Quite quaint: Charm makes up for distance

ADDRESS: 10894 Howardsville Lane

ASKING: $199,900

SIZE: 1,886 fin. sq. ft.


NEIGHBORHOOD: Howardsville

CURB APPEAL: 7 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Gail Mustoe of Real Estate III West 979-0174

Shakespeare said "Vanity, thy name is woman." If he'd ever made it to central Virginia, he might have said, "Quaint, thy name is Howardsville."

The little town– about as far south as you can go and still be in Albemarle County– seems to have been frozen in amber somewhere around the turn of the century.

A post office, an all-purpose store, and a few houses make up the "town," while from the porch of this house you can see a large (abandoned) Methodist church, a Masonic hall– reported to be the oldest continuing Masonic meeting place in Virginia– and the roofs of two other houses. Everywhere else is greenery, rocky outcroppings, and burbling streams leading to the Rockfish and James Rivers. In short, it's Waltons country writ large.

This house, built somewhere around 1840, was, the owner says, originally an inn or tavern. The layout supports the theory: There's a large kitchen with its own entry door on the first level and a large living room to the right, with its own door from the front porch. The house is built against a hill, so these rooms have windows only on three sides.

Something that sets this house apart from others we've seen of the same style is an addition built into the hill behind the house– creating a cinder-block utility room. The deep stone/plaster walls of the original house are clearly visible in this room, but why or how previous owners decided to expand into the hillside is a mystery. In any event, it adds a little space to this first level, which also contains a half bath under the stairs. The addition above houses a laundry room and opens to the "backyard" with a convenient old-fashioned clothes line, more nostalgia.

The second and third stories would have been the lodging rooms of the inn– two large bedrooms on the second level share the one full bath. (In the old days, an outhouse filled that need, and it's still there.) Two smaller rooms in the attic, the owner theorizes, were probably cheap digs where weary but impecunious wayfarers would have bedded down on straw strewn on the floor.

Every room has a fireplace, and two woodstoves– one a pellet stove in the living room, the other a "parlor" stove in the master bedroom– convey. That's good news because the only heat in the house is electric baseboard, which can be pricey. There's no central air, probably not an issue anywhere except in the attic, given the ample shade. Upper and lower porches provide a spot to feel the breeze and watch the river slide by.

So what's here to entice a buyer? Well, everything's a trade off. Yes, it's a long way south (35-45 minutes to town, depending on traffic and weather), not an insignificant consideration in times of $2/gallon gas. Yes, notwithstanding the little store around the corner, you have to plan ahead for necessities, because the nearest "real" store is 30 minutes away in Scottsville.

But where for $199,900 are you going to find so much tranquility, privacy, and history in such appealing surroundings? (The current owner has landscaped with perennials and fruit trees which she swears are not marauded by deer.) Where are you going to find a house with a fireplace in every room, with two-foot-thick windowsills, and with double front porches overlooking a river? Where else can you have your canoe or tube in the James within three minutes?

The place is probably not ideal for a family with young children, because of the dearth of playmates and distance from the whole soccer-mania apparatus that rules hereabouts. It's probably not too great for oldsters because of the climb up pretty steep stairs and the isolation.

But for a young couple or single artistic sort, the gorgeous woodwork in the house (including original wide pine floors and recent stair railings made from trees from the property), the fenced organic garden spot, the comfort of knowing all systems have been upgraded recently– and not least, that very appealing under-$200,000 price tag– make the prospect of living in an old tavern quite the "inn" thing.