Columbia gem: Far enough above the James

ASKING: $149,900

YEAR BUILT: 1941

SIZE: 1,915 fin. sq. ft., 299 unfin.

ADDRESS: Ross Street

NEIGHBORHOOD: Columbia

CURB APPEAL: 7 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Deborah Murdock of McLean Faulconer Inc. * 964-0406 589-3083

This house is listed in the Daily Progress' classified ads as "Mrs. Mosby's House," so we almost had to go see it, if for no other reason than to find out who the heck Mrs. Mosby was.

Turns out she may have been some relation to the famous Civil War Gray Ghost, or she may not. In the end, it doesn't really matter, because the house has enough to offer in its own right to justify our drive to Columbia, the only town in Fluvanna County.

Because of Columbia's tiny size and interesting situation smack on the banks of the Mighty James, knowing something about the town will add to the pleasure of anyone buying this house. First of all, the town might rightly be called Flood Plain Central. Downtown houses and shops along Route 6 are under water every time the river jumps its banks. For that reason, most of them sit empty and decaying, giving the main street a desolate air.

However, up on the hill behind the town, where Mrs. Mosby put her cottage, it's safe and dry with views of the river and the distant horizon. The current owners of the house are quick to point out that a recent $710,000 grant from HUD is redoing the town's water supply, and that other HUD-inspired improvements are on the way. The little town and surrounding environs are filling up with modern-day homesteaders who are changing the face of Columbia.

As for the house itself, it's a charming Cape Cod, built in 1941 with all of that era's construction strengths: solid oak hardwood floors, plaster walls, ceramic tile bathrooms with real, not plastic, tubs, and lots of closets and storage space. There's an outside storage space, which used to be the place that kept logs dry as they waited to be passed directly into the living room for the fireplace.

There's a light-filled dining room with built-in china closets and French doors to a back porch this is where the views are, and it's easy to imagine Mrs. Mosby rocking and knitting here, watching the sun go down over the river. The living room is large, 25' x 14', with a built-in bookcase beside the fireplace and large windows on three walls. There's an extra room on the main level, which Mrs. Mosby was able to use as her bedroom because it has a full bath and a deep closet.

Upstairs are three more bedrooms and the second full bath. Two of the bedrooms have deep built-in cedar closets, and there's good storage under the eaves created by the dormers.

Built on the 1.5-acre site of the old Columbia schoolhouse, this is a snug cottage in a quaint little town. Neighbors are close but not too close; churches and the one old-fashioned convenience store are within easy walking distance. There are lots of plantings about boxwoods by the front door, and a huge tree in the front yard, which people have estimated to be about 150 years old.

If you want to travel back in time and don't mind the 40-minute commute, this might be the place for you. There's no extra charge for the spirit of Mrs. Mosby.