REAL ESTATE- On the Block- Living history: Can antiquity trump avarice?

ADDRESS: 5585 Stony Point Road



ASKING: $439,900



SIZE: 1,536 fin. sq. ft., 784 unfin.

LAND: 9.269 acres

CURB APPEAL: 7 out of 10

LISTED BY: Matthew Woodson Century 21 960-5187

Here at On the Block we've never been interested in starting from scratch– finding a nice lot, engaging an architect, hiring a builder, visiting paint, furniture, and appliance stores, and moving into a brand-spanking-new dream house where no one else has ever sat in the tub or baked anything in the oven. But it's clear from the proliferation of new subdivisions locally that this prospect appeals to lots of people.

Folks who want to do that might consider this parcel. Three by-right building lots on six acres behind the house are available for sale for $299,000, and the owner is happy to deed a right-of-way to them and keep the big house in front on four acres for herself.

The appeal of those lots (which might offset the 26-mile round-trip commute to Charlottesville) is the views: breathtaking vistas of purple mountains north and south. (A buyer, of course, wouldn't have to build three houses. Perhaps one house on the up-sloping six acres would be better.)

Then there are people who don't mind washing dishes in a sink used by someone else, don't care if generations of other feet have trod the stairs, and in fact are warmed by the thought that they're part of a continuum, living in a place where many family histories have played out. Those people will find a lot to cherish in this house (and they have to buy the entire 10 acres with it; the house-and-four-acres-option is not available).

But they'll have to do some work. In fact, that sappy romantic scenario may even be a bit of a fantasy, since to actually enjoy carefree life here, a near-total renovation will be required, and it will probably eradicate any lingering trace of former residents.

The owner says the house was built in 1742. How's that for reason enough to give it a look? If that date is correct, folks had been living here for 30 years before Jefferson even began clearing his "little mountain." The owner says that over the centuries the place has served– among many incarnations– as the "Woods Hole post office," a doctor's office, and a furrier's shop.

A beautiful stone foundation– testimony to the antiquity– surrounds a dirt-floor basement with a fireplace at each end. Upstairs, heart-pine floors (whether original is unknown) in every room are covered with carpet or vinyl, and we'll have to take the owner's word that their condition varies since we couldn't look at any of them.

The front door off a large double porch leads to an entrance hall with living room to the right. Obviously some chopping and realigning has occurred: a wall blocks the kitchen to the left, and a partition on the right has been cut away at the top to open up the living room. Access to the kitchen is through a tiny hall behind the stairs, where the washer is also secreted.

A four-foot-wide stairway– startlingly graceful in the otherwise commonplace space– leads to a two-level landing with full bath and two large bedrooms with higher ceilings than we expected. The only other house we've visited that had the same feeling of "real life" (as opposed to Presidential life) in the 18th century is Cochran's Mill on Rio Road, and there the ceilings are low and the windows tiny.

The windows in these bedrooms, facing each other from opposite walls, reach from floor to ceiling, making the rooms airy and expansive. It must be glorious to sleep there in the summer with the windows flung open to the cross breeze.

That's the original two-over-two structure.

On the back is an addition the owner describes as an old schoolhouse that was "rolled" to the lot on logs sometime in the late 1800s and attached to the house.

It's a great story if it's true, but the "schoolhouse" creates some problems. For one thing, the first level is just one big room– cavernous, in fact– with exposed framing and open beams (and plumbing and electric) in the ceiling. A flight of rudimentary stairs leads to a bedroom and bath so ramshackle and creepy that the space can be described only as Bates Motel.

It might be possible to live in the original house and forget this grim attachment altogether, but obviously a new owner will have to grapple with it somehow– whether to figure out how to incorporate it into a new design or just demolish it.

The house has so much potential: the big double front porches, the red tin roof, the stone foundation, a funky little fishpond amid some swanky landscaping– and, of course, the history. But we're realists. We know that the prospect of four building lots with these extraordinary views is a powerful lure for the I'm-the-first-and-only-one-to-bathe-in-this-shower crowd (and builders who cater to them).

But we never tire of making a case for moderation– in this case, suggesting that a new buyer work creatively to make something usable by today's standards out of something that has endured for hundreds of years.

"Value of property is in land," realtor's brochure reads. We humbly beg to disagree.