Restoration Project of the Week: Dongola House in Yanceyville, “the Most Pretentious Farmhouse of the Piedmont”

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dongola stairs.jpgThe number of grand old houses in Caswell County is amazing, and Dongola House is one of the real gems. “The home is considered the most monumental house in Caswell County and one of the grandest in the Piedmont,” the N.C. State University Library says (Rare and Unique Digital Collections). “Dongola is a two-story, L-shaped brick home, with a tall portico of four Doric columns composed of stuccoed brick.” Multiple internet sources report that some envious person also called it “the most pretentious farmhouse of the Piedmont.”

Dongola stands at 336 W. Main Street in Yanceyville. It’s for sale at an unpretentious $109,000. “Many people believe it will take a fortune to refurbish this palatial home – we have quotes for everything and it will take less than $100K,” Preservation North Carolina says. The organization holds protective covenants on the house. Sadly, there are no current photos of the interior available. There’s a large collection of undated photos on Flickr.

Dongola was built in 1832 by tobacco planter Jeremiah Graves, whose family owned most of what is now Yanceyville. “Tradition has it that he found a name on a map in his Bible showing ‘Dongola’ as a place on the Nile River,” the invaluable Caswell County Historical Society reports. Also known as the Dongola Graves House, it’s a manageable 2,881 square feet on 1.86 acres. I couldn’t find anything listing the number of bedrooms. The county property card says there are four bathrooms, but it also says the house was built in 1965. Dongola now is part of a 15-acre tract owned by an LLC based in Washington state.

“The last of the Graves family to live in the house (Robert Sterling Graves) donated the home and plantation lands to the NC Baptist Association for development into an assisted living facility that served the community well for many years,” the historical society wrote in 2006.

“Since the early 1990’s this property has been owned by various investors in the film industry who have added sound studios that have been used for film production, social events, and a community ministry.” The dream of a film studio in Yanceyville appears to have produced more bankruptcy filings (at least three) than movies (none found on the Internet Movie Database). A more modest dream, like simply restoring one of the Piedmont’s great houses, certainly seems more feasible.

Preservation North Carolina listing

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Photo from the Library of Congress, Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South

Rosemont, 506 W. Hunter Street in Madison: A Grand Old 1911 Mansion, $429,000

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Rockingham County has more than its share of great old houses, and Rosemont in Madison is one of the grandest. The imposing Queen Anne is set well back from a quiet side street on an acre of land at 506 W. Hunter Street. It’s for sale at $429,000.

The 1911 house has four bedrooms and three bathrooms. With 4,800 spacious square feet, Rosemont’s price comes out to a remarkably reasonable $89 per square foot.

The exterior, including the clay-tile roof, could use a little cosmetic work, but the interior is immaculate. A grand porte-cochere stands at the left end of the house, and a large solarium is on the right.  In between are nine fireplaces, hand-laid parquet floors, leaded-glass windows and pocket doors. The property also includes a detached apartment and two-car garage.

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As you might expect, Rosemont’s builder was quite the prosperous fellow. Nathaniel Macon Pickett owned the Madison Building Supply Company and was a co-owner of the first car dealership in town. His collection of more than 300 books was used to establish the first public library in Madison. Pickett was born in 1871 and died at age 58 in 1929. He was originally from Chatham County.

His wife, Cora Johnson Pickett, was born in Sewanee, Tennessee, in 1874. She was a school teacher and a charter member of the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She outlived her husband by almost 40 years, dying at age 93 in 1968.

Listing for 506 N. Hunter Street, Madison

Help Restore Nina Simone’s Childhood Home: A Crowdfunding Campaign by the National Trust

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Nina Simone was one of the most gifted vocalists of her generation, and also one of the most eclectic. Simone was a singer, pianist, and songwriter who bent genres to her will rather than allowing herself to be confined by their boundaries; her work swung back and forth between jazz, blues, soul, classical, R&B, pop, gospel, and world music, with passion, emotional honesty, and a strong grasp of technique as the constants of her musical career.”


Tryon is a little far afield, but here’s a preservation effort worth knowing about: The National Trust for Historic Preservation is staging a crowdfunding campaign to preserve Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon.

“Despite its rich history at the root of Simone’s legacy, her childhood home in Tryon sat vacant and neglected following previously unsuccessful preservation efforts. In 2017, when demolition appeared to be the only option, four New York-based artists rallied together and purchased the home so that it could be spared from the wrecking ball.

“Today, with the artists’ guidance, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, through its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, is working to develop a rehabilitation plan, perform critical exterior stabilization work, and identify future uses and protection for this National Treasure.”

The campaign has reached its initial goal of $25,000 and is on its way to a stretch goal of $50,000. It’s worth supporting.

Nina Simone Weekend in Raleigh: August 16-18

Also, the North Carolina Museum of Art is planning a series of events to recognize Simone’s talent, legacy and spirit. NCMA is producing the events in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, North Carolina African American Heritage Commission, North Carolina Arts Council, and Come Hear North Carolina (#ComeHearNC)

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Photo by Nancy Pierce

102 N. Main Street: Time Runs Out for a Decaying Mansion in Downtown Reidsville

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102 N. Main Street in Reidsville was once a grand house, but in a matter of weeks, it will be turned into a pile of rubble. The city started implementing a demolition order on the house this week. The move follows more than a year of inspections, hearings and efforts to get the owner to do something about the house.

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Built in 1910, the house has six bedrooms, three bathrooms and just under 4,000 square feet. The current owner bought in 1991 for $46,000. The demolition ordinance, passed a year ago this week, says it is “dilapidated and unfit for human habitation and constitutes a public health, safety and fire hazard.” The owner received extensions of 90 days and 120 days. Apparently, all he did was try to sell the house for about a month earlier this summer (“Great fixer upper. Make an offer.”). Even at just $28,000, there were no takers. The city has filed papers with the state for asbestos removal; once the removal process is complete, likely in a couple weeks, the house will be torn down.

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The house is no longer in a particularly viable location from a residential perspective. It faces one side of the city hall across the street. Only a few of the neighborhood’s original houses remain among the parking lots, commercial buildings and many vacant lots nearby. Still, the house appears to have been used for non-residential purposes before — there’s a brick sign in the front yard, and photos with the real estate listing appeared to show pews and a pulpit in one room. With repairs it could have been given a new purpose, preserving a piece of Reidsville’s history with a sustainable future. But that would have required an investment that the current owner appeared unwilling to make (he showed up at the hearing on the city’s complaint in July 2018 but presented no evidence, and it appears he subsequently made no effort to repair the house).

Homes like this one, and historic structures of all kinds, face a variety of threats. Changing land uses often make the original use of old buildings difficult or unsustainable today. But the biggest threat often comes from owners who have no regard for the value that historic properties offer both the owners themselves and the community.

July 18 Auction: A Davie County Property with Connections to Daniel Boone and other More or Less Historic Figures

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[Update, July 18, 2019: The winning bid was $225,000.]

The property at 239 Arrowhead Road in Davie County has had connections to a few diverse figures in North Carolina history over the last 271 years. It is the subject of an online auction that will end with a live auction Thursday at 6 p.m. at the property. The auction will be live-streamed for online bidders. So far, the bid stands at $170,000. The house can be seen from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The house has four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Period features remain. The current owners “meticulously refurbished the home, paying close attention to restoring the interior,” the listing says. Exterior work wasn’t quite as meticulous; the house now has aluminum siding. HVAC wasn’t a high priority, either. The first floor has two heat pumps. The second has window air-conditioners and electric baseboard heat; the third has no heating or cooling.

Some significant facts about the house are reported variously by different sources. The listing shows the size as 2,733 square feet. County records say it has 3,091 square feet heated and an additional 972 unheated. The listing shows the lot size as 5 acres; county records show it as 12 acres.

Varying dates of the house’s origin have arisen as well. County property records show the house as built in 1913, although historical information provided by the sellers suggests it’s about 100 years older. “The home was built in the same era as the Vogler house was built in Old Salem,” it says. The Vogler House was built around 1819.

The property has a Mocksville mailing address, but it’s actually well to the north, close to where Davie, Forsyth and Yadkin counties meet. It looks to be about halfway between Winston-Salem and Mocksville; Bermuda Run, Clemmons, Lewisville and West Bend are all nearby.

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The property includes a barn, a large shed/hangar, an original 1800’s doctor’s office, a gazebo with a repurposed church steeple for a roof, multiple outbuildings and land for an airplane runway (shared with a neighbor, as is a road through the property).

The history of the property, as opposed to the house itself, goes back to 1748, the sellers say. It was part of a 565-acre tract on the Yadkin River granted by Lord Granville to Morgan and Martha Bryan. One of their grand-daughters, Rebecca, married neighbor Daniel Boone in 1756 (the couple lived in Davie County for 10 years before lighting out for the frontier).

In 1840 the property was sold to Dr. John Patillo Clingman, who built the medical office. If the Clingman name is familiar, it’s because of his more prominent brother, Thomas. Nicknamed “Prince of Politcians” (for reasons not obvious), Thomas was a pre-Civil War congressman and U.S. senator and a Confederate general. After the war he measured mountains in western North Carolina; Clingman’s Dome is named for him.

Since the Civil War, when the Union Army occupied the place, history has left the house alone. The current owners bought it in 1980. Davie County’s online records don’t go back that far, so the price is unknown.

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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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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. 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.