Rio relic: Lochlyn emblematic of times gone by

Address: 480 East Rio Road
Year Built:
 3,324 fin. sq. ft. / 288 unfin.
6.5 acres
Curb Appeal:
7 out of 10
Listing Agents:
David Sloan and Aaron Manis, Sloan Milby, 434-220-5656

Who among us doesn’t realize that the area we live in is steeped in history? There are pieces of the past strewn from Orange to Albemarle. Some, like Montpelier, the Rotunda and Monticello, are well-known. Others, like 480 East Rio Road– otherwise known as Lochlyn– are less so.

Lochlyn was built circa 1870; its first historical role was as the manor house on land owned by the American Ginseng Corporation. At the time, the property occupied a much larger tract than its current six and a half acres, and it overlooked a lake, or loch, where Cochran’s Mill (another historic house on Rio) now stands. One boundary traces the trail that was the original Rio Road back in the days when conveyances didn’t have their horses under the hood.

Lochlyn’s second brush with history came about more recently when Thomas Jefferson’s great-great-great granddaughters, Olivia and Margaret Taylor, moved in. So proud were these ladies of their family heritage that they reoriented the front entrance so that the house faces Monticello. They also enclosed an upstairs sleeping porch to give them better views of their famed relative’s home, added a guest cottage, and introduced plantings from Monticello.

Today, a small columned porch leads to the front entry, which features a double set of glass doors that allow plenty of natural light. Immediately to the right of the vestibule is one of the most delightful spaces in the whole house– a snug little room created by the conversion of a sun porch. Windows line the walls, and a set of French doors leads into the functional galley-style kitchen.

The living room on the opposite side of the entry is open and airy. Crown molding, a cased opening with pocket doors, and a lovely hanging staircase lend character from an earlier time and serve as reminders of the home’s history. A large dining room and a comfortable family room with built-in bookshelves, both with working fireplaces, finish out the main floor.

The most striking room on the upper level is the Taylor sisters' sleeping porch. With two walls of windows, this room is flooded by sunlight, and it’s easy to imagine that the mountain views must have been stunning when the trees weren’t quite so tall and full. Behind the porch, the master suite has a dressing area, full bath, and walk-in closet. Two additional bedrooms on the upper level share a bathroom. (The finished basement area includes a fourth bedroom, a small den, and two more full baths.) Considering the age of the house, closet space throughout is surprisingly generous.

Development has slowly consumed the land that once surrounded the house, and even the woods and a privacy fence can’t insulate Lochlyn from the noise of Rio Road. The opening of the Meadowcreek Parkway may reduce the number of vehicles, but the din of passing cars will continue to be a factor.

According to Albemarle County, which assigns a value of just $11,000 to the house and other "improvements," the highest and best use for this property is development. If the neighboring subdivisions are any indication, a savvy developer could potentially profit by taking advantage of the R-4 zoning, which allows such things as townhouses, tourist lodgings, and– with a special use permit– schools, hospitals, and health clubs. As with the Eugene Bradbury-designed building reviewed in last week’s column (“Chi Psi sigh”), the question of whether Lochlyn should be razed or renovated hangs heavy.

In many ways, Lochlyn is emblematic of the ladies who once called it home. Just as the Taylor sisters did in their later years (and, indeed, as we all will over time), the house has begun to show its age. The soft pine floors need attention, as do both the siding and many of the windows. The grounds have suffered from the ravages of age and storm damage– although the owners have cleaned up and extended the yard, exposing a previously hidden stone retaining wall in the process.

Caring for an old property, like caring for an old relative, requires special handling and more than a little patience. Some folks find such stewardship eminently fulfilling while others prefer not to be bothered. Either position presents its own set of challenges and will determine how the next chapter in Lochlyn’s history unfolds.

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