The Herald Bulletin

March 23, 2013

Jim Bailey: ‘Coffin house’ was really prelude to air-conditioning

By Jim Bailey
For The Herald Bulletin

— I’ve noted some discussion of late on the Facebook “If you grew up in Anderson” site about the so-called “coffin house” in Park Place.

The house is diagonally across from where I live, directly east of what was then the Park Place United Methodist Church, now Second Chance Baptist. During the second half of the 20th century it was adorned with a green-colored coffin-shaped contraption at its peak that made for some pretty tall tales around the city.

One story had it that the owner wanted to ensure he would not be buried beneath the ground and instead had his remains placed atop his home. Some believed the place was haunted.

At any rate it became quite a conversation piece. People would drive past just to take a look at it. That kept the stories alive as well.

I watched it come down a decade or two ago when the roof was replaced, and there was absolutely nothing inside. Turned out it had an entirely different purpose.

The name J.J. Toops graced the original front steps. Herb Toops, who I understand grew up in that house, was a tinsmith. My earliest memories of the house do not include the coffin, and I’m told he fabricated the thing in his shop, so I imagine he installed it there himself during those years.

It seems the box’s purpose was to cool the home in the hot Anderson summers. It was a homemade ventilation system, and apparently there was a huge fan on the upper floor that pulled air through the box to provide a cooling effect.

The Sylvester family lived there during our early years. They looked into removing it but discovered it involved a major reconstruction project.

Eventually, after the Sylvesters moved out, it was apparent a re-roofing would be necessary. The “coffin” was dismantled during that time.

So don’t come by the house expecting to see a coffin on the roof. It isn’t there anymore. That bit of Park Place legend is now confined to the history bin and revived only in our memories.

Innovation, however, has replaced quite a few such novelties that may actually have been ahead of their time. Most homes nowadays have air conditioning of some degree, lots of times whole-house. And today’s heating systems achieve top efficiency in taking care of the winter months, making the old coal-fired systems of yesteryear nothing but another string of recollections.

Our home, on the other hand, would be difficult to cool completely with a single AC unit. But its construction, with 10-foot ceilings on the main floor, keeps us comfortable during most of the summer except for the hottest days.

But don’t expect us to experiment with anything on the order of a coffin on the roof. We’ll stick with what we have.

Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by email at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.