Driving down 29 South, one has a hard time imagining that it’s the same road that grinds through all the clutter from Ruckersville into Charlottesville. Rolling hills predominate on this southern stretch, and the few retail stores actually provide convenience to medium-distance drivers. Minutes beyond Barracks Road, the land stretches beckoningly on as cars peel away and the remaining traffic cruises at a comfortable 55.
Less than 10 minutes from Charlottesville down that bucolic highway, you take a left turn onto Route 745 (Arrowhead Valley Road). An old mill stands as the only landmark, a historical reminder of small-town trades now obsolete. The gravel road twists and turns for half a mile before you spot this house situated on a small knoll.
Obviously crafted before size mattered, it blends well with the landscape. The steep driveway was marred by one alarming 20th-century apparition: a huge satellite dish. Often referred to as the state flower of West Virginia, satellite dishes now seem to be as common as ticks and just as unsightly. But this one quickly faded into the background as the details of the house came into focus.
Superb craftsmanship offsets the small size. The back door leads directly into a long and narrow kitchen that, although not awe-inspiring, does contain everything useful— including washer and dryer— without over-crowding. The dining room opens out, and with the current owners’ decorating, has a Quaker-like simplicity. One of the joys of touring older homes, though, is the wood. The history of America’s hardwood forests is documented in houses like this one.
The floors throughout are old-growth fir. Today the expense of fir precludes its common use, but in 1946, a forest of firs was a common sight. The trim and wainscoting throughout are unpainted wormy chestnut, wood created by a blight on chestnut trees which are now alas nearly extinct. The intrinsic warmth emanating from all this exposed wood cannot be duplicated with today’s materials.
The great room, where the unused front door is located, is relatively dark, with only one window. But the low lighting gives it an appeal akin to that of a rustic ski or hunting lodge. A native-soapstone fireplace anchors the room, practically covering an entire wall. The exposed hand-hewn beams are strikingly beautiful, and their beauty is all the more impressive when you learn that primary builder was a one-armed carpenter. The “tray ceilings” that have become so popular now in places like Glenmore and Dunlora soften the edges between wall and ceiling and give the room a little extra personality.
The one bathroom separates the two bedrooms, each 13-foot square. The bedrooms have large closets with built-in cedar shelves. Across the hallway from the bathroom is a good-sized closet for storage.
Outdoors offers as many treats as indoors, with the exception of the white vinyl siding covering the bottom two-thirds of the house. The top third, though, is clapboard– still with its original red paint. The style of overlapping long boards reminds one of coastal New England homes but looks very stylish on this Virginia homestead.
Rocks from elsewhere on the property terrace the back yard into several flat layers for flowers and entertaining. Upon closer inspection, an ivy-covered monolith becomes a built-in brick barbecue (the kind that used to be the focal point of ‘60s home movies). The rest of the five-acre property reaches to the top of Dudley Mountain.
A dilapidated wood garage, mostly usable for home carpentry projects and the general flotsam of life, sits adjacent to the house; behind that through a little meadow lies a spring-fed pond.
During the hour-long tour, the constant drone of Route 29 faded to a mild hum, bearable compared to the incessant cacophony of city sirens and blaring horns. Other than that, this house embodies country life to the best possible degree.