REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- All welcome: Worship nature from this house

ADDRESS: 4621 Old Blue Ridge Turnpike


ASKING: $209,000



SIZE: 1,200 fin. sq. ft.

LAND: 0.33 acre

CURB APPEAL: 6 out of 10

LISTED BY: David Thomas of Roy Wheeler Realty Co. 951-5155, 960-8878

If a picture (or in this case a photograph) paints a thousand words, then why can't real estate listings get a little more descriptive? Houses start to look eerily the same as one scrolls through page after page of properties with nothing to distinguish one listing from another. With most of the houses, anyone can imagine the interior layout without even walking inside. Exceptions to the rule do exist, but trying to find one this week drove us further than we normally go, into the wilds of Madison County.

Don't get too excited. The picture of the house shows a simple structure, square, with nothing more than two entrance doors along the front. It was built as a non-denominational house of worship in 1901– the original sign, "Rose River Fellowship, Everyone Welcome"– now hangs inside. The current owner believes that the two front doors were intended to separate the sexes.

But it could not have been much of a separation since they walked into one vast, open room. The original bones of the structure have been left pretty much in tact. The room's walls and ceiling are covered in three-inch beaded pine board, broken only by a chair rail about three feet up. Four large original windows with wavy glass let in plenty of light. But churches are not built for living, and so several adjustments were required to turn the place into a home.

Along one wall, a brand new open kitchen has been installed complete with breakfast bar and Viking range. A small room constructed in one corner hides unsightly power boxes as well as a backup generator which some country (and not-so-country) folk find necessary to protect them from dramatic weather changes.

The usual climatic fluctuations that Virginians experience every year prompted the owner to install an industrial air conditioner with exposed ductwork reminiscent of a college cafeteria. A cold snap demanded the installation of a 65,000-BTU gas-fired furnace. Ceiling fans ensure that the air circulates where it's needed and not around the rafters.

The back half of this large room has had the most work. An open loft reached by an exposed staircase is now just one long space that could easily be turned into two bedrooms. With a pretty low ceiling, though– headroom is only about six feet– one imagines only the vertically challenged or an adolescent would find it livable. Below this, the usual amenities: one modest bedroom (complete with woodstove) and a very standard utility closet with water heater and stackable washer/dryer unit across the hall. Same for the one bathroom: nothing fancy but certainly serviceable.

The hall leads to a spacious and relatively new back deck. A small tributary of the Rose River gurgles past and probably provides many moments of peaceful communion with nature. The real Rose River runs about 50 feet beyond that– trophy fishermen travel many miles to cast for rainbow and brook trout that spawn there. Even on the frigid day of our visit, rubber-clad sportsmen were spotted casting their long lines into the crystal-clear stream. 

The land makes all the difference. The fenced one-third acre around the house is enough to allow for privacy and decent views, but the location of the house means it might be better used as a retreat for intrepid outdoors folks. Besides world-class fishing (Herbert Hoover set up camp near here 75 years ago to avail himself of the waters), there is also the Shenandoah National Park with Old Rag Mountain and White Oak Canyon close by.  All these can be accessed and explored, leaving enough time to gussy up for a homestyle dinner over at Graves Mountain Lodge, all within an hour's drive from Charlottesville.

Since real estate listings are getting more and more homogenous, the opportunity to check out something slightly off the beaten track is always welcome. Combine that with affecting scenery that has people driving hundreds of miles to view, and you have a pretty sweet deal.

Photos courtesy of the agent