Peggy and I love owning this historic home. We’ve often said that we consider ourselves stewards of the building and its history, so we’ve been very gratified by the positive reaction from our neighbors and the greater Madison community since we moved in. There has been a good amount of positive press about the inn and about our wonderful Grand Opening, just over a year ago.
In some of these articles, we’ve talked a little bit about how excited many of our fellow Madisonians were as we started working on the building and the gardens. How people would stop their cars and tell how nice it was to see ‘the ol’ place’ getting a facelift. It was fun and uplifting to witness that collective reaction. As if we were doing the city and the neighborhood and the house itself a long-awaited favor. What a great feeling!
But some of the most touching experiences we’ve had since we moved to The Livingston Inn — also known as The Leitch House — have involved people who lived here before us. We’ve been privileged to forge connections with descendants from the families who’ve owned the house through the years.
One recent special event kind of book-ended the very special first year we’ve had in our new home and our new business. Exactly one year to the day we celebrated our Grand Opening, the Harman family used the inn for its family reunion.
A little backstory:
One day in August 2011, Peggy and her sister were outside working in the garden. Looking up, she saw two women on the sidewalk, pointing at the house. Now, of course, lots of people walk past the house and stop to take a look, even point it out specifically. It’s a beautiful building, and so different from a modern home. But oddly, for some reason the thought crossed Peggy’s mind that these two women might be the Harman sisters.
The Harmans were an influential family in Madison who owned the Leitch House from 1959 to 1994. They played a big part in creating an atmosphere of historic preservation in the city. Edith Jane “Dolly” Harman was a pioneer female journalist and radio broadcaster who wrote extensively for both the Journal and Cap Times.
The women approached and introduced themselves – indeed, it was the Harman sisters, daughters of Dolly and husband Gordon. Gail Harman Simpler, who now lives in Texas, was visiting Jacqui Harman Vilstrup, who lives just outside Madison. They’d decided to drive into Madison to see what they call ‘the big house.’ The two were so gracious that they didn’t want to bother Peggy, but if you know Peggy you know she’d have none of that! She welcomed them through the gate and the three women spent a good amount of time that day touring the house and walking the property, while Jacqui and Gail shared stories and memories of what it was like growing up here.
Since that day, we’ve maintained a special, lovely connection to the Harman family. They’ve come to visit our family a number of times, and kept our kids enthralled with pictures and stories of days gone by. What priceless experiences!
I think the Harmans understand that we love this place, and that we really do think of ourselves as stewards of its history and its physical well-being. They’ve been quite generous to us, and have added to our small Livingston Inn/Leitch House historical collection.
Jacqui stopped by last year and gave us these watercolor note cards:
Last Christmas, the Harman family gave us this treasured photo of the house. The picture is not dated, but we guess it was from around the turn of the 20th century:
Finally, Jacqui gave us this framed original 1968 Cap Times article on the history of the house, with pictures of all its owners until that point. What a wonderful gift!
In the future, we’ll share more about the Harmans, as well as connections we’ve made with other families who’ve lived here. Next week I’ll post about the Harman family Reunion held at The Livingston Inn on September 16, 2012.
Exactly one year from our Grand Opening.
Since I’m a believer in ideas like synchronicity and symmetry and all those inexplicable details that happen to enhance one’s life – and in our case, The Livingston Inn – I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our first full year of business.
So here’s to the future, and to these precious links we’ve created to our home’s past. It just keeps getting better.