Rock house: A river runs through it

ADDRESS: 805 Oak Avenue


NEIGHBORHOOD: Rose Cliff, Waynesboro

ASKING: $475,000

2005 CITY ASSESSMENT: $208,600


SIZE: 2,579 fin. sq. ft., 998 unfin.

LAND: 1.46 acres

CURB APPEAL: 9 out of 10

LISTED BY: Ellen Duerksen, Real Estate III, 800-327-3433

In a recent edition of a local real estate publication, properties are described, not unexpectedly, with glowing terms like "one-of-a-kind home," "downtown and extraordinary," "fantastic views!" "what a find!" and finally, "Why not Waynesboro?"

While only the last one is actually in an ad for this particular house, all of them apply. Known to locals as the oldest residence in Waynesboro, this two-story stone house is a copy-writer's dream. It's hard to think of something a discriminating buyer (as opposed to a subdivision-loving status seeker) would want that this property doesn't provide.

For starters, the setting is unlike any we've seen in our four years writing On the Block. Smack in the heart of the "tree streets" district of Waynesboro– which is to say, downtown– it's situated on the South River– literally. A tall person leaning out of a 1930s addition (once a garage, now a light-filled studio), could very nearly dip his fingers in the river. While the house is accessed via a shared driveway beside a brick manor house looming above it (and fronting on Oak Avenue), this house sits alone on the river, and views from any window show nothing but greensward and water. It's an extraordinary experience to drive through a bustling town, rumble over a narrow city-street driveway, enter a front door, and be transported to wilderness.

The 1.4 acres that accompany the house are divided– part of the acreage is around the house and part across the river, untended and uncultivated, providing a break from the surrounding manicured back lawns of properties higher up on the "tree streets" and a city park in the far distance. Also on the property is a new 15' x 19' slant-roof studio with skylights, interesting architectural elements (two old screen doors converted into windows), and electric baseboard heat.

The house itself isn't so unusual– for a house almost 300 years old. In some ways it's more appealing than the local equivalent we've reviewed– Cochran's Mill on Rio Road. For starters, as far as historical records indicate, despite its location right on the river, this house was not built as a mill and has always been a residence.

In the 19th century it was part of a famous Waynesboro enterprise, the 3,500-acre Rose Cliff Fruit Farm that grew apples for export. (In fact, the big house above this one was built in 1830 by owners of the orchard).

Also unlike the dark Cochran's Mill, the nine-over-nine windows, even though deeply recessed (with raised-panel window frames like those at Monticello, according to the owner), admit lots of light and seem to be part of the room.

Other wood includes an original mantel in the living room (now painted blaze orange by the artist owner), wainscoting everywhere, random-width pine floors, and American chestnut beams.

Three bedrooms and two full baths have been carved from what was originally an open dormitory-style second floor to which dormers have been added over the years. The agent says that space was originally accessed by a ladder, but now a graceful stairway leads from the entrance hall.

There's another bedroom (with a half bath) on the main level, in one of two 1930s additions. The other houses the kitchen, which is functional but in no way "gourmet," and a new owner may likely want to update it. Beyond the kitchen, the exterior wall of the 1930s addition has been bumped back to create a second addition with a laundry room complete with original in-the-wall ironing board.

A new copper roof makes the house glimmer beside the brown of the river and the deep green of enormous boxwoods. Gas warms radiators that provide the best kind of heat, although an original "Loth" woodstove– a famous Waynesboro product– conveys.

Yes, we can hear you saying, sounds great– historic rock house, streaming light, gorgeous irreplaceable chestnut and pine, huge stone basement, four bedrooms– yes, but... the river. What about flooding? To which we reply, yes, it gets water in the basement in the worst storms; otherwise, 256 years rock steady on its supporting ledge.

Okay, that's fine, say you, a house-hunter tempted by a stunning property no farther away from Charlottesville than Lake Monticello, fine, but... but... what about (quaking voice) Afton Mountain in the wintertime?


To which we're tempted to reply: global warming. Count the number of days Albemarle officials have figured school buses couldn't make it over county roads, add a few for the altitude and 15 miles farther west, and don't let it bother you.

There's no property we know of with the advantages of this place: city amenities (walking distance to grocery stores, library, YWCA) and wilderness isolation. If we were writing the ad copy, we'd abandon our usual icy reserve and shout, "Grab it while you can!"