New frontier: Buckingham slated to shine

ADDRESS: 2.0 acres at 715 Bersch Drive

ASKING: $180,000

HOUSE: 2447 fin. sq. ft., 600 unfin.

LOT: 2.0 acres



CURB APPEAL: 6 of 10

LISTED BY: Virginia deHart, A. Scott Ward Realty Inc., 581-3073

Imagine a community where every house has not only a slate roof, but a solid stacked slate foundation. We're talking Glenmore or Farmington, right?

Nope. We're talking the tiny town of Arvonia in Buckingham County, and the slate is ubiquitous on (and under) houses there because Arvonia is home to the Buckingham Slate Company, formerly Williams Slate, founded by two brothers who emigrated from Wales and bought the company in the 19th century.

In fact– according to the agent marketing this house, herself a descendent of the founders– the name Arvonia is a derivative of Carnarvon, John and Evan Williams' Welsh hometown.

This farmhouse was not built in 1912 for a slate-quarry family, but for a schoolteacher who used it as a summer retreat after her arduous year in the classroom. Its summertime-getaway beginnings are apparent in a couple of unusual elements.

First is two huge windows in one of the four upstairs bedrooms– directly across the landing and hall from a front bedroom– which seem at first glance to be casements, but which open like bi-fold doors so that they press flat against the wall, enabling maximum breeze-through. Their screens swing up from hinges at the top, creating an opening big enough to walk through to the wide sleeping porch across the entire back of the house.

Another clue to the summerhouse history is the fact that there is no central heat. Fireplaces in several rooms and a large woodstove in the living room together with a free-standing gas unit in a bedroom are there to keep the winter blasts at bay. (There's a place for a furnace and its requisite ductwork in the basement for new owners who might want to join the 21st century.)

Another unusual element of the house is the elaborate woodwork, dark with age but miraculously unpainted all this time. In addition to framing every door and window (and used for pocket doors between the living and dining rooms), oak was also employed in a fancy arch between the upstairs landing and the back hall connecting the bedrooms. The bottom two or three steps of the wide oak staircase flare into an incongruous, almost ballroom-like, swirl.

The kitchen sports built-into-the-wall cupboards fronted with wainscoting (which is also prevalent on many walls), and in the adjoining pantry there's a built-in Hoosier cabinet complete with flour-sifter. Maybe there are still some houses around Charlottesville with as many relics of days gone by, but if so, they're few and far between.

For five bedrooms (one on the first floor in addition to the living room, dining room, and library), there's only one bath, and a rudimentary one at that, with claw-foot tub. Utilitarian is the word for this old house, but it's utilitarian with potential. There's a huge (unfloored) attic and three-room "basement"– really a root cellar and the concrete slab for the new furnace.

Outside are two sheds, both with slate roofs, of course. On the two acres there's no landscaping to distract from huge oaks– or to be maintained. A weird water-collecting gizmo (probably an old water heater) is attached to a downspout, but its use is unclear.

What is clear, however, is the privacy of the dead-end lane, the beauty of the surrounding area with its many historic (slate-roofed) houses, and the property's affordability. The owner is willing to finance the sale, and Buckingham County taxes are undoubtedly the lowest of the manageable-commute areas around.

It used to be you could get a nice house on the cheap in Belmont. No more. Okay, so there was always Nelson County. But Wintergreen and easy access have made that option a fond memory. Lake Monticello has provided taxes that allow Fluvanna to offer lots of amenities, but bargain houses are not one of them.

It may be that now we have to look to Buckingham as the next new frontier– big house, low price, country charm.

The only real drawback is the commute, about 45 minutes to Charlottesville, 90 to Richmond. But for a person working in Farmville or Fork Union both easy destinations– or at the Central Virginia Community Health Center right in Arvonia, the place could be a dream come true.