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Grogan's house that 'moved' from Riverside to Karen

By | September 1st 2011


It is a lavish home constructed over 100 years ago, demolished, translocated and re-built, brick by brick, exactly like it originally was.

Ewart Scott Grogan constructed the famous house along Riverside, Nairobi in 1905 and Sir Northrup McMillan bought it in 1910. Since then, Grogan House has changed ownership among the wealthy and is currently owned by Dr Bonnie Dunbar.

The old Grogan House that was in Riverside.

Dunbar bought the Grogan/McMillan house five years ago to save it from demolition and reconstructed it in Karen.

We set off on a Friday morning to see the historic house that today sits on the manicured lawns of the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden & Cottages.

A walk inside the house does not reveal any upgrading, as archaic bathtubs, fireplaces, round sinks and water closets are still intact. On the wall are old pictures of Grogan together with Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta and cabinet minister Tom Mboya chatting on the night Kenya gained independence in 1963.

The new owner, who uses it to host conferences, dinners and lunches, says her intention was to preserve the rich history of the lodge.

"I bought the lodge in 2007 with the intention to translocate it to my property in Karen and preserve it," says Dunbar.

Hunting lodge

Dunbar says it took her three months to demolish the house at Riverside and have it rebuilt, brick by brick, using the same original Nairobi blue stone on a different location.

"The lodge is so rich in history that I decided to preserve it for future generations," says Dunbar.

After purchasing the plot from a Bennet, Grogan hired the services of renowned London architect H O Cresswell and a firm of local Indian contractors to build the house in 1904. In addition to the palace, a small hunting lodge was also built as well as a guest house, which Commissioner Sir James Hayes Sadler used to entertain guests.

Grogan House translocated to Karen and rebuilt to look exactly like the old house.

The whole complex was commonly referred to as Shamba ya Bwana Simba (the Lion’s Den), according to excerpts from Lost Lion of Empire, E Paice.

"Historians are fascinated by the lodge’s rich history and the life of Grogan who left a mark in Kenya," says Dunbar.

Grogan was nicknamed ‘Kenya’s Churchill’ while the Kikuyu referred to him as Bwana Chui (Mr Leopard) because of his accomplishments. He distinguished himself in both World Wars, fighting behind enemy lines in German East Africa.

Gertrude’s Children Hospital

Grogan established the first timber industry in the country and a deep-water port in Mombasa in 1925. He also built the leading hotel in East Africa — Torr’s, ‘The Carlton of East Africa’ — and the first children’s hospital (Gertrude’s Children Hospital) named after his wife. How Grogan and Gertrude married is another interesting story. It is said he married her after impressing his father-in-law with his famous Cape Town to Cairo trek.

Back to the Grogan Lodge, It was sold to Sir Northrup McMillan in 1910, the same settler who founded the coffee plantation.

"Northrup was an American (Canadian parents) married to an American Bostonian, Lady McMillan who founded the first national library in Nairobi," says Dunbar.

When Sir Northrup McMillan died, he was buried on the slopes of Oldonya Sabuk and his wife Lady McMillan inherited the McMillan House.

The Grogan House, on the other hand, was inherited by Lady McMillan’s lady servant and companion of many years whom she had brought with her from Boston.



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