Tucked along Estill Street in Berea sits a large home affectionately called The Big House, and for good reason, too. The home boasts 26 rooms over three floors and roughly 100 windows, not to mention a large basement, which has become the subject of several family legends, and a spacious yard.
On Saturday, The Big House celebrated turning 100, complete with a birthday party and cake. Homeowners Laura and Ralph Compton welcomed many friends and family members, with plenty of familiar faces occupying the many living spaces throughout the welcoming home. When matriarch of the family, Rose Ramsey, arrived, people waited their turn for a chance to say hello.
Pictures of family adorned the walls in the hallways, small reminders of those who used to fill the rooms above. Over the years, the Compton family, just the like the Ramseys before them, opened their doors to many guests. Danish gymnastic groups or traveling choirs would take up residence during their stay in Berea, and students from the nearby Berea College would call The Big House their home while in town for the semester.
According to Laura Compton, an uncountable number of people have stayed in the home.
“We’ve had kids here before who are college age and need a place (to stay), and I’ve seen some of them become great young adults with their own families now,” Compton said.
Every Christmas, there would be an “open house,” where everyone gathered in the tremendous home, making memories such as squeezing their own fresh orange juice — most likely to go with Compton’s fresh homemade bread and strawberry jam — or the memory of everyone gathering to sing carols while she played the piano.
“As I tell the kids, in life, things only belong to us a short time that we’re here on the Earth. This is our time to appreciate what we have and to share with others. It’s not just mine,” Compton said, as she remembered the many people who she has shared her home with.
Throughout a typical year, The Big House would serve as a second home for many, always serving the needs of people, Compton said. People loved stopping by, even just to say hello. But there’s one day out of the year where no one even dares to cross the street to be on the same side as the home — Halloween.
“Kids find it a little spooky around Halloween,” Compton said.
One kid who doesn’t find the home spooky is Isaac Sartor, one of Compton’s nine grandchildren. Sartor has memories of lying in the hallway of The Big House, talking with the family dog. As a small child, The Big House seems even larger than life, with endless rooms to explore.
“My favorite thing about her house is the endless things you can possibly discover,” he said
The history of the home isn’t hard to follow, as ownership of the property has only switched hands a few times in its 100 years. Before Compton’s parents, the Ramseys, took ownership of The Big House, the McKinneys called it home. Compton invited a special guest to the birthday party on Saturday, Donna McKinney, one of the last of the McKinneys she had yet to meet. McKinney had lived in the house when she was 3, and still remembers how she would run around The Big House with her siblings.
As The Big House celebrates a century, many wonder what will become of the home that has built so many lasting relationships. Some of the grandkids joke about buying it from Compton when they get old enough, which would be in 10 years.
“We don’t know what’s next for the house, but it’s a house that wants to treasure families and relationships, so hopefully that’s what it will do,” Compton said.
The Big House is special to Compton because of the relationships built and the bonds of love with all of the people who have stayed there, she said, as she choked up with tears. There are days when the college students who live there will be sitting around the kitchen table, and Compton will just think of how lucky she is.
“I tell them, guys, this is my favorite thing, having you all sit around the table. We’ve built so many connections with people over the years,” Compton said in reflection.
Those connections were evident on Saturday, as the yard and The Big House filled up with people who came to share their memories of the home. As the cake was cut, music played outside — by the same band that played at the Comptons’ wedding reception in 1976, in the large yard of The Big House.
Reach Kaitlyn Skovran at 624-6608; follow her on Twitter @kaitlynskovran.