Handiwork of family restored and treasured

Published 3:37 pm Friday, July 18, 2008

Set just off Main Street on Helena’s Second Avenue is the historic C.T. Davidson House built in 1895, today lovingly preserved by his granddaughter, Marion Sides and husband James.

Marion, who was born in this house, says she is blessed to have many original furnishings as well as several family quilts. In the living room, the love seat and matching parlor chairs complement the ‘chocolate set’ (not a tea service) that belonged to her great-great grandmother. On the walls hang framed needlework by her mother, Emmie, who, as an early city clerk, conducted much of the town business from her dining room table.

Marion tells of her trip to the Antique Road Show in Atlanta where she stood in line in the rain for six hours with the chocolate set and her mother’s childhood dollhouse. Originally, she learned, Dunham’s Dollhouses were decorative wooden crates used to ship pineapples or coconuts.

John W. Davidson, Marion’s great-grandfather, came to Helena in the 1850’s and once owned most of the Old Town area. He ran a gristmill and cotton gin along Buck Creek. His son, C.T. further developed the lake property, which provided the first electric light system for Helena around 1910. He also installed the original dam.

For the past 15 years, James has been patiently refinishing the interior woodwork and pine floorboards. He has uncovered the once boarded over-transom windows in the parlor and rescued the elaborate brass door hinges from beneath twenty coats of paint.

Today the parlor has the feel of a museum restoration. An oil painting by James framed in the foyer represents the house faade with the original mansard roof, which was blown away by a tornado in 1933. As well as reupholstering the parlor set, James also made all the draperies in the house. He has also been gradually converting the back yard into a series of terraced beds using old bricks reclaimed from demolition sites in downtown Birmingham. Out the back door, a brick-paved path leads to a circular patio around the one hundred-fifty year old hackberry tree that shades beds of native hydrangeas and ferns.

Marion and James married in 1960, having known each other since grade school. Their four daughters and eight grandchildren all appreciate James apparently unending ability to complete most any project his hands can find. But even they know not to bother him on any fall football season afternoon; he will be at Auburn cheering on the Tigers.