By Nicole Davis
Southport Mayor Jim Cooney resides in what is believed to be the oldest house in Southport.
The house was built around 1834, which would be about two years after Southport was founded in 1832. Cooney noted that despite efforts to learn more about its history, he has yet to discover paperwork which could prove the exact date. The records stop in 1970 due to a fire where the papers were previously held. He did find a list of previous owners dating back to the 1920s. He has been told the house might have originally belonged to a sheep herder, before the railroad came through the town in 1849.
The red brick home features a federal style of architecture, common in the United States from 1780 and 1840. A Federal-style house is typically a simple square or rectangle box, two or three stories high and two rooms deep. The design emphasizes balance and symmetry, such as its windows being laid out in a vertical or horizontal line.
Cooney’s 3,000-square-foot home has been completely remodeled and added onto, although pieces of its history remain sprinkled throughout. The door frames are much smaller than homes built in the modern day. The old handrail going up the stairs is lower, too. The basement, which would have originally been a crawl space and later dug out, exposes older brick. In doing minor renovations, he said he’s found wooden boards under floors and behind walls which are wider than what would be used in recent years.
Cooney has taken pride in maintaining the home and its outdoor landscaping. He has also paid tribute to its history, through antique decor in the entryway or the living room which displays a bottle of federalist wine to represent the federal style of house and a photo of Andrew Jackson who was president in 1834.
The house sat empty for three years from 1984 to 1987 until it was purchased by Tom Eckstein. By that point, the house was falling down.
“A number of things were wrong,” Cooney said. “This wall in the front room, the window, it vibrated from bees. If you walked through the upstairs, you could see the sky through the roof. It was a wreck. (A Southport resident) walked through here before it was rehabbed and said the floor had rotted away around the bathtub.”
The previous owner fixed up all of the major problems, almost completely gutting parts of the house. They lived in it until 2007, when Cooney purchased it.
“It’s historic and I like that,” he said. “It’s certainly not an open floor plan. The rooms aren’t very big, *but they seem reasonably sized because the ceilings are so high.”
Cooney said while he hasn’t had to do many updates to the structure since it was completely remodeled in the 80s, he did get blow-in insulation this year to help with heating and cooling costs. Because the layout was not designed for the ducts needed for heating and cooling.
The house needs three separate systems to cover the house: one upstairs, downstairs and in the family room. The walls are thick, consisting of layers of drywall, plaster, lath and brick – but no insulation. The large windows combined with lack of insulation led to heat escaping as fast as it entered.
“They hand delivered my electric and gas bill, saying you’ll need to pay this please,” Cooney joked.
Work in an old house (or any house) is never done, and he continues to plan for improvements to his historic home.