Kenya

House that 'moved' from Chiromo to Karen

House that 'moved' from Chiromo to Karen
  • In 2007, John Lee, founder of Lee Funeral Home and an art enthusiast and builder got to know of the auction of Grogan’s hunting lodge and informed Dunbar of the same.

  • Dunbar then bought the lodge with an intention of preserving the historic building. She had the building disassembled without destroying its bricks.

  • She commissioned Lee to rebuild the lodge at Karen Blixen’s Coffee Garden brick by brick just as it was originally. The building took three months and was opened the same year.

Grogan/McMillan Manor House at Karen Blixen Coffee Garden is a building like no other in the country. Apart from its linkage to colonial settlers who left an indelible mark in the country, the house is one of a few buildings in the country that was translocated and still retains its original form.

WROUGHT HELL

In 1905, Ewart Scott Grogan commissioned the building of his palace, Chiromo House, together with a small hunting lodge at the present day’s University of Nairobi’s Chiromo Campus.

To the benefit of Kenya, Grogan is remembered for having established the country’s first timber industry, building the country’s first deep water port in Mombasa, the first and largest paediatric hospital, Gertrude’s, and stocking Kenya’s Rivers with 40,000 imported trout.

However, that is not only what the locals knew him for. On March 15, 1907, Grogan wrought hell on the locals.

Grogan’s sister, Mrs Hunter, together with her friend, Ms McDowell, were riding a rickshaw pulled by three Kikuyu men heading to Nairobi Club.

Due to a language barrier that resulted to ineffective communication, the three men ended up giving the two women a bumpy ride.

Unimpressed, Mrs Hunter reported the men to Grogan. The next day, Grogan had the three tied up and marched down Government Road, now Moi Avenue, to the courthouses of the Protectorate, which were located where Imenti House stands.

After making a short speech, Grogan descended on one of the men and flogged him delivering a total of 25 lashes.

Two of his friends then took the lash and mercilessly flogged the other two men. One of them was badly injured and died. Grogan earned the moniker Bwana Chui (Mr Leopard) and was feared by the locals. Grogan Road, now Kirinyaga Road in Nairobi, was named after him.

BRICK BY BRICK

In 1910, Grogan sold Chiromo House and the lodge to Lord William McMillan who started Kabete Training School and in whose honour McMillan Memorial Library was built.

After McMillan’s death, the house was left to his wife Lucie McMillan, who later bequeathed it to Louis Dekker, an African American, who was both her maid and friend. Dekker later donated the house to East African Women’s League.

Critical to the history of the hunting lodge, Dr Bonnie Dunbar, a former professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at Baylor College of Medicine, is the person responsible for keeping it in its original state.

Dunbar first came to Kenya in 1986 as a representative of the US aid agency (USaid).

Now a permanent resident of Kenya, Dunbar bought Swedo House in 1999 and restored the 1908 building originally built by Swedo-African Coffee Company.

In 2007, John Lee, founder of Lee Funeral Home and an art enthusiast and builder got to know of the auction of Grogan’s hunting lodge and informed Dunbar of the same.

Dunbar then bought the lodge with an intention of preserving the historic building. She had the building disassembled without destroying its bricks.

She commissioned Lee to rebuild the lodge at Karen Blixen’s Coffee Garden brick by brick just as it was originally. The building took three months and was opened the same year.

The building named after its owners Grogan and McMillan hosts meetings, lunches and dinners.