Southport Sweetheart

by Oct 6, 2020Real Estate, South Brunswick

A Southport family, a relocated engineer and the home that charmed them all.

The shrimp boats came in the 1910s, old wooden pastimes that Southport fishermen took to sea when days were warm, before steering them to Key West for the winters. The Wilmington, Brunswick & Southern railroad, nicknamed “Willing But Slow” and new to ice and refrigeration, gave the shrimpers motivation to profit from distant markets along the East coast prior to the Great Depression.

In 1911 Southport resident Harry Lee Dosher borrowed $85 from Security Savings Bank, a financial institution existing solely in a cigar box at Watson’s Drug Store, and bought land at 614 N. Atlantic Avenue to build a home. In 1927 he bought a lot at the northeast corner of Howe and Leonard streets, where he built a new house next to Brunswick Motor Company, which he also constructed.

Southport NC House Renovation

It’s that new house, a one-level nailed together then boarded up by 1928, that has chapters — tales of renovations and a fire, a beloved gardener, a tree twice as old as the United States, of women’s clubs and an array of family episodes. Its authors are the shrimping industry, Southern charm and children who cling to weathered yarns and photographs.

Sweetheart

Mr. Harry Lee Dosher and his wife, Alta Wescott Dosher, had a daughter, Dorothy, born in 1915, who grew to be founding president of the Southport Garden Club, president of the Southport Woman’s Club and a longtime member of Southport Baptist Church, where she played organ and sang in the choir.

She married Lewis Hardee Sr., a six-boat shrimper and seafood dealer from Fernandina Beach, Florida, in 1935, when the shrimp business’ rebirth brought nearly 200 boats to Southport waters. The Hardees bought the house at Howe and Leonard, vacant since 1928, and raised three boys between the Carolina coast, Fernandina and Key West.

Lewis Hardee nicknamed Dorothy “Sweetheart,” and it is what her friends, family and neighbors called her. She referred to her house as Tara, and out of Southern necessity constantly updated it to be fashionably in the moment. Lew Hardee, Jr., oldest of the three boys, once wrote that Sweetheart “changed decorations in her house more than Macy’s changes its windows.”

Southport NC Home Renovation Historic

The west wall was removed to create a 22-foot by 22-foot living room. Two bedrooms and a bathroom were added to create an upstairs. A fire in the 1940s scarred the hardwoods in what is now a downstairs bedroom, the black darkness still visibly etched in brown wood. Extensive remodeling in the 1950s added rattan furniture from Key West and jalousie windows in the den and kitchen to reflect the style of the Keys. A massive remodel project in 1952 gave Sweetheart her dream kitchen — a construction episode begun in January when the family left for the Keys and re-done in July, when they returned and Sweetheart voiced a bit of heartbreak concerning the location of the sink.

The house was moved, intact, on January 26, 1970, to 205 E. Leonard Street, next to two vacant lots that formerly were the coal and ice plant. Lewis Hardee Sr. died in 1996; Sweetheart died in 2008, at age 95. Her Lady Asters still bloom.

The Engineer

The house’s latest chapter is about a woman from up near Pittsburgh who worked drilling oil rigs in the Rockies and Texas and, later, in Washington, D.C., as a government contractor before moving to Charlotte. She fell in love with the house, escaped to the coast and is its current caretaker, restorer and companion. Her name is Carol Bailey. She bought the Dosher-Hardee House in early 2019. But that’s just the first page of that chapter.

Bailey sometimes refers to the home as “the house on 401K Street.” She’s poured a boatload of legal-tender-loving-care into its recent costume changes — renovations to reel the home’s shrimping roots back inside its walls.

“In hindsight, I was a little scared to move lock, stock and barrel to something unknown, but it was the best thing I ever did,” Bailey says. “People come by who knew the Hardees, who knew the Doshers, and I’m the caretaker of a house that’s steeped in history.”

How did a former defense contractor who moved to Charlotte for an energy company job end up protector of a Southport house bathed in history? Maybe the more docile occupation of real estate, for which she’s licensed. Maybe mulling “semi-retirement” in Charlotte wasn’t the ticket to paradise.

“I was an engineer in the energy business all my life,” she says. “My friends and I would come to Oak Island and we’d go to Southport and visit the shops and restaurants, and I said, ‘You know, someday it would be cool to have a historic house. Then I saw one on the market.”

Bailey dove into the Dosher-Hardee House history. She studied its beginnings, read a historical account written by Lew Hardee, Jr., learned about Clarence Jones, the gardener, who has camellias named for him that still bloom, 6 feet tall, along the back patio, now accessible by a parlor with French doors.

She hired a contractor, Steve Carr, who is tediously molding her vision into reality. A crew spent three months putting new piers underneath. She’s added a front walkway made from 100-year-old bricks found at a mill in South Carolina.

The 1940s chandelier in the entrance came with the house, and each room is lit by a similar oversized crystal masterpiece with dangling, sparkling trinkets. Except for one with swaying oyster shells.

A mariner’s compass, the size of a ship wheel, graces the entrance way floor like a sailor’s tattoo, geographically correct.

A well-preserved piano is destined for the huge living room. “Because every house like this needs a Baby Grand,” Bailey says.

Each doorway between rooms, each archway, is topped with Southport Bows, an original architectural design Sweetheart desired. Bailey carried the design upstairs to the new library and bedrooms and 1970s-era bathroom, the sole diversion from polite Southern decor in that its sink and tub are pinkish-purple ceramic. A built-in, wooden wine rack is next to the commode.

“The Southport Bows are triangle-shaped above each doorway, so we duplicated that from how Sweetheart wanted it,” Bailey says. “We did some fluting in decorative trim, and I asked Steve to duplicate it in the upstairs library. And we added bows around each window.”

Inside doorknobs are old-time crystal. The colors — of countertops in the shaker-style kitchen, of walls, the whole ambiance — appear dipped in pigmented palates from the sea. The dining area will be wallpapered with magnolias.

Bailey insists the ceilings be shiplap, not drywall sheetrock. “It’s not a beach house. It’s more coastal, more nautical,” she says. “It’s a coastal cottage.”

And it has hidden treasure.

Historic Home Renovation Southport NC

Tucked behind a plywood wall, Bailey found a painting, about 3 feet by 4 feet, of a tree and waterfront, the artistic work of Lew Hardee Jr.

“We cut it out and saved it,” Bailey says. “It literally once was the wall.”

Also found in the walls were a faded Wilmington newspaper from 1939 and paper seafood transport permits Bailey saved them to showcase in the house.

In the side yard, an oak tree estimated at 400-plus years old towers above the roof and stretches its long, crooked arms forever in each direction, like a protective hug for its 92-year-old friend.

This latest chapter of renovations is producing 2,900 square feet of history, with four bedrooms and three baths.

Bailey keeps in touch with Sweetheart’s relatives in Florida. She wants them to visit.

“They are very eager,” she says. “I want to have the family come here.”

They’ll see a new sign, naming the house Southport Sweetheart. And they’ll see new paint on the front door, honoring history. It’s pinkish-orange, the color of shrimp.

 

Photography by Mark Steelman

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