Three generations visit ancestral home

Alula Speight shares memories

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Three generations of the Speight family enjoy breakfast at the Cotton Gin Inn. Alula Speight, who born in the house, dines on shrimp and grits, while sitting next to her daughter, Nancy, and grandaughter, Ariel, who is alongside Inn owner Cheryl Orr (standing )and her mother Faye.

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By Miles Layton

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories sharing a woman’s memories of Edenton.  

There Alula Speight Marshall was all those years later, too many to count, in the place where she was born and raised.

The Speight House, now known as the Cotton Gin Inn Bed and Breakfast, was her family's ancestral home many years ago.

Marshall stayed a few nights in the Inn not only to spend time with her daughter, Nancy, and grandaughter, Ariel, who joined her from Houston, but to tap into her past when Chowan County was perhaps a different place.

“I have a lot of memories of this place and Edenton,” said Marshall who lived in the house until she was 15 years old.

The family ate a homemade breakfast – grits and shrimp – over a long wooden table in a large dining room near the kitchen.

“I think its great that she has been able to come back after so many years and be able to stay here,” Ariel Tarrand said. “It's wonderful that this house was restored.”

Nancy Tarrand added, “Mom has always talked about the house. Periodically she has stopped by to visit with my father relatively often to look at the house while on their way to the Outer Banks.”

Cheryl Orr, the current owner, has lovingly restore the home and grounds to their former glory.

“Lou is incredible for her age,” she said. “She was so excited when she arrived that she quickly went all through the house, and even up to the third floor, much to her daughter and granddaughter's dismay. She became very child-like and was very descriptive of her life here as if it were yesterday. She kept repeating that she was happy that they finally made the trip here, which I know was not logistically or physically easy for her daughter.”

Back in the day

Located by Route 17 on the outskirts of Edenton, the Speight House served as a working farm for decades. Will Oscar and wife Minnie Speight, along with their nine children, enjoyed a happy life in this beautiful home that he built.

The Inn sits on six acres surrounded by tall trees and gardens., along with the historic brick Cotton Gin buildings and cottage in a beautiful country setting.

“I was so happy that the family was able to come after originally contacting me to visit before the Inn was completed last summer,” Orr said. “Several other Speights have also come to visit, or contacted me through email.”

This was Ariel Tarrand's first visit to Edenton and to the Speight House

“This trip made me realize how little I know about my own family and how much I would love to know more,” said Tarrand, 18, who is attending the University of Florida.

A trip down memory lane begins almost like Charles Dickens' classic tome “David Copperfield” the first chapter of which entitled, “I am born.”

As was the custom years ago, a midwife not a doctor delivered Marshall into the world in the very same room where she would be staying 86 years later. That memory is bittersweet because Marshall nearly died six months later.

“When I got Scarlet Fever, they left me for dead one night. They had covered me up. When they took the blanket off in the morning, I was still alive. I had lots of after effects from Scarlett Fever, but eventually I turned out fairly normal,” she said with a smile.

W.O. Speight built the Queen Anne style brick house in 1900 with bricks fired from his own kiln.

“It's crazy to think that my great-great grandfather built this house and it is still here,” Ariel said.

Folks didn't travel to the grocery store for food. Instead, they grew their own produce and butchered their own meat. The place was abuzz with activity.

“I loved growing up on a farm. We didn't eat dinner early because everyone was busy,” Marshall said. “When it got close to dark, I would run over to the gin house so I could walk back with my grandfather. He would carry the money and I would carry the ledger. The farmers would weigh their cotton on these scales. They paid cash most of the time. I would walk home in the dark with my grandfather. It was really nice. He never told me he loved me until he was dying – he died in this house – but he didn't have to tell me.”

Horses and pigs

Marshall had many adventures while growing up on the farm with her brothers and cousins. Before all-terrain vehicles, people rode horses.

“When these pigs saw our horses, they charged the fence while making the pig noises – 'oink, oink oink,'” she said. “The horses bolted and I lost my reigns, stirrups too. I had nothing but my saddle to keep myself on the horse. I looked at this ground that was hard as a rock. I decided I wasn't going to hit the ground and I didn't. Finally, I was able to slow the horse down and regain my stirrups and everything. When I looked across the road, my first cousin Johnny's pony had bolted across the field and it was bucking with every move. He finally went off, but he wasn't hurt because the ground was soft. We got the pony back. It was quite an experience. I hate pigs to this day. The only pig I want to see is a cooked one in front of me on a table. They were not my pets. The only thing nice about that experience is that no one was hurt.”

That moment led to another memory, maybe one had remained dormant for decades, but that was cut loose like a horse cantering across a green field at sunset.

“When my horse was able to get under control, it was the most wonderful canter that I've ever experienced. She was so light. I can't quite explain it,” Marshall said. “It was the most wonderful ride I ever had.”

On that note, there is a beautiful wooden banister bordering the staircase that was inviting to kids then that conjured up a memory from Marshall's mind's eye.

“We would slide down the banister when my grandmother wasn't looking,” she said. “There is a curve. My first cousin W.O. could hop the curve. It was a wonder that he didn't kill himself. I was never too good at hopping the curve.”

Next week, the story continues with this family's trip to town and how it has changed.

Nancy Tarrand said her mother enjoyed her time at the Inn.

“This has been a dream for her as long as I can remember for her to go back for stay in the house for a couple and reconnect with that family history,” she said. “She tremendously enjoyed her visit. This was probably the best thing that has happened for her in years. She's very happy.”