Society

The 100-year-old house in Nanyuki

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The 100-year-old house in Nanyuki. PHOTO |POOL

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Summary

  • The history of the house goes back to 1912 (108 years ago) when the house was built by colonial missionaries at the corner of what is now Argwings Kodhek Road and Elgeyo Marakwet Road, opposite the original Cavina School in Nairobi.

Last weekend my two childhood friends and I went on a “boys only” trip around the Mt Kenya region. This is a trip we had promised ourselves last year but, Covid-19 got in the way. As we were going sightseeing, it was unanimously agreed that Speedy Gonzalez (yours truly) would not drive, and that task was placed on the shoulders of the slowest driver in the group.

Leaving Nairobi at 7am on Friday, we proceeded to Gatundu where we picked up the third member of the group. By coincidence we realised that all of us were born in Embu due to our parents working and living there during the colonial era. I was the first to see my place of birth at Mwea, a small government dispensary which was serving the Mwea detentions camps during the Emergency. My father was working specifically at the Thiba Detention Camp as a community development assistant.

Next up was Embu town where my two friends were born a few years earlier than me at Embu District Hospital. The father of one of my friends was working as a district assistant in the colonial government while the other was working as a teacher at Kigari Teachers College. We stopped for refreshments at the old Isaac Walton Inn.

We then proceeded to Chogoria where we had been invited for lunch by a schoolmate at Nairobi School in the 1960s. We had a wonderful time reminiscing about old times, as my two friends last met our host exactly 50 years ago!

From Chogoria, we took the new road to Meru town through the forest. Our underpowered, naturally aspirated Subaru Forester was panting for breath through the steep hills and thin air, but the scenery was breathtaking. We came across a section where the road had been washed away but fortunately, the water was shallow enough for our car to cross over.

Arriving in Meru towards six o’clock, we booked in at the Alba Hotel, a truly five-star establishment. The bellboy, complete with uniform and period trolley, the jazz music and general décor reminded one of a luxury hotel in New Orleans in the 1940s.

As fate would have it, I discovered yet another jewel. Right next to the hotel was the old District Commissioner’s residence where we used to live between 1959 and 1960 when my father was district assistant. Some 100 metres to the west of the hotel lies my son-in-law’s family residence but my friend cautioned me not to visit as I might be misconstrued to be fetching dowry payment!

The following day we proceeded to Isiolo, enjoying the wide-open spaces which quietly remind you how insignificant we are. Driving towards Nanyuki, we passed by the beautiful rolling green hills of Kisima and Timau. We had lunch at the Le Rustique Restaurant in Nanyuki, al fresco.

The real jewel in the crown of our tour was the stay in the 100-year-old house where we spent Saturday night. Situated about 10 kilometres from Nanyuki town, the facility is directly opposite the airstrip at One Stop.

Accommodation comprises three bedrooms with master ensuite, sitting room with fireplace, kitchen and separate bathroom/toilet with traditional iron tub and shower. There is a generous picket-fenced, covered verandah from where you have an awesome view of Mt Kenya.

The building is constructed in timber weather boarded walls under a heavy gauge corrugated iron sheets roof while the raised floor is made of timber boards supported on concrete pillars. Internal walls are clad in tongued and grooved timber boards while the ceiling is made of softboard. Doors are made of timber match boarding with traditional ironmongery while windows are glazed in wooden casements. The décor has been reproduced to reflect the period when the house was built, and the patina has been retained.

The history of the house goes back to 1912 (108 years ago) when the house was built by colonial missionaries at the corner of what is now Argwings Kodhek Road and Elgeyo Marakwet Road, opposite the original Cavina School.

In 1959, Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) bought the property for use as their head office. Needing the money to house an increased number of pilots, MAF sold the property in 2017 to Cytonn Real Estate who proposed to develop a Sh20 billion Cytonn Towers, a multi-use skyscraper on the property. Although the Nairobi County government had initially approved the proposed development in 2017, on 30 April 2018, the authority resolved to cancel the approval on the grounds that Cytonn had failed to show how a predictable increase in traffic triggered by the project would be handled. In addition, Kilimani residents had also protested that the project would disturb their lives and businesses. An appeal by Cytonn was rejected by the High Court in February this year.

When nature lovers Carol and Ross Withey heard, through a friend, that the house in Kilimani was due to be demolished to pave the way for the proposed skyscraper, they bought the house in 2018 and moved it piece by piece to their site in Nanyuki. They had two weeks to bring the house down and pack it, ready for transportation. It took six months to reassemble the building and complete the period finishings. Bookings for this house, which can sleep up to six, are in high demand at Sh 20,000 per night.

While I have nothing against redevelopment to maximise on use of land, it should be done in a structured manner, taking into account other existing land uses and users, provision of the necessary infrastructure to support increased demand and the environmental impact.

This also a good example of how history can be preserved by relocating and reassembly of structures in a different site where, as has been demonstrated here, value and an income stream can be realised.