No secrets: Store is seen in Heards

ADDRESS: Spring Valley Road, Afton

ASKING: $99,500

SIZE: 2,000 fin. sq. ft.



CURB APPEAL: 2 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Luke Kitelinger of Real Estate III-North


Like the Infiniti car ads of the '90s that featured sweeping vistas of oceans and countryside ad nauseum but no sign of the vehicle, the picture accompanying this house in the Real Estate Weekly merely showed a country lane disappearing into some woods. Driving up to the house, one can see why– the biggest selling point might be the surrounding environs.

For several miles along a state-maintained gravel road in the wilds near Covesville and Hungrytown, the views are delicious. Blue mountains stretch out as far as the eye can see without a power line in sight.

So it is with some alarm that one first spots the tiny hamlet of Heards. Maybe half a dozen quaint cottages lie nestled in a valley (or hollow) equidistant from Nellysford, Afton, and Batesville. And center stage, at the one intersection, sits this tall and rather uninviting house.

Since it was originally designed and used as a general store, the appeal of such a structure would have to be more for its historic value than as a place to live. As you approach from the rear, it's obvious that to own this house, one would either have to have big dreams or no dreams at all.

Privacy is not an issue: Every house in the valley has a bird's eye view of everything going on. The layout resembles most general stores from the beginning of the 20th century, with a huge room in front of several anterooms for various storage and living arrangements in back.

When Heards was all apple orchards and the town depended solely on this industry, it must have been a thriving little hub of Waltons vibes. The current owner, during his nominal excavations and rehab work, has unearthed old bills and receipts, as well as many bottles offering elixirs for the conditions that used to afflict Heards' inhabitants. There's "Westphal, Hair Renewer Aid" and "Renol, a diuretic kidney mixture. Renol tends to promote a normal flow of urine." Such artifacts prompted a flow of conversation that probably had never been heard in Heards.

There's an apartment upstairs probably originally for the managers of the store (the owners lived in a big house down the road) that, despite appearances, is today quite livable. One of the first upgrades was to the gravity water system. Basically that system involves a pipe and a stream, but the current owner got tired of pulling crawfish out of the showerhead.

No state of the art here, but in the last five years a new kitchen, bath, laundry facilities, and central air have been added. Nothing's quite where it's supposed to be, though (the refrigerator has a room all to itself), and, of course, superfluous additions like a dining room would be laughable.

Several small rooms could be configured into whatever may be needed, but now they're just space. Up another flight of stairs is more living area. The main bedroom currently wins the Martha Stewart award, seeing as how it's the only room with fresh paint, a ceiling fan, and art on the wall.

The true bonus of these older buildings is the wood. The original poplar floors remain in excellent condition, and the whole house is constructed of American chestnut. At the beginning of this century, the chestnut, bigger than almost any oak, was a chief component of the eastern forest which spread from Alabama to Maine. In 1906, a bark fungus (much like the elm disease) was accidentally introduced, and by 1940 the chestnut was gone from the list of American forest trees. It was hardy material, though, and probably explains why the building is still standing.

Living here is truly a testament to the benevolence and forbearance of close neighbors. Everyone knows your business. But during rough times like snowstorms, hurricanes, and even divorce, someone is on hand with plow, chainsaw, or a bottle of wine to get you through. Just like the old days.