and are no longer in use. Many times, these are covered completely with drywall, and you never know there was a door ever there. However, in older homes, it is often not practical to close them off for the aesthetics of the room, especially if the room, like the study above, is a beautiful wood grain from the original home. Sometimes, we know why these doors were closed off, but sometimes, it remains a mystery. This particular door is between the study and the kitchen. It is completely covered on the kitchen side, and from there, you would never notice that a door was ever there. From the study, however, there is clearly a door that has been put out of commission. This door was most likely for easy access. At the time the home was Built by Marcus Carlock, most well-off people had paid servants, and likely, this door was used to bring coffee or tea to the study while Mr. Carlock worked or relaxed in this room. Studies were often used as an office or as a smoking room. There are at least two of these doors to nowhere in Oaklea Mansion.
At one time, there was no air conditioning. Can you imagine living in a closed-off home during a sweltering Texas summer? At the time Oaklea Mansion was built, most people were building their homes with dog runs or doors that could be opened in each room to let as much airflow as possible through the house. Those with the means put transom windows above the doors in the home, and this was the case with Oaklea. Transom windows were called that because they sat on the transom of a door. You opened and closed the windows with a crank or rod system. You could regulate the airflow by opening the window wider or slightly lowering the window. The exterior doors' transom windows were for summertime use and allowed fresh air to flow into the home. Interior transoms would let that airflow throughout the home and enter even the stuffiest rooms. In winter, the interior transoms were used as a way to warm the interior rooms that were not heated directly by the fireplace.
In Oaklea Mansion, some of the interior doors still have transoms, but the exterior doors have the transoms removed, most likely to keep out drafts once central heat and air were added. Transom windows add a nostalgic decorative look when left in an older home, but often, the exterior transoms are drafty, and many opt to remove them. This was most likely the case at Oaklea Mansion. You can see where the transom window once was in the photo above.
Where an original wood floor is still visible, you might find traces of where a wall once was. Floors often reveal a lot of ghosts. Built-ins, old pantries, and even sealed trap doors. In the picture above, you can see where a wall or possibly a built-in shelf was. You can see the outline and discoloration from the years of being protected from the light. Some places will try to erase the remains of old walls by sanding and restaining the floors, but many believe that these ghosts just add to the mystique of an older home.
Original wallpaper is another ghost you might find in an older building. These are often found when removing layers of wallpaper and paint. When you finally get to the last layer, there is the original owners' wall covering. If wallpaper could only talk, what would it say? Some new owners make the original wallpaper an accent wall if it's in good shape. Others may keep a square to frame as a conversation piece. Below is a photo of the original wallpaper peeking through a corner where the current wallpaper has curled up in a hallway between the formal dining area and the kitchen
We found some intriguing pieces of bygone history on the South second-story porch. The walls had an intriguing ghost where something was attached to the porch, but there was no written or oral history as to what it might have been. We went inside and started pouring over pictures to try and find what it might have been.
The earliest pictures showed an open-air porch, much like it is today, but we found a photo displayed in the study that showed the porch completely enclosed. It was photographed in the mid to late 1930s and is the only photo with the enclosure. The photo is not dated, but the early type window unit to the right of the photo dates it after 1931 and before 1940. interestingly, that window unit was very costly and was around $10,000.00 at the time, the equivalent of $500,000 today. It was probably turned into a sleeping porch around that time and thus enclosed for comfort. Another interesting feature on the porch was sealed access to either a portion of the attic or the roof.
We checked the inside and could not see this from inside the attic. There was no written or oral history of this access, so it will remain a mystery unless this is reopened during repairs. Sometimes, our imagination is more fun than the real explanation anyway.
The Chimney Without a Fire
Finally, we come to my favorite ghost of Oaklea, the chimney without a fire. When you drive up to Oaklea Mansion, you will notice two chimneys coming from the roof. However, if you go inside, you will find only one fireplace. So where does the second one go?
As I was in the masonry business for 35 years, this was indeed my favorite mystery of Oaklea. The chimney runs from the roof all the way to the crawl space—no openings for wood-burning stoves or fireboxes for the entire two stories. In fact, besides the outside chimney, there is no visible evidence of the structure inside the home except for in the attic and in the crawl space. So why is this chimney there? And why does it extend to the crawlspace?
The explanation is quite simple. There are two explanations. The first, and most likely, is that the cookstove was originally a woodburning stove, and when they converted it to electric, they merely covered up the chimney inside. The other is the bedroom below the chimney, which had a wood stove or fireplace that is no longer in use. I tend to gravitate toward the kitchen stove explanation since the angle of the chimney aligns perfectly with the kitchen. Also, the chimney runs all the way down, ending in the crawlspace, which would help keep kitchen pipes from freezing in the winter months.
There is another reason this is my favorite part of our exploration of Oaklea, and that is the way this chimney is built.
To look at the Oaklea chimney from the attic, you might think the masons must have been drunk to do such a terrible job. Nope, this little bend was done on purpose. It is called a witch's bend or witch's crook. Believe it or not, this took a lot of skill that many masons today cannot replicate. Today, we have equipment that can show us exactly where our chimney needs to go to hit our fireplace straight through the roof. 100 + years ago, it was a guess at best. Once they got through the roof, they had to recalculate where the chimney needed to be, so sometimes, there was a bend hidden in the attic so that it would be in the correct position. However, the chimney still needed to draw the smoke up and out of the house, and that was where the skill was needed. It took a special mason to make this bend so that it functioned as it should.
Most houses at the time had this bend, even if the chimney was perfectly aligned. Why?
That is where the name witches bend (or crook) comes into play. Do you know how, back in the day, there were legends and superstitions that were a part of everyday life? This was one of them. According to the superstition, a witch could enter a home by flying into the chimney. However, witches could only fly in a straight line. This bend in the chimney allowed smoke to draw up the chimney but prevented witches from flying down the chimney. Pretty interesting, isn't it?
There are many older homes and buildings in Winnsboro that have architectural Ghosts. Do you know of any? Would you like help in finding some? In a future blog, I will be showing some of the architectural ghosts in the area; if you would like your "Ghosts " featured, let me know.
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