Time travel: Classic mill and Crafty bungalow

ADDRESS: 3211 and 3197 Lowesville Road

ASKING: $895,000

SIZE: 2,732 fin. sq. ft.



CURB APPEAL: 9 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Carole Saunders, Montague, Miller & Co.


Imagine a Wal-Mart still standing after 200-plus years. Will we look back with nostalgia and sentiment to imagine all sorts of good times happening there? Will shopping carts seem quaint and fetch high prices at antique shops? Who knows?

But driving up to this property raises similar questions. Constructed beside the road and also along a tributary of the Piney River, this monolithic mill circa 1794 sits in all its glory. Fully operational throughout most of its long tenure in fact, until August 2001– it stands as a tribute to a bygone era.

In its long history, having ground out cornmeal, grits, and flour as well as (unpasteurized) cider for the local community, Woodson's Mill may be one of the East Coast's best examples of a 19th century water-powered mill.

Structurally intact and in operational condition, in December 1992, the Mill was entered in the Virginia and National Registers of Historic Places. The vernacular four-story post and beam building easily makes one think of family and community gatherings (more so than Wal-Mart). As an almost-turnkey operation, the mill could be up and running in a matter of weeks.

Behind the mill and up a small hill, the house belonging to this property also brings into sharp focus another era. Built in 1929 by a local craftsman, the house is one of the best examples of an Arts and Crafts home in the area.

Tom Stermitz of the Arts and Crafts Movement Resource Directory writes on line, "When you walk into a Craftsman Bungalow, the sense of space, the openness of the rooms, and the rustic or bold-square style, feel completely different from the Victorian homes still being built in the 1910s."

Inspiration for the Craftsman style came from nature, local materials, and building traditions. A preponderance of woodwork for the floors (maple), staircases (oak), and lintels (walnut) makes the house somewhat dark, but such penumbra is one hallmark of a true Craftsman Bungalow.

The bungalow became the first step in the march toward the modern "ranch" house. The layout emphasizes the horizontal rather than multiple stories, and the prevailing aura was very middle class. The "man of the house" still had the library, but the "woman's workspace" became more functional, and the fireplace or hearth became the family center to a degree that was almost mythical.

Stermitz continues, "Made of rustic river stone, the fireplace was often framed by symmetrical bookshelves to create a cozy inglenook." Stermitz might have been looking at this hearth.

Another Craftsman trademark is a front porch wide enough to be an outdoor room covered by an expansive overhang to create the illusion of the house nestling into the earth. It works. This house beckons like a cozy cave.

Beginning in the 1920s, a tuberculosis epidemic swept the country, giving rise to nationwide health awareness. An offshoot of these concerns was to construct "TB rooms" or sleeping porches that were surrounded on three sides by windows so that fresh "healing" air could circulate. There's a beautiful one here, located at one end of the wide front porch. With access to the front room, it still is a lovely place to sit and take the "breeze."

Everything here epitomizes a Craftsman Bungalow. All the rooms seem larger than normal, uninterrupted as they are by doors or narrow hallways. A front staircase rises to a large landing leading to five bedrooms and one bath. A smaller back staircase leads down to a butler's pantry, full bath, and what one supposes was the library. A kitchen without a lot of fluff rounds out the interior.

Outdoors is countryside. Forty five acres of rolling hills, a rustic barn, a lake with dock, an octagonal deck beneath massive Chinese chestnut trees all add to the impressive history here. Maybe one day in the future as our thoroughly modern world has swung back to a less commercial existence, the Wal-Mart will sit empty, and we will all live in spaces that are in harmony with our surroundings instead of in conflict. Houses such as this remind us that we once lived differently, and possibly better.