Step Elegantly Back in Time at the Lunney House Museum

By:Page Ivey

Date:10/24/2014

Just about every South Carolina town has that row of improbable houses that belie the poverty that permeated the state in the early 20th century. The row of fine houses from long ago and far away tell the story of some group of residents who once had money to spare.

In Seneca, one such row is West South First Street, or “Silk Stocking Hill” as it was once known. One of these beautiful homes has been preserved and is open to the public, giving a glimpse into the lives of the well heeled of the Jazz Age.

The Lunney House Museum has been lovingly restored by John Martin, who has volunteered his time and expertise to recreating the 1909 Queen Anne-style bungalow designed by architect Charles Christian Hook.

The house includes many touches that speak to the arts and crafts-style homes of the era, a 6-foot flat panel wainscoting with burlap inserts topped with a 5-inch plate rail. The English tile fireplace is framed in oak.

Its distinctive architecture extends to include a two-story carriage house and a “two-seater” outhouse. This museum includes a collection of Victorian furniture, much of it from the original owners.

The house was built by Dr. William J. Lunney and his wife, Lilian Mason Lunney, in 1909. The couple had been married for 20 years by the time the house was built and had lost their only child to an illness at age 4. Martin will tell you the Lunney marriage was never the same after the death of Victor Mason Lunney in 1894. It was 15 years later that the Lunneys moved into their home on First Street among the well-to-do and well connected in Seneca. Silk Stocking Hill was the center of Seneca society. The family entertained and threw lavish parties along with other residents of the street.

Dr. Lunney died in 1929, just weeks after the stock market crash, but Mrs. Lunney lived another 40 years and was famed for her weekly salons at the home.

After Mrs. Lunney died, her relatives donated the home to Oconee County, which operated it as a museum for 40 years. The county gave the home to the city of Seneca in 2009 and Martin began his restoration. The museum reopened in 2010.

This house museum also contains a collection of items from Oconee County’s history. The house is in the National Register of Historic Places.

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