Historical home's docent knows her way around the way it was
COURTESY PHOTO Donna Sanford is a tour guide at the A.C. Freeman House. A love song, "I Only Have Eyes for You," played on an off-key piano. The melody floated across creaky wood floors, through old walls and up the staircase near the front door.
The whole house — a Victorian-style relic of Punta Gorda's past — echoed earily of sounds of the past.
Donna Sanford, a museum guide at the A.C. Freeman home in Punta Gorda, led a mid-morning tour.
Two old elementary school friends, Shirley Palmer of Punta Gorda, and Bonnie Shipley, who lives on Myrtle Beach, S.C., stopped in for a tour.
The second floor introduction inspired reflections of the past.
"Did you know that the man who invented the typewriter just passed (away) this week?" asked Ms. Shipley, who was in town to celebrate a birthday. "But once Ed McMahon died (the news stations) didn't talk about it anymore."
"I'll have to go home and Google it," Ms. Palmer said.
Ms. Shipley walked over to the banister by the staircase as if about to try something risky. "Can you imagine children years ago running through the house, sliding down the banister?" she said. "I used to do it all the time."
COURTESY PHOTO The A.C. Freeman House. Ms. Sanford, the tour guide, introduced us to an upstairs bedroom. The house was built in the opening years of the 20th century, a time period she adores, even if she's too young to have experienced it herself.
"It's just amazing to me," she said, "Just look at all this authentic stuff!"
One of the closets contained a 1901 set of Mark Twain's collected works. There was also a jar filled with clay marbles. By the banister in the "wedding and funeral room," there was a wicker table given to one of the house's early owners by the late Gov. Albert Gilchrist.
Ms. Sanford moved to Charlotte County three decades ago from Indianapolis, Minn., where she was a secretary. Then in her 30s, she came here with her husband, a cypress-wood clockmaker. They sold the clocks at festivals and area markets. She recalled that he also shucked oysters and did
lots of little jobs" to meet household expenses.
Ms. Sanford used to babysit for her brother's family, who also lived here. Her husband has since passed away.
At first, she wasn't a fan of Charlotte County. But she changed her mind after she discovered Punta Gorda. "It had the ambiance of a little fishing village," she said.
She hasn't warmed to some of Punta Gorda's newer structures, erected in the years following Hurricane Charley's 2004 devastation.
"I like the way it was," she said. "To me, (the developers) are carpetbaggers. They didn't see it the way it was. I do like the (new) streets and everything, but we'll never have the ambiance we had."
Ms. Sanford led the group of A.C. Freeman visitors down to the airy living room where Barbara Carney played tunes on a 150-year-old upright piano.
"Right now it's out of tune," Ms. Carney said. But that's part of the appeal.
"You know what it is. It's an old piano in an old house. Some people don't want it tuned because of that. They like it the way it was.
"The music just fills the house," she says effusively. "The whole house vibrates with it."
Ms. Sanford is helping the Punta Gorda Historical Society plan an event called "The Way It Was" on July 25 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 118 Sullivan Street. People who go will learn more about the history of our community.
It gives Ms. Sanford some comfort to ponder the way it was.
"I think of how simply you could live then," she said. "I don't think life was simple, but you could live simply. You didn't know any better — you didn't have any other way to do it." ¦
The A.C. Freeman house is open to
the public weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5
p.m. every other Thursday.
And Donna Sanford is there, giving
peo ple a glimpse into everyday life the
way it used to be.