The 1820 John Johnston House in Caswell County: An Immaculate Little Cottage on the National Register, $118,500

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Update: The house sold for $131,000 on June 26, 2020, $13,000 over the asking price. The owners accepted the offer May 30, two days after putting the house up for sale.

Caswell County has some of the grandest antebellum mansions in the state. The John Johnston House is something quite different and more rare. “Though members of the Johnston family were prominent in social and economic affairs in Caswell County from the eighteenth century onward, the significance of the house derives less from the specific historical contributions of its occupants than from its representation of a class of plantation residence that has rarely been preserved,” the home’s 1997 National Register nomination says.

“Although a number of the county’s great plantation houses are maintained in good condition, many of the modest, well-crafted Federal-inspired dwellings that once housed early nineteenth-century small planters have followed a typical progression of conversion to tenant houses, then to produce or equipment shelters, and finally, to abandonment and neglect.”

The Johnston House went pretty far down that road, too, but it was rescued by a preservationist who could see past a coat of 20th-century stucco and tacked-on porches. Today, it’s a gorgeous little cottage for sale at $118,500. The address is 3125 N.C. Highway 62 North, Blanch, near the Hamer community.

The house has two bedrooms, one bathroom and, officially, 937 square feet ($126/square foot). The house’s 1990 renovation added a rear ell with a modern kitchen and bathroom. The second floor has an additional 486 square feet that can’t be counted for statistical purposes because the ceiling is only 6 feet, 10 inches high. But it’s heated, air conditioned and perfectly livable. Which means you could look at it as $83/square foot, an amazing price for a meticulously restored 19th century home on the National Register.

“As a result of the restoration, all early twentieth-century alterations were reversed, including the removal of the stucco and porches from all facades,” the nominations states. “The stucco was probably applied during the 1910s or 1920s, reflecting a common treatment of many other Caswell County buildings. The original beaded lapboard siding and window framing, which were deteriorated beyond repair, were replicated and milled to closely resemble the historic.”

The interior received the same attention to detail.  “Narrow horizontal wood sheathing, perhaps of the 1920s era, was removed from the first-floor interior walls along with the greatly deteriorated plaster throughout the house. Plaster-like sheetrock was installed over the walls and ceilings. When the wood sheathing was removed from the first level walls, ghostmark evidence of chair rail molding was revealed. The molding profile was reproduced using remnants of chair rail molding that remained on the upper floor as a pattern. The missing sections of chair rail and baseboard on the upper floor were carefully replicated in the same manner. … Although new five-inch-wide pine floor boards were installed perpendicularly over the original boards on the first floor in 1970, the original five-inch-wide pine boards remain intact throughout both levels of the house.”

From John Johnston to Hilda Brody

John Johnston built his farmhouse around 1820 just north of Yanceyville. He was a first-generation American of Scotch-Irish descent. His gloriously named father, Dr. Lancelot Johnston, came over from Fermanagh County, Ireland, and served as a physician with the Continental Army. John’s acreage totaled as much as 500 acres, but he never built a bigger house for himself and his family. He and his wife Fanny had at least four and perhaps six children who reached adulthood. Son Thomas became one of the richest people in Caswell before the Civil War and built Clarendon House in Yanceyville, one of the grandest houses still standing in the county.

John died in 1860, and his second wife, Nancy, in 1872.  The house had several owners before J.E. Zimmerman bought it in 1921. His heirs sold the property in 1970. “A small parcel containing the old house saw a couple of short term owners until — long abandoned and deteriorated — the house was purchased in the late 1980s by Hilda Brody, who owned nearby Melrose Plantation and recognized the house for what it had been and what it might be again,” the National Register nomination says. “Her restoration was completed in 1990, and received an Award of Merit from the Historic Preservation Foundation of North Carolina in 1995.”

Hilda, a true preservation hero, also was a co-founder of the Animal Protection Society in Yanceyville, God bless her.

Real estate listing for 3125 N.C. Highway 62
National Register nomination

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From An Inventory of Historic Architecture: Caswell County, North Carolina, Ruth Little-Stokes and Tony P. Wrenn (1979). The Johnston House, then associated with longtime owner J.E. Zimmerman, was still a decade away from being  restored. Click the image for an entry from the invaluable Caswell County Historical Association blog.

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294 West End Boulevard: A 1920 Craftsman Gem in Winston-Salem, $445,000

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The last time 294 West End Boulevard was sold, it went for $65,000. That was in 1984, and the West End has changed a lot since then. The house went on the market today for $445,000. It’s a beautifully restored Craftsman; the price is in line with a similarly impressive Craftsman in the West End that’s also for sale now, 701 Manly Street, and other well-restored houses in the historic district over the past year.

294 West End sits well above the street with a stone retaining wall and broad stone steps at the sidewalk. It has 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms and 2,713 square feet ($164 per square foot). The interior is beautifully restored with what look to be the original mantels, balustrades and other Craftsman touches. The kitchen and bathrooms are modern.

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“The well-preserved Brown House is a handsome Craftsman style foursquare dwelling typical of its 1920 construction date,” the West End nomination to the National Register states.

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“The house has a weather-boarded first story, a wood shingled second story, a low hip roof with overhanging eaves, and a matching front dormer. Windows are paired nine-over-one sash, and the multi-pane glass and wood panel entrance is flanked by sidelights. The broad wrap-around porch is detailed with paneled wood posts set on brick plinths connected by a plain balustrade.”

The house was built in 1920 by Hiram, Joseph and Seth Brown. “By 1921 the city directory listed various members of the Brown family at this address,” the neighborhood’s National Register nomination states. The Browns owned the house until 1938. The current owners may have owned the house longer than anyone else, 36 years this spring.

294 West End Boulevard listing

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The 1839 Davie County Jail: A National Register Property in Mocksville Is For Sale in an Online Auction

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Davie County’s original jail was built in Mocksville in 1839, three years after the county was established. Now it’s the centerpiece of an online auction of five properties all on the same downtown corner. Prospective buyers can bid on the properties separately or all of them together.

The jail is the centerpiece. It housed the county’s most armed and dangerous for 70 years and then became a residence. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. In 2001 the current owner bought it and converted it to office use.

A brief rundown of the deal:

Update, December 17, 2019: The online auction was extended to Tuesday December 17, but the listing was taken off the auctioneer’s website before then, apparently without a sale. For comparison, the jail and other properties were listed for sale as a package in 2018 for $580,000; in 2015 it was listed for $620,000.

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As the video shows, there’s nothing left to identify the building as a jail except for the plaque. Still, it’s a substantial piece of local history. “The Davie County Jail is of considerable local significance, for its history parallels that of the county since its founding,” the National Register nomination states. “The sturdy, well maintained building with its handsome Flemish bond brickwork is an important Mocksville landmark.”

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The lot for the jail and guest house, as seen above, is a nicely wooded half acre. The jail’s address is 284 S. Main Street (online listing). It’s listed as having 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom, 1,752 square feet.

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One odd detail: The kitchen appears to be upstairs.

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The guest house is being sold with the jail. It has about 858 square feet. The garden lot sits behind the guest house, well off the street.

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The entire package is 1.27 acres. The two additional houses are the “Yellow House” and the “Gray House,” 131 and 141 E. Lexington Road, respectively. The aerial view shows Lexington Road, U.S. 64, at the top and South Main Street, U.S. 158, at the right.

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131 Lexington has 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and 3,046 square feet. It was built in 1898.

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141 Lexington is a bungalow with 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom and 1,272 square feet. It was built in 1933. Both houses have vinyl siding. These are the only pictures of the two houses available.

312 S. Main Street: A Spectacular 1890 Painted Lady in Reidsville, $300,000

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Update: The house sold on August 28, 2019, for $305,312.

There are some remarkable houses for sale in Reidsville and Rockingham County, and 312 S. Main Street in Reidsville may be the most impressive of them. A Queen Anne of high style, beautifully preserved, it would be a standout in any neighborhood.

The house was built in 1890. It sold for just $80,000 in 1995, so the current owners must have done a significant amount of work on it over the years. And they’ve done it beautifully.

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The house went on the market last week, listed at $300,000. It has four bedrooms and three bathrooms, 3,626 square feet (an extremely modest $83/square foot). The lot is just under a half-acre. The interior features leaded glass, unpainted woodwork and paneling, and elegant fireplaces.

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The bedrooms are spacious, and two have bathrooms en suite.

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There’s a guesthouse in the backyard with a kitchen, fireplace and full bathroom.

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Trees in the front yard provide a surprising amount of screening from the street. Two small brick offices are across the street, housing a doctor and an insurance agency. The immediate neighbors are First Presbyterian Church to the left, and this little bungalow to the right:

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Realtor.com listing: 312 S. Main Street, Reidsville

Historic House of the Week: The 1912 Dr. J.V. Dick House in Gibsonville, $400,000

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The Dr. J.V. Dick House in Gibsonville is a simple, elegant Queen Anne with a wrap-around porch and front gable. It’s big but not huge, stately but not stuffy. And it does have some history.

The latest chapter began two years ago when longtime preservationist Jerry Nix bought the house and began renovating it. It was a broken down wreck after being empty for more than 15 years. He finished earlier this year and put the house on the market in June. It’s priced at $400,000. It has four bedrooms and two and a half baths. It’s a 2,784 square-foot house ($144/square foot) on a 0.98-acre lot. The address is 515 Church Street.

The renovation kept the period features — pocket doors in the living room, arched doorways, four fireplaces, exterior shutters that still close — while updating the kitchen and bathrooms. The backyard has a large brick patio and a two-car detached garage.

The house was built in 1912 by Dr. Julius Vance Dick and his wife, Blanche Rankin Dick. Dr. Dick practiced in Gibsonville from 1907 until his death in 1941, with a couple years away while serving as an Army surgeon during World War I. He was quite the civic leader — a town alderman, director of the Bank of Gibsonville, member of the American Legion and Masons. After he died, Blanche lived in the house until the mid’50s. From 1959 to 2000, it became the Bartlett Funeral Home.

“The Bartletts did a fair amount of work to the house for its conversion to a funeral home,” The Times-News recalled earlier this year. “A portion of the porch was enclosed, and several interior walls were knocked out to make room for a chapel and visiting area.

“An 1,800-foot addition at the rear made space for services such as embalming. The new portion also included an office and a showroom for coffins.”

There’s no sign of all that any more. Long after the funeral home closed, a tree fell on the addition; the restoration included eliminating about 1,000 square feet of it. The only indication that a business of any sort was there is the expanse of asphalt where the lawn should be one side of the driveway. A new buyer might well want to get rid of that parking area, but otherwise the house is ready to become a home again.

realtor.com listing

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Probably a little more asphalt than you’d want, but if you’d like a full-size basketball court, you just might have enough space.

Historic House of the Week: A 1790 Federal-Style Mansion in Caswell County on the National Register

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The Moore-Gwyn-Ewalt House and its 200 acres are now listed for sale at $1.75 million.

In the early decades of the nation’s history, Caswell County was one of North Carolina’s most prosperous and prominent counties. Long beyond living memory, though, its fortunes crashed. Now, about all that’s left of its glory years are some truly impressive houses, scattered here and there from Camp Springs and Cherry Grove up to Milton and Semora.

national-register-plaque transparent.fw.pngThe Moore-Gwyn-Ewalt House in the Locust Hill area is a beautiful example of Caswell’s glorious past — 6,226 square feet of Federal-style elegance on 200 unspoiled acres. The house was built in 1790; considerable square footage is in the form of two well-designed wings built in 1995. It was listed June 1 at $1.75 million. The address is 5869 U.S. Highway 158. Situated southwest of Yanceyville and close to N.C. 150, it’s within a relatively easy commute to Greensboro.

“The severe exterior appearance of the Moore House contrasts with the rich Federal motifs which appear throughout the interior,” the National Register nomination states. “The treatment of the raised basement of the Moore House as a visually integral feature of the structure by means of matching exterior architectural detail is atypical of Caswell County and is one of the major factors in the imposing appearance of the house. The Moore House is one of the best preserved and most handsome houses of the Federal era in the northern Piedmont of North Carolina.”

The house sits well back from the road. It has four bedrooms and three full and two half bathrooms. There are nine fireplaces, eight wood-burning and one with gas logs. The beautiful moldings and mantels are well displayed in the listing’s photos, several of which are below. The property includes formal boxwood gardens, a fenced garden, a pool and a pond. Near the house, a screened-in summer house stands between the two fireplaces of the original detached kitchen, which burned in 1942. An early 19th-century saddlebag cabin, originally slave quarters, serves as a guesthouse. The 1995 additions by the current owners were built with the approval of Preservation North Carolina, which holds a preservation easement on the house.

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Annie

The property was listed to the National Register in 1973 through the efforts of then-owner Miss Annie Yancey Gwynn. According to the nomination, tobacco planter Samuel Moore bought the land in 1785, and the house is believed to have been built around 1790. Moore at one time owned at least 1,000 acres in the area. Although the real-estate listing notes the local lore of the house possibly having been designed by Thomas Jefferson, the National Register nomination doesn’t mention him (spoil-sport historians).

In the 1850s, the property was owned by George Swepson, son-in-law of Bartlett Yancey, one of the grand figures in Caswell’s history. (Swepson later became a Reconstruction-era bigshot and namesake of Swepsonville in Alamance County, where he built a textile mill. Sadly, he came to ruin in a railroad-bond scandal.)

Rufus Stamps bought the property from Swepson in 1858, and it remained in his family until 1942, when Annie bought it. The house hadn’t been lived in for 25 years and was being used as a barn. She restored it and got it onto the National Register. She lived there for many years; she died in 1985 at age 94, God bless her.

Annie was born in Caswell County in 1891 and attended Greensboro Female College, now Greensboro College (her last name is sometimes reported as “Gwyn”; although her middle name was Yancey, I couldn’t find any genealogical connection between her and Bartlett Yancey). She worked as a school teacher and then trained as a nurse. Annie served as an Army nurse in France during World War I and later worked as a nurse in Washington.

“On a visit to Caswell County in 1942 she bought a 179-year-old house that had been her ‘dream house’ since early childhood,” according to The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina, edited by Jeannine D. Whitlow. “The house was then almost in ruins. Much work was needed to restore the old Moore-Gwyn House.

“Upon retirement from nursing, Annie Yancey Gwyn came back to her native Caswell County and her ‘dream house’ and with vigor and vitality she started the task of creating a home out of the ancient ‘crone’ of a house. With some hired help she attacked the jungle of weeds and honeysuckles, mountains of junk, and started restoring the three story old brick house and the tenant houses. After many years of hard work and tender loving care she made a monument of beauty and memories from a scrap pile.”

North Carolina Estates listing
National Register nomination

Special thanks to caswellcountync.org and Harry Branch of North Carolina Estates.

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The Moore House around 1973

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The summer house stands where the original kitchen was. The detached kitchen burned, leaving only the two fireplaces.

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The guesthouse is an 18th-century saddlebag cabin that served as slave quarters.

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