By Alice Scott March 1999
Fontaine House in Brandenburg
The Fontaine house in Brandenburg, Kentucky, Meade County, was built soon after 1800. (Later materials will give names of early owners). At that time the first Mr. Fontaine would have looked at this grassy knoll and then across the lower rolling land to the mile-wide Ohio River, and he must have decided that this was the choice building site for his home. It was the highest point on Brandenburg's West Hill.
The first part of the building was a brick square-- thirty by thirty feet altogether-one room with a wide fireplace and a closet beside the chimney. The mantelpiece was wood in a modified Adam style, simple and quite beautiful. The floor was of wide boards, handsome in their own right. A room above that one was half-story, the same size as the room below. The side walls of the upper room slanted from the roof almost to the floor, and had two dormer windows. The end wall had two long windows -one on either side of the chimney. Alongside the first-floor room was a large hall-maybe twelve by thirty feet-with a stairway leading to the upper room. The stairway had a gradual turn after the first two steps, then it led up maybe ten steps to a first landing-then four more steps to a second larger landing. This upper landing was large enough for a double bed and a dresser. There was a dormer window on the back side of this landing. The steps were not steep, and the banister rail was turned gently for easy handholds. The newel post was a spherical wooden piece, the size proportionate to the whole staircase. Under the staircase was a closet, and at the first landing, there was a closet opening back under the eaves. In later years of this century, the grandchildren kept their dolls and an antique doll-dresser in that closet, along with long dresses and high-heeled shoes to play in.
The hall had the main entrance of the house opening onto a front porch. Double front doors had glass in the upper halves, and inset wood panels below. On each side of the doors was a vertical row of small panels of glass. For security, there was a wooden bar, which would be put into place at night, with a small embossed metal rack on each side of the doors to hold the bar in place. At the rear of the hall, there were double doors, of wooden panels, opening to the back yard. Apparently, there was always a small porch opening off those doors. In later years, there was an enclosed entryway there. In this century, a bathroom was built off that small entryway. The large hall was the setting for the placement of Christmas trees as far back as anyone knows. In this century there was a beautiful chandelier, with electric lights.
Beneath the large room, there was built a cellar with rock walls and floor. Shelves were fitted into the walls to hold canned foods and other harvested produce, as well as foods, like butter, that needed a cool place in summer. Steps into the cellar were outside by the chimney. A sloping wooden door covered the steps.
A second room, about eighteen by twenty feet, also of brick, was built to the rear of the large room, but not connected to it. It had no upstairs room over it. This was known as the schoolroom, and provided a place for children of the Fontaine family and other families to have classes with a tutor. There was a passage, built like a hall, connecting the schoolroom to the large room. It may have originally been open like a dog-trot.
A kitchen area was built on the east side of this passage, and in this century, only parts of the foundation of this kitchen area were in evidence. However, the "old folks" knew about that old kitchen. It apparently was patterned after "summer kitchens" of the old South, purposely built apart from the main part of the house to keep heat from the cooking area away from living quarters.
Just before the Civil War, the "new part" of the house was built to the west of the original large room, consisting of another large room, about thirty by thirty feet, of wood construction, and covered with wood clapboards. The entire house was painted white, and this new addition was symmetrical with the older large room, so that the double front doors were now in the center of the front fašade of the house. The new room had a room above it, with sloping sidewalls where small windows opened out to the back of the house. The end wall had two longer windows. This room was approached through a door opening off the lower landing of the original stairway, making the floor of that room lower than the floor of the other upstairs room. From outside, the roofline of the two rooms was the same height, so that the difference was not apparent. With the roofing materials covering the seam, it appeared to be one building. On the main level, one approached the new room through the hall, going through a door under the high part of the stairway on the west side of the hall, nearly opposite the door leading into the original large room. Baseboards were more than a foot wide with turned molding along the top. Window facings and door facings in the whole house were trimmed with smaller molding matching the baseboards. The "infare" (housewarming) for the new room was remembered into the next century. A small porch was added to the house on the east side after the old kitchen was taken away. A storage room was built adjoining the porch and the schoolroom. In this century, a kitchen was added at the end of the dog-trot passage, with modern plumbing and conveniences. The passage was used at times for a dining room, or for a sitting room. The schoolroom was used for a dining room or for a bedroom. It had smaller windows than the large rooms-rectangular with six panes over six in the old style. There were wide sills where flowers could thrive. There were two windows in the end wall and one on the wall facing west. A closet was built on one wall in later years.
Just prior to the U.S. entering World War II, the large room on the new side was made into a three-room apartment with bath, modern kitchen, and tiny screened porch opening to the west side. Army officers' families lived there during the war. A second apartment was installed upstairs, using the upper landing as a kitchen, where a sink was equipped with a cabinet. This apartment shared a bath with downstairs renters in the schoolroom apartment. One must remember that times were difficult, and persons did not complain about sharing baths. Numerous army families lived in the house during those years, with Ruth Fontaine Scott, the owner, living in the one big original room. She had a folding screen in one corner for a private dressing area, a hot plate where she prepared food, and a cook table for washing dishes. She carried her kitchen water from the bathroom, and carried waste water to the bathroom. She prepared dinner there for soldiers every Sunday-always a chicken, dressing, a cake, etc. And on December 7, 1941, it was in that room that several soldiers had dinner after church, and were visiting and relaxing when the awful message came by radio from Pearl Harbor.
Two cisterns outside the back door provided water for the house before modern plumbing was installed. Rock gardens were varied and interesting around the base of each cistern. Hyacinths, jonquils, hollyhocks, and roses grew in those rock gardens, and bloomed in season.
English ivy grew around the foundation of the house, and up the east end of the living room outside wall. Peony bushes, white, pink and red, a japonica bush, and numerous rose bushes were in the east side yard. An orange blossom bush and a crepe myrtle were near the garden gate. The vegetable garden was on the lower ground east of the house, as was a generous grape arbor. Walks of flat limestone rocks encircled the house, and rock steps led from the yard down to the street. An avenue of jonquils bordered the walk from the porch to the steps. Several trees, mostly maple, shaded the front yard and the back yard. In this century, evergreen trees also grew in the front yard. Near the vegetable garden were peach trees and apple trees.
On the west end of the house were pear trees, a pecan tree, and a purple lilac bush by the walk. Back of the house was a lot with chicken house, smokehouse, and outdoor privy. This lot opened into a pasture of about five acres for cows, horses, and an occasional pig. On the edge of the pasture, west of the yard, a barn had two stalls, a corncrib, a gangway for wagon (or later the pickup truck) and a hayloft. Two cisterns near the barn furnished water for the livestock. Walnut trees grew in the pasture.
Just prior to the beginning of the War, Jack and Alice Scott converted the barn into a house in which they lived for a time, following a brief period when they lived as newlyweds in the upstairs apartment in the main house.
Nearest neighbors of the Fontaine house were black families who lived in a small cluster of houses just down the lane. "Aunt " Polly Poole, their matriarch lived in a nice-looking white frame house, nearest the Fontaine garden. Her daughter Phoenie, and husband Ruie Jackson, lived across the lane in a smaller house painted green. "Uncle" Anderson Goodman, lived just down the lane. In later years, nearby citizens always checked on Uncle Anderson, to be sure he had food, and that he was warm in winter. In summertime, he sat outside in a chair, watching the goings on in the neighborhood. Aunt Polly and her family were independent and self-sufficient. Other near neighbors lived at "Pusey Place", another ante-bellum home. For many years this was the home of generations of the Pusey family, and it was noted for its beautiful lawn and flower gardens. In the latter half of this century, the Bondurant family, another of the old French families who had settled Brandenburg, owned the old Fontaine place, and it became known then as the Bondurant place. Several modern homes were built in the lane, which was now a paved street.
It was a quiet and peaceful neighborhood in general, but many kinds of activities took place on those acres, including happy family gatherings and the playing of children in the playhouse that was built for them in the later years. On April 3, 1974, deadly tornadoes destroyed the house, the outbuildings, and the large old trees, killing 30 neighbors and injuring many residents of the town. The green grassy knoll is once again without buildings. It is the property of the Brandenburg First Baptist Church now.
some working notes
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