On the rock: Mill house built to last

ADDRESS: 1915 E. Market St.

ASKING: $342,500

SIZE: 2142 fin. sq. ft.

YEAR BUILT: 1835, 1850

NEIGHBORHOOD: Woolen Mills

CURB APPEAL: 7 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Roger Voisinet Re/Max Realty Specialists, 974-1500

Back in 1835 or so, laborers working on the Woolen Mill took literally the biblical admonition to "build a house upon solid rock." They positioned their office/store in front of a gigantic stone outcropping below the railroad tracks. Some years later, an enterprising builder, no doubt constrained by the fact that the two-story building was smack on the road and had nowhere else to go, bumped his addition up against the hill and incorporated the big stone mass into the new wing.

According to the agent, unenlightened residents at first hid the rock behind a wall. But when a creative developer/renovator took possession in 1986, he wisely decided to demolish the wall and incorporate into his condominiums one of the most striking architectural elements in any house in town. (In fact, although it's right down there in the Woolen Mills neighborhood in front of the dam, the place is actually in Albemarle county.)

The building originally housed mill offices and a store. The mill used the Rivanna to create power to run the machines that made, among other commodities, wool used in Confederate soldiers' uniforms.

But today's buyers want modernity with their antiquity, and they can find that here to a point. It seems that everywhere possible the original brick has been exposed and repointed to provide an interesting textural adjunct to the wide pine floors on the first level (oak is upstairs).

Only the small kitchen and two full baths have tile floors instead of wood. Deep pine windowsills reflect brick walls of a thickness unimaginable in construction today.

Kitchen counters are tile, and across a narrow hall, large cabinets/storage shelves sport copper doors which look pretty (but rattle annoyingly when opened and closed).

Modern updates include a skylight/cupola. This lights up the second level's "music room" and the sunniest spot in an apartment with its northeast exposure. Situated at the top of the stairs, with French doors leading to a bedroom and another door opening to the private patio out back (just beneath the RR tracks), the music room is undoubtedly the place if you don't have a baby grand or a cello to saw away on to locate an office or den.

The master suite on the top floor is also unusual, containing not only a bedroom and full bath, but also a private second living room or sitting area with fireplace.

None of these elements can compete, however, with the rock out in the atrium. Undoubtedly there are other places in the area with beautiful floors, exposed brick walls, and deep windows maybe even with a river view. But it seems safe to say that no other residence offers the uniqueness of this condominium's common area.

Even though the unit itself is situated on the second and third levels, the front door is on ground level and leads right to the rock. Two large balconies– one with commodious bookshelves, the other an extension of the music room– loom over the entrance area and suggest all sorts of creative decorating possibilities. Strobe lights, exotic plants, an aquarium or two this is the place where an imaginative decorator can go wild.

Basic necessities include a metal roof, ample parking, access to a little garden spot on the river, nice neighbors, proximity to town and, of course, the river itself, which is, after all, the reason the house exists.

That and the many other unusual and appealing things about the Mill House make it easy to second the words of Matthew 7:24: "The smart person built a house upon a solid rock. And the rain came down and the rivers flood and the winds blew and it did not fall."

The Lord's been right about the Mill House for almost 170 years.

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