SQUARE FOOTAGE: 2,000 finished
YEAR BUILT: 1820
NEIGHBORHOOD: Rockfish, Nelson County
CURB APPEAL: 8 on a scale of 10
LISTED BY: Larry Herbert of McLean Faulconer * 295-1131
It’s fun to imagine what places looked like in the old days, how people lived and worked when there were no modern amenities and the roads to town were all dirt. From the tall front porch of this long narrow house on the banks of Nelson County’s Rockfish River, it’s easy to get lost in a reverie of those long-ago times.
Because of its proximity to the river (and the railroad, which came in about 1850), this 1820 dwelling probably started life as an inn, or “ordinary,” consisting of only one or two rooms and a separate outside kitchen. It has been enlarged and modified over time as owners and uses changed. Today it’s a thoroughly updated residence which retains the simplicity and the spectacular river views of the original.
When the current owners bought this house several years ago, they, like many eager, energetic buyers of old fixer-uppers, were not prepared for the extent of the devastation lurking just below the surface. They expected to have to replace the lean-to kitchen against the back of the house, the sagging leaky roof, the wiring, and a lot of hideous linoleum. But they didn’t know about the rotten foundation in the back, the damage from a tree too close to the house, and crumbling chimneys.
Now, all the nasty hard work of renovation completed, the house represents a comfortable combination of old and new.
The entry door opens into a parlor to the right of the central, oldest part of the house. Here, the original 5” tongue-and-groove yellow heart-pine floor remains hidden under a layer of newer hardwood. (In the rest of the house, however, the old flooring has been uncovered and restored.) Bubbly glass in a bay window contributes to the antique aura, although the window itself was added sometime after 1820.
Also on the main level are the brand new kitchen, a dining room (probably the first, original room), and the master suite with a 21st-century bathroom and walk-in cedar closet. While the bedroom is large and cozy (those wide pine floors seem to radiate warmth), the huge bathroom– it was the original dining room– is the stunner with its navy blue Kohler fixtures, an easy chair, and large window. Even the kitchen, which spans the back of the house, has a hard time competing with that amazing bathroom.
Fifteen very steep stairs lead to a landing large enough to be used as a sitting room, two more bedrooms, and another dazzling bath, this one with a six-foot Whirlpool tub. The bedrooms are good size, one with a large walk-in closet and big windows. But the best part of the upstairs is the top level of the double front-spanning porches. From out there, the view of the Rockfish River makes you feel like you’re in an eagle’s nest– all you can see are trees, the river, rocks, and the opposite shore.
As all old houses do, this one has a history, and on this upper porch is a reminder of one of its chapters. As she was stripping the paint from the porch columns, the current owner says she “felt a sort of premonition.”
As she scraped along, she says, “Words began to appear, and I found myself looking at this.” She pointed to the words “Mrs. Willie Powell, died 18–“ (the exact date is unclear)– in beautiful old script. Mrs. Powell was a long-ago resident who died shortly after her wedding. The owners have shellacked over the signature to preserve it as a remembrance of the many people who lived there before them. Another reminder of the house’s long history is a 40 x 40 fenced cemetery at the back of the house’s four acres.
The long, two-room-deep plan– no hallways!– is unusual in today’s world, and that might put off some buyers. But the modern touches– the fabulous bathrooms (including a back-entrance laundry room with a tub to wash the dog), the standing seam tin roof that never needs painting, and the brand-new kitchen with hand-made hickory cabinets– should be enough to make up for the awkward layout. All new heating (oil forced air) and air conditioning systems are another appealing aspect.
Sitting on that long wide porch watching the river flow takes one back to a slower, more remote way of life. In this house, people can enjoy that feeling, and then get up, go inside, and enjoy all the comforts of life in 2002.