A house that has hosted so many. The William Wallace Fennell House, dated 1910, sits on the corner of Pickens Street and N. Confederate Street in close proximity to downtown Rock Hill. Towering over the surrounding homes on the street, the house sits on four levels with an upper balcony porch and lower level wrap around porch. Built by Dr. William Fennell, the house was built for his family but eventually through time was a home for many others ranging in diversity from a Catholic nunnery to a college party house known as “Confederate Hall”.
Imagine stepping off a train, walking a short distance and knocking on your doctor’s office door for surgery. Due to Dr. Fennell’s reputation and skill, many people were known to have done just that for a needed procedure with one of South Carolina (if not the Southeast’s) most talented surgeons. Whether you take the handmade stone steps up the back of the house and through the small prayer garden built by the resident’s nuns in the early 1940’s-late 1950’s or the main entrance up the walkway and up the original concrete steps, once you cross into the Fennell House, you sense right away upon entry that many others too have crossed this threshold. Dr. William Fennell built the house and his neighboring Fennell Infirmary for his family and to ultimately serve the York County community of all races and conditions and for those who ultimately traveled from far away for designated care.
A three level Colonial Revival home with crawl space, this prestigious structure was crafted in ornate woodwork, decorative crown molding and a stunning main entrance staircase. The home was set up with two different level sleeping porches, maid quarters in the basement (with bell ringing system cords and wires for service throughout the home), to a uniquely circular shaped entertaining parlor with floor to ceiling large windows to open for air circulation and sunlight. The house boasts foyers that reach 11 ft by 50 ft from the stretch of central hallway, with an original kitchen space that still exists in the back of the home.
Historic preservationist and the home’s owner since 1997, Russ Frase has used his woodworking and master carpentry talents in piecing together the distinctive features of the house that now need repair and/or rebuilding. For example, the restored front porch (as of 2015-16), Mr. Frase used original molding profiles to hand build-turn 800 new porch-railing balusters!
When the house was the home of the talented and ambidextrous surgeon, the stretch of street was known as “Fennell Crossing” and the doctor’s respected reputation stretched as far as New York. The famous textile magnite, Mr. Hamilton Carhartt of the Carhartt Corporation, sought the care of Dr. Fennell that ultimately saved the man’s life (Carhartt rewarded the doctor with an Arabian horse and Shetland pony for his son).
In 1922, the area’s Confederate ladies held a veteran’s reunion for Confederate soldiers near the house in what is now Confederate Park. The Confederate statue memorial in the park was later moved to Laurelwood cemetery.
After a good but short life of smoking fine cigars and providing lifesaving care to many in the community, Dr. Fennell passed away in 1926 at 54 years old. However, the Fennell House would carry on in the Rock Hill community for decades serving new purposes and lives under the ownership of Dr. W.B. Ward, a young and gifted surgeon.
During WWII, the Catholic Church bought the property and moved sixty nuns from Illinois to the home. The adjacent hospital (the original Fennell Infirmary), soon came in addition to providing housing for the nunnery. The circular downstairs parlor was used as the nun’s chapel and the pew marked evidence of this is still visible on the wooden floors today. The hardworking nuns even cemented the basement floor beneath the front porch that served as the laundry area during that time. The Civil Rights activist, Brother David Boone (who passed away two years ago) recalled to Mr. Frase of his own warm memories of the Catholic nuns that lived there during his childhood and how unique it was that every 15-20 years, the house would change hands (and even its purpose).
After its time as a nunnery and close quarters to the infirmary, the home was used as Ms. Hill’s Boarding Home for Men (many who built Catawba Nuclear Plant and Carowinds Amusement Park) and then as a college house for Winthrop graduate students in the early 1980’s. There were live band house shows in the once lower level chapel space and an added telephone booth on the top level. After the home’s time as a college community house, it served as a safe haven for unwed mothers and children for adoption. Russ has said even to this day, he will sometimes have visitors who ask to come in to revisit the place they once resided in during the home’s time as a safe haven.
Since taking ownership of the home, Russ Frase has passionately completed aspects of the project bit by bit with meticulous detail and crafted skill. This includes incorporating and respecting the original materials used for construction like worn thresholds to using linseed oil and turpentine to restore the wood flooring, and to completely rebuilding the wrap-around front porch. Not only does he remain loyal to restoring the home to its original splendor, but he also shares warm affection for the history of Dr. Fennell as a community figure and his life’s story.
In another twenty years, will Russ be looking for the home’s next purpose? Only time will tell, but the possibilities for a historic gem such as the Fennell House will continue to need the support of other passionate individuals in our community that want to see the home continue to thrive.
Interview and written by Austin and Chris Lange for R&R.com – 2019
R&R NOTE: The preservation of the Fennell House has been a remarkable undertaking by one man, Mr. Russ Frase and it is a tribute to him that the home has been loved and restored one board and nail at a time. We, at Roots and Recall, believe he deserves an award! Be sure to visit the above R&R link to see numerous Fennell family connections.