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Discoveries in the Caretaker’s House

Architecture, Collections, Preservation

As we continue to move forward with our expanded new facilities initiative, there’s one major aspect of the plan that’s undergoing rehabilitation rather than construction.

The Caretaker’s House was likely built on Drayton estate c. 1870, specifically for a caretaker to look after the main house and grounds while phosphate was mined on the property.  Since the 1970s it has served as the site’s museum shop. Earlier this summer we carefully lifted and moved the building into a new spot on the property that will complement the visitor experience. The Caretaker’s House will sit in concert with the interpretive gardens, our orientation hall and the educational center.

But work still continues in the Caretaker’s House, as its preparations require great care by our Preservation team who continue to study its secrets. Architectural fragments like partition boards, the mantel, and wallpaper are integral to understanding the daily lives of the people who lived in this space, and the exhibit space inside the Caretaker’s House will tell many of these stories.

Caretaker’s House Wallpaper Fragments

We recently discovered layers of wallpaper hidden behind door trim throughout the Caretaker’s House. (See above) That bit of wallpaper happened to match a swatch of wallpaper that was on a board that was already in our vast architectural fragment collection. While we knew a partition wall once stood around the central chimney in the Caretaker’s House, it was a surprise to find pieces of that wall already in our collection!

Partition boards in our collection of architectural fragments.

Only one photograph survives of the partition wall, taken after the National Trust purchased the property in 1974. The boards were nailed to a thin piece of wood along the ceiling and the floor on either side of the central chimney. A ghost of the trim piece along the ceiling is still visible, giving us a hint of what used to be there. One of the boards also has a pintel, evidence that a door was located in the wall on one side of the chimney. These boards help us visualize what the interior of the Caretaker’s House looked like while the two known caretakers and their families lived in it.

One surviving photograph of the partition wall, taken after the National Trust purchased the property in 1974.

 

From 1890-1922, Ezekiel and Harriett Mayes lived in the house while it was still just two rooms. After Harriett Mayes passed away, Anna Bowens married Ezekiel Mayes and moved into the house with her four children. At this time they built a two-room addition on the back of the house.

Sadie Mayes Burns (b.c.1923), courtesy of Drayton Hall

 

The second caretaker to live in the house was Thomas Burns, who married Sadie Mayes, one of Ezekiel Mayes’ daughters. Mr. Burns took over as the caretaker in the 1940s after his father-in-law passed away. Sadie, Thomas, and their son, Thomas Burns lived in the house until the 1960s.

In 1978, in an effort to make the site more visitor-friendly, the National Trust moved the building from its original location. Unfortunately, the chimney was irreparably damaged when the house was set down on new brick piers. We do not know if the partition boards were removed before the house was moved, or why only two survive. At that time, the mantel was removed from the house and added to our architectural fragment collection.

We now look forward to exhibiting the mantel as part of the new exhibit, giving visitors a better idea of the scale and function of the original two-room structure.