by Susan Taylor Block
The home of John H. Rehder and his wife, Elise Bissinger Rehder, was located on the northeast corner of Eighth and Market streets. From the turret, Elise could see the two homes she had lived in as a girl. Elise and John Rehder had no children and spent much of their free time traveling in Europe, where they collected many elements of their personal dream house. They also purchased distinctive items to market among the usual at J. H. Rehder and Company, a general store on North Fourth Street that engaged much of John’s time when in Wilmington. As a merchant, Rehder was said to be full of “pluck and energy.”
As the favorite nephew of his Uncle William Hartmann, a wealthy and generous bachelor who lived in England, John Rehder enjoyed gifts that gave him decades of relative privilege. Sadly, much of his fortune dissipated in the Great Depression, but until the 1930s, John and Elise lived a rich life.
For their own home at 801 Market Street, the Rehders chose Murano glass in Europe, a pink and green glass chandelier in Venice – and dining room and bedroom furniture in Paris. Jovial hosts, the Rehders entertained frequently. Guests at their annual New Year’s Eve party could dance to the music of an orchestra in the third floor ballroom, descend to the second floor to play billiards in the handsome game room that was fitted with bleachers, or just relax in the Rehder’s baronial parlor surrounded by Mr. their medieval armor collection.
Handsome grounds and a first-floor greenhouse seemed natural, considering that Mr. Rehder ‘s mother founded the long-lived business, Will Rehder Florist. The culture of flowers embroidered their lives of John and Elise. Horticultural exhibits around the world drew them, and their list of close friends included noted garden experts in England and the United States. They also stayed close to the family of George Peacock Lamb, an earlier Wilmington florist and landscape architect.
Wilmington writer Barbara Marcroft, who spent much time in the Rehder home, remembered the elegance and convenience. “The front door was beautiful and very heavy. There was silk paper on the walls, and Venetian glass everywhere. On the landing, halfway up the staircase, there was a lighted wrought iron statue.
(See: http://susantaylorblock.com/2013/04/05/interior-decorating-c-1910/ for an interior shot.)
“The Rehders had an intercom system. They also had a button on the dining room wall that swung the wall around to reveal a full liquor cabinet. Additionally, there was a button beside their bed that unlocked their back door. They could let the help in without getting out of bed.”
Mrs. Marcroft also took note of Mrs. Rehder’s stories. “When President Taft came to town, John and Elise Rehder were official hosts to his male secretary. John Rehder took the male secretary down to Airlie to see his close friend Pembroke Jones. When they got there, Mr. Jones greeted them.
Noting that no one else was home, Mr. Rehder asked, ‘Where is everybody?’
“ ‘Ah, hell, they’ve all gone downtown to see President Taft,’ Pembroke Jones answered, inviting them into the dining room for champagne. The bottle exploded as he opened it, covering a red velvet tablecloth with bubbles and glass. Jones grabbed the whole thing and threw it in the fireplace.”
(Taft Day: http://susantaylorblock.com/2010/07/03/taft-day/ )
In the early 1920s, the Rehders returned from one of their big trips, they invited niece Jessie and nephew Henry over to pick a present out from a large pile of gifts. They were just children, but Jessie, a future novelist, English professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, and a dramatic character herself, chose a sword. Henry, who would amass one of Wilmington’s finest local art collections, chose a painting.
Mrs. Marcroft also remembered sounds wafting from the Sadgwar House at 15 North Eighth Street. On warm nights when the windows were open, she and Mrs. Rehder listened to the Sadgwar sisters, Felice and Mabel, play the piano. “It was beautiful,” she said.
John and Elise Rehder had a summer home, too. Buena Vista on Middle Sound Road was their scenic retreat, and, like Pembroke Jones’s hunting lodge, was used as a location for the movie, “The Grouch.” Today, Buena Vista is the home of Jan and Tom Broadfoot.
Copyright 1999, Susan Taylor Block. (Additional photos added to this online version.) All proceeds from this book go to Cape Fear Museum. Cape Fear Lost is available at area bookstores and at http://www.arcadiapublishing.com/