By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
When homeowner Scott Pruitt set to renovating the historic Darlington house located at 368 West Broad St., he delighted in nifty architectural details like diagonal wainscoting, curved bay windows and door frame moldings topped with rosettes.
The craftsmanship is to be expected from a home built in 1891 by famed African-American architect Lawrence Reese, but the house held some smaller surprises that came to light just in time for Christmas.
While restoring a tiled fireplace in the front parlor, Pruitt discovered two aged slips of paper that had fallen behind the mantel. On inspection, he found they were letters to Santa, forwarding the Christmas wishes of two young boys who lived in the house perhaps 120 years ago.
Browned with age and stained with soot, the letters are still easy to read, and the wording is bracingly direct.
The first letter reads, “Dear Santa Clause bring me a farybook and a knife,” and is signed “Dorsey Sligh.”
The second letter (penned by the same hand) reads, “Dear Santa Clause bring Charles a train and a drum and a horn,” and is signed “Charles Sligh.”
Pruitt says he asked around about the Sligh family and discovered that they lived in the Broad Street house around 1900. He found little information about the kids, but the 1940 U.S. Census notes a Dorsey T. Sligh was born in Darlington around 1890, and Charles Sligh was born in 1894. It seems both letters were written by Dorsey, who had neat penmanship and could send Santa a legible request on behalf of his younger brother.
That the letters survived intact for so long is a tiny miracle in itself. Pruitt thinks it was a happy accident that the letters fell behind the wall-mounted heavy wooden mantel frame, and remained there – safe and sound – until he happened upon them.
The discovery sent little ripples of happiness through the Pruitt family, including Scott’s 10-year-old granddaughter, a Christmas fanatic who still observes the tradition of writing letters to Ol’ Saint Nick.
“One time I asked her what she wanted for Christmas and she said she couldn’t tell me. I asked what she meant, and she said, ‘I’ll tell Santa Claus, but I can’t tell you and Maw-Maw,’” Pruitt recalls, laughing. “I told her what she ought to do is write a letter to Santa Claus so that she won’t forget anything. And if she thinks of something later, she can go back and add it to the list.”
Scott says his family has always enjoyed going big for the holidays, and they keep that tradition going by opening up the Broad Street house for multiple holiday gatherings that usually draw around 50 guests each. “We have a good time, and to hear the kids running around and going up and down the stairs, laughing … it’s really neat,” he says.
This year, those dinners and parties might feel a little more special knowing the Broad Street home has kindled and kept that Christmas spirit going for well over a hundred years. As rock-solid as the Reese-built house feels, it’s a tradition that could easily last another century.