Hill and swale: How green can this valley stay?

ADDRESS: 6311 Blackwell's Hollow Road
1548 fin. sq. ft.
Brown's Cove
5 out of a possible 10
Tim McKeon of Real Estate III-West 979-0174

White Hall's sleepy little country aura draws many admirers. A little further on, the sexily named Sugar Hollow also beckons with promises of sweet seclusion. Houses rise with numbing regularity, but as yet no developer has managed to get a foothold in the wide and hilly expanses.

Driving along Route 810 past all this drops one immediately into a landscape of breathtaking beauty. The few houses that can be seen are not the $10 million whims of a couple deciding after only a few years that they don't like Charlottesville, but modest, manageable homes. The Doyle's River meanders alongside the ever-narrowing and wavy road. A few cars whiz past, causing another kind of breath-taking that would probably become second nature if you lived here.

Six miles through hill and dale end at the four-wheel drive access to this house. The ride was short and sweet, a good thing since it was as bouncy as an inflatable kiddy moon bounces.

Built into a hill, the house/barn/stable has been sitting empty for a while, and it shows. But the bones are unusual. The "front" looks like a barn, with three large stalls at ground level. All three have concrete floors; in the middle one, wall-to-wall shelving and some other mystery containers give evidence that this room was used as a pantry and cold storage. A ladder and what looks like a fireman's pole provide access to a trap-door in the floor in the living quarters above.

Around back, paradoxically at the entrance (on the second level), the house has seen much better days. A barely screened-in porch must be navigated to get to the door. But the deterioration is the result of disuse, not abuse. The interior layout is just that, all laid out with no walls. Not one squeak or dip in the handiwork mars the solid pine floors and staircase. Fully functional casement windows add a modern touch. Upstairs, two spaces sectioned off only by the stairs render privacy an impossibility.

The kitchen, actually just a bar in the middle of the downstairs room, has no appeal except that behind it, double barn doors could swing open onto the aforementioned screened porch to enable alfresco dining like that pictured in upscale shelter magazines. (Of course, this takes a bit of imagination considering the current general dilapidation of the place.)

The two full bathrooms, with everything necessary except space, will need a little elbow grease to become useable by folks with modern sanitary standards.

The real value of this property is the land. An official land survey has never been done, so the acreage could vary from 45 to the 63 acres being claimed by the sellers. In the old days, boundaries were described by metes and bounds such as, "Beginning at the mouth of a branch at an ash stump thence up the creek south 20 poles to a small walnut in Arnett's line, thence north 50 east 80 poles to a linn hickory dogwood in said line."

Wise potential purchasers will buy a survey to find out exactly what they're getting. Since the advertised 10 division rights are undoubtedly part of the justification for the asking price, professionals need to be consulted. As we trekked along fire roads and makeshift fences, the land stretched on into unspoiled wilderness, making it even more sensible to find out exactly what's what out here.

An array of animal hutches and outbuildings dots the hillsides, providing a clue to the preoccupations of the original owners. Homesteading and homegrown food (including rabbits) may have been what they were after.

Unfortunately, almost all that's left is now run-down and neglected. At this point in our tour, a rather large and ornery burro appeared over one ridge, his loud brays resembling something between a foghorn and an oncoming train. Fortunately, the neighbors have been feeding and, one assumes, caring for– it.

When the property sells, the jackass conveys.