The Robinson Home Now Assists Children
By Anne Adams
Over the last few years, there has been local concern that some of the older homes lining the main streets of Athens have been demolished to be replaced by commercial development. Of course, this is not an entirely new issue but has occurred in the past. However, then as now, some wonder if perhaps these old homes might be preserved and maybe even be used to serve the community. And that’s exactly what happened with the Robinson home.
When pharmacist E.N. Robinson came to Athens in 1905 he worked in a local drug store and then built a new house for his wife and children at 402 E. College Street. He opened his own business in 1923. It was built on a low hill and featured many of the most recent conveniences of the time and it was the family home until his death in January 1943.
The house is described in an article in the May 15, 1985 issue of a publication called “The Traveler: Keeping in Touch” to be found in the files of the Henderson County Historical Commission.
There were challenges to the Robinson family even on move-in day. “The driveway was steep since the house was built on a high location which was not easy for moving, but great for cool breezes,” wrote the article writer.
Built at a cost of $7,500, the house had a brick veneer - the bricks coming from the local manufacturer – with nine large rooms and high ceilings. The Robinson girls shared a pink bedroom, their brothers’ room was green, and the master bedroom had yellow walls. In the original house, there was a downstairs bathroom with a tile floor and two linen closets and each bedroom had a walk-in closet.
The kitchen stove was wood-burning, though later this was changed to coal. There were two fireplaces in the house, one located in the living room and the other in the master bedroom, which also served as a family sitting room. Bookshelves covered with glass doors flanked the living room fireplace.
The butler’s pantry was located between the dining room and the kitchen, and in the dining room, there was a built-in china cabinet where the family kept cut glass and hand-painted china.
Off of the kitchen was a walk-in pantry that featured “a beautiful kitchen cabinet with etched glass doors and bins for flour, sugar and other supplies.” With electrical outlets throughout the house, the wiring system was “good even by modern standards.”
Large windows around the house provided cross ventilation on hot days, comforting especially when the family was not out sitting on the spacious front and back porches. A mirror on one living room wall was the setting of the family’s Christmas tree. However, as the writer put it, “its most useful purpose was to let one see when one’s silk hose seams were not straight or one’s petticoat was too long.”
The upstairs playroom was where the children skated, and once another bathroom was installed the Robinson boys then occupied the former playroom. The family’s horse, cow, and chickens were kept a small barn that occupied one part of the lot, and when they got their first car they built a garage.
According to the article, the Robinson home was sold in 1968 after the death of Mrs. Robinson, and beginning in 1977 it became the location of a luncheon restaurant, the Pea Patch. The reporter, writing in 1985 related, “The yellow paint provided by the new owners changed the exterior of the house, but the interior is virtually the same as it was in 1916 when the Robinsons built it for their family of six.”
Today what had once been a family home and a restaurant with a setting of fine dining is still a place of service – to children. Located near the First Baptist Church, it is now known as The Greenhouse and is the location for the First Baptist Church’s Helping Hands Children’s Clothing Ministry. Collecting and processing and distributing donations of gently used clothing, the ministry also now provides school uniforms for children at no cost.
The Robinson home is now over 100 years old but was probably typical of many other contemporary homes. However, times change and home designs have also changed. Today, of course, we have air conditioning and don’t need the cross ventilation or the wide porches where residents sat to catch a cool breeze. And obviously few people in Athens don’t own a cow.
Yet while indeed many vintage homes in Athens are no longer with us there are a few – like the Robinson house – that survive and now serve the community.