Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Past and the Present at Dunbar's Kitchen

I was surfing around on eBay recently, and I typed "Stafford Virginia" into the search bar ... just to see what may be out there for sale from around here.  One of the items in the search results was a print of this photo:

This location was described as "Old Dunbar's Quarters, Falmouth, Virginia"


As I looked at the photo, I knew that this little building was familiar ... and I wracked my brain to try to place it.  All of the sudden, I remembered.  It is a photo of Dunbar's Kitchen (not Quarters, as in the description) and the white manor house on the hill in the background is Carlton.

You can't see Carlton up on the hill anymore because it is hidden in the trees.


A bit of Googling led me to the Library of Congress site that has the digital files of the original photos, which were taken in the late 1920s by Frances Benjamin Johnston as part of the Carnegie Survey of the South.



(3/3/2016)


I have always been drawn to this little building, even in its now-unfortunate site and ratty state.





Tens of thousands of people in cars pass by this little building every day ... I wonder how many of them notice it.  The state has just completed a major reworking of the adjacent intersection, demolishing buildings on three of the four corners to add turn lanes and to better handle the massive amount of traffic.  

The current Google Maps image shows the road construction, which is finished now.  This situation is actually an improvement from earlier, when Dunbar's Kitchen was an afterthought, and probably an annoyance, behind a car dealership (which was demolished to make way for the road improvements).  The disturbed areas and construction materials you see on the aerial photo are gone, replaced by grass and landscaping.

Dunbar's Kitchen is at the bottom of the map, the Carlton is on the upper left, as indicated by my arrows.


In my Googling, I also found this drawing of the front elevation:



A lot has changed for Dunbar's Kitchen since Frances Benjamin Johnston took her lovely B&W images in the late 1920s.  I did see one seemingly insignificant thing that remains in front of the building.





I wonder if the front garden had two gates, one in the front and one on the side, or if this side gate was moved to the front?

As far as I know, Dunbar's Kitchen is unoccupied, and has been for as long as I can remember, but someone keeps it up fairly well.  The grass is always mowed and the structures on the property are kept in relatively good repair.  

To read a little bit about Robert Dunbar, click HERE.

20 comments:

  1. I enjoyed reading your article, Connie! The changing fortunes of older properties has always resonated with me, and it is true to say that oftentimes we stand guilty of not giving those houses a second glance, as they lay standing apologetically in their sorry states. And in doing so, we dismiss the glories of the past to solely look at the stark moment of the present, not coming to terms with the idea that once upon a time those properties would have looked neat and proper (as pictured here), with a family and pets and farm animals, bustling with life and laughing with the joys of living amongst the rambling roses of their lovely country gardens.

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    1. Whenever I visit a historic property, I try to imagine what it must have been like to be there in the past. With this place, fortunately, all we have to do is look at the wonderful photos. The flower border, lined with bricks, neat rows of the vegetable garden, the fluffy dog in the doorway, porch swings and rocking chairs.

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  2. Dunbar's Kitchen must have been a wonderfull house and place to live in the old days. Such a shame it's no longer inhabited these days, but the traffic is a real nuisance and times are changing. So nice you noticed that old gate......

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    1. The location of this place is definitely not the best one now, if occupants want to live a quiet country life like it used to be. Things change, I know.

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  3. Aww, it really does seem a shame the place is not restored to its original charm and loved by someone who honors its past. But times change and so do the roads and streets...in the same way, often small-town downtowns once had marvelous little neighborhoods adjacent to them that tend to turn into ghettos once things really start growing. But when I see how lovely these homes are, it does make me sad.

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    1. This one makes me sad because it's uninhabited and a bit shabby around the edges. It's okay, though, because someone keeps it up instead of 'demolition by neglect', which we see around here all too often.

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  4. I didn't ever think to go to eBay to find property!
    I would love to have such a place like that, in it's earlier days.
    Makes me sad to see it now.
    I wish it could be rescued. :(

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    1. It was a photo that the eBay seller had listed, a print of the Library of Congress digital file I think, not the property. A friend of mine bought land on eBay once, five acres in west Texas. That's what happens, she said, when it's late at night and she can't sleep and the bargain was more than she could resist.

      I plan to use these photos as inspiration when it comes time to put some atmosphere around our outbuildings. I hope that our Shack will have at least half of the peaceful feeling that the photographer captured.

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  5. Back in the day, classmates and I did measured drawings of several buildings in Falmouth as part of UMW Historic Preservation classes. Although the Dunbar building was not on the agenda that go round, it certainly was well known to the Profs and an often referenced structure.
    So fun to see the 1920 photos.
    I can help but to imagine what I could have done with a place like that before it was 'modernized'
    Thanks for sharing Connie.

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    1. I thought about you as I was wandering around on that side of Falmouth. What's good about a place as small as this is that it doesn't take a whole lot to undo the inappropriate modern touches and take it back to reference its former self.

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  6. I love this post and how you researched it. Ah! That fence! Very cool.

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    1. As I was finishing up the post, it felt a bit like I was channeling your style. Find an inspiration, run to the Internet, fill in the gaps and tell the story.

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  7. This is very cool, I've been down and around that many years, and I have never seen that. Bob says it might be a trip soon.

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    1. You had to be sitting and looking exactly in the right spot, till the Mercedes dealership was demolished. The boundaries of the dealership structures were right against the Dunbar property line. The service area and dumpsters obscured the back of the property, and the building was only really visible on an oblique line near the corner of Route 1 and Carter Street.

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  8. A fantastic post...the historical research you have done is amazing to me. The gate has a charm that brings me back to the days as a kid when everyone had gates like that down here♥

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    1. This is what happens when one willingly steps into what I call the Internet Rabbit Hole.

      I want a fence and gate like that somewhere on our property. I was thinking about doing it around the English Garden by the barn ... maybe the Shack would be a better spot ... so many choices! :)

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  9. It's a shame they didn't construct a porch to match the original.

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    1. The 1920s porch probably deteriorated and it looks like it was 'updated' in the 1950s or 60s. Stuff like that happens. It's not irreversible, if someone is inclined to do that later.

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  10. I sure hope this delightful little place will NOT be torn down but preserved as a reminder of the loveliness of the past. Thank you for sharing.

    I love the gate with the sign.

    FlowerLady

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    1. Dunbar's Kitchen is a contributing structure within the Falmouth Historic District, which is administered by the Stafford County Historical Commission and the Stafford County Architectural Review Board. Nothing can happen to it without the consent of those entities.

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