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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Villa Fortuna: An Eclectic 1888 National Register Property in Reidsville, $99,900

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The Jennings-Baker House, also known as Villa Fortuna, is one of the most affordable National Register properties you’re likely to see. Accordingly, it also needs more work than most National Register properties. It’s not a complete wreck, though, and some of its charm has stood up to the years very well.

The brick exterior is notably elaborate. The National Register nomination calls Villa Fortuna a distinctive and vernacular mix of styles — Gothic Revival, Italianate and more — that were popular in the mid-19th century. The current real estate listing says it’s simply “the perfect blend of unpretentious elegance and a rustic urban farm,” although even an urban farmer might want more than the villa’s half acre.

The house is at 608 Vance Avenue in Reidsville. It was built in 1888. It has three bedrooms; one bathroom, more or less; and 1,548 square feet. It’s priced at $99,900, a bargain-basement $46 per square foot. It’s also a for-sale-by-owner deal.

The villa is near the Old Post Road Historic District, but, like the other houses on its block, it has fallen on hard times. The house was foreclosed upon in 2010 and then sold in 2011 for $25,000.

“The facing came off the back of the second story and squirrels got in and damaged the wiring in the ceiling of the purple bed room,” the listing says (the purple bedroom has to be seen to be appreciated, though the chewed-up wiring is hardly its most notable feature; see the photos below). “All 22 windows need to be replaced.” Or, in keeping with the historic stature of the house, the original windows could be repaired, if there are any left.

According to the 1986 National Register nomination, the first owner and probable builder of the house was William G. Jennings, a brick manufacturer. His trade may have figured prominently in the eclectic design of the house. The nomination cites “the possibility that Jennings may have intended his house as a sort of advertisement for what was then a young enterprise, exhibiting the products of his brick yard and demonstrating the masonry skills of his workers.”

The Reidsville Times carried this ad for the firm in 1887:

JENNINGS & GUNN
Manufacturers and Contractors of all kinds of Brick and Brickwork, and can also furnish
any one with fire proof Brick. Have none but the best of Workmen.

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Brick appears to have been relatively new in Reidsville. As of 1986, there were only six pre-1890 brick houses still surviving in the town, and the nomination says it’s unlikely that many more had been built.  Five are Italianate. “The Jennings-Baker House is a much more vernacular and personal expression of Victorian tastes, as it combines elements of several styles. The triangular patterned brickwork above windows and doors on the facade have a vaguely Gothic flavor, while the segmental arch openings on the side and rear elevations and in the ell … are typical of masonry construction of the period. The facade’s projecting bays and porch suggest the influence of architecture predominantly found at military institutions, while the corbel table on the facade and the parapeted side elevations of the main block are reminiscent of commercial architecture in the late nineteenth century.”

Brick stands up to the ages better than wood, so, aside from the misfortune at the back of the house, the exterior looks to be in reasonably good shape. Current photos show the interior requires at least some cosmetic work. “For the most part, the interior of the Jennings-Baker House is much more simply finished than the exterior,” the nomination states. “Common throughout the house are plaster walls, pine flooring, simple baseboards, four-panel doors with rim locks and china knobs and relatively plain though molded post and lintel mantels, all standard Victorian finish details.”

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Many older houses have an odd, inexplicable feature or two. But few old-house surprises have the stop-you-in-your-tracks quality that you’ll find in the purple bedroom.

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Through the years

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The house was bought by Avery Baker in 1905. It was owned by the Baker family for more than 50 years.
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An undated photo included in the 1986 National Register nomination
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A Google Street View photo from 2018

Current listing for Villa Fortuna

Rivermont in Eden: A Landmark 1936 Mansion on the Smith River, $650,000

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When the glory days of Rockingham and Caswell counties passed, they didn’t leave  much behind except some grand old houses. Rivermont in Eden is a relatively late example of the old mansions of Rockingham County (there are two others currently for sale and another under contract). Built in 1936, it’s move-in ready and all yours for $650,000.

With 5,200 square feet, the price works out to $124 per square foot, modest by mansion standards, especially for one that appears to be in such great shape. Rivermont has 5 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms and 2 half-baths. The address is 351 W. Meadow Road. The property comprises 15 acres on the Smith River in the Leaksville section of Eden (you know about Eden, right? Leaksville, Spray and Draper were three small towns that grew together and merged in 1967 to become the town of Eden).

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Rivermont was used by its last previous owners as an event and performance venue (Facebook page, last updated more than a year ago). The current owners bought the house in March 2019 for $400,000. They’ve made some renovations, secured designation for it as a local landmark in June 2019 and now have it for sale again (at a 62 percent mark-up).

Early in the 20th century, the land belonged to B. Frank Mebane, a grandson-in-law of Gov. John Motley Morehead. Mebane built a “log clubhouse” there in the 1920s. The property was bought by Frank Letcher Eggleston (1897-1980), who owned a tire store, and his wife, Mattie Sue Parker Eggleston (1904-1998). They hired prominent Danville architect J. Bryant Heard to design their home.

“The property is locally significant  as a largely intact example of a large, stately Colonial Revival style home,” the landmark ordinance states. “The house is well set back of the road and is accessed by a long circular driveway lined with mature boxwoods. Originally, there was a large riding ring for horses that were kept in stables on the property (no longer standing). The grounds were landscaped with 1,500 English boxwoods as well as native shrubs and large trees.

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“The house is an elegant, painted brick, Colonial Revival style house with a two-story gable roofed center main block with flanking one-story wings. The five-bay wide main block has a full-height porch topped by a balustrade, with six large columns which were imported from England. The front entrance has a paneled door with leaded glass sidelights. The main block has an exterior chimney on either end. The right wing houses the kitchen and servants area as well as a garage and has a recessed arched loggia with smaller columns which were also imported from England. There is a two-car garage addition on the rear of this wing. The left side wing contains the family room and features a conservatory with a bellcast roof. The house is lit by eight-over-eight casement windows. The third floor once served as an enormous playroom. The house has gabled and hip roofs covered with slate shingles. Slate is also used for the walkways and patios.

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“The main block of the house contains the living areas on the first floor and bedrooms on the second floor. the living and dining rooms feature handmade Williamsburg-style cornices. the entry hall features arched doorways and an elegant flying staircase. There are several fireplaces with original details. the family room has a wall of built-in bookcases.”

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Rivermont was built just after colored bathroom fixtures were developed.

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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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An 1889 Restoration Candidate in Kernersville: The First Thing It Needs Is a Good, Sturdy Fence

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The owner of 4981 George West Road in Kernersville apparently doesn’t think much of the house. The listing mainly is concerned with two other things. One is how nice the flat, 1-acre lot would be for a home site. The other is this goat:

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Listing: “If there is an Old Billy Goat Gruff in the yard, RUN! He is the neighbors and shouldn’t be there!”

The goat lives nearby (supposed to, anyway) and may not appreciate having visitors on the turf he’s staked out. Since the neighbors haven’t put up a fence, that may well be the first thing a buyer will want to do. It also appears that the goat may be eating the house, so someone needs to get on it right away.

“This is a bit over an acre of FLAT land with a few old trees that would make a gorgeous homesite!” the owner says, seeming to overlook that it’s already a home site. The house was built in 1889, and from the outside it appears to have a bit of charm.

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It has 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom and 1,054 square feet. There are no pictures of the inside. The house has no heating or cooling systems. The asking price is $30,000 or an economical $29 per square foot. With some work, it could be a sweet little place, a home with more character than whatever a new owner is likely to come up with to replace it.

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The outbuilding seen above appears to be a neighbor’s, judging from the county GIS system photo below.

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The house has a Kernersville address, but it’s closer to Walkertown, just east of U.S. 158.

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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.

A 1955 Mid-Century Masterpiece in Greensboro, $1.099 Million

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Update: The listing was withdrawn December 5, 2019.

Mid-Century Modern never generated any great mass appeal among mainstream home buyers. It’s too out-there for the typical family. And you won’t find a Mid-Century home much further out there than 3905 Henderson Road in Greensboro’s remarkable Hamilton Lakes neighborhood. The house is for sale at $1.099 million. The price has been reduced a bit since it was listed (originally $1.195 million), but it’s still $384 per square foot, a rather breath-taking price for any type of house in Greensboro.

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The 1955 home has everything you think of with Mid-Century design — lots of glass that brings the indoors and outdoors together, modern materials, sleek lines, flat roofs and an ultra-clean, uncluttered look. More than 60 years after it was built, it still looks as “modern” as the day it was finished. The house has 4 bedrooms and three bathrooms, 2,886 square feet on a lot of 0.4 acre.

Designed by Thomas Hayes for his college roommate, it’s known as the Will and Diane Howard House (Hayes and Howard went to N.C. State). “Their home featured a flat roofline and solid wood and brick exterior walls that alternated with voids of glass,” Benjamin Briggs of Preservation Greensboro wrote. “Interior spaces were austere, featuring areas of terrazzo and carpet coupled with masonry and textured walls. Unusual details include clerestory windows located between ceiling joists and a copper hood above the fireplace. True to the style, public spaces are logically separated from private as the form of the house is dictated by the function of spaces. Form follows function.”

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The Howards sold the house in 1967. Eventually, it fell on hard times, so hard it was included on the N.C. Modernist endangered list in 2013. Then, it was bought and restored by the current owners, Liz and Mike Felsen. The house “has been completely restored to its former glory w/open floor plan, sleek lines, walls of glass, original terrazzo floors, 6 outdoor terraces & 2-story Casita. Completely rebuilt by Gary Jobe [a prominent Greensboro builder], preserving almost everything in the original 1955 plan,” the listing says.

The reconstruction addressed “long-term challenges related to materials, drainage, and sustainability,” Briggs wrote. “It retains its original H-shaped plan and honors the scope, scale and materials of the initial design.”

The casita was a later addition, beautifully complementing the original. It could serve as a mother-in-law suite, if you have a really sophisticated mother-in-law.

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Mid-Century Modern continues to have an enthusiastic following. We’ve tracked 18 sales of Mid-Century homes in the Piedmont this year, and six sold at or above their asking prices. The Howard house is the most spectacular of the recently available Mid-Century homes in the area. There are few chances to buy such a remarkable example of the style.

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Restoration Project of the Week: Holt’s Chapel, Haw River, $75,000

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One of Haw River’s first churches is for sale for $75,000. Holt’s Chapel was built in 1896 as the first and only home of Haw River’s Methodist Episcopal church. By 1942, the town’s two Methodist churches merged, following the national merger of their denominations. The chapel was used for Sunday school, and what had been the Methodist Protestant church on the hill behind the chapel was used for worship services.

More recently, the building was to be the home of an antiques and auction business, but it’s not clear whether the shop ever opened there.

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The address is 401 W. Main Street. Inside, there’s what looks to be some relatively new framing, but otherwise it’s 3,000 square feet of all but blank canvas. Great windows, high ceilings, open floor plan — it could be a very interesting home. With some work. “Needs electric/heat/cooling/connection to water & sewer,” the listing says. “Public water/sewer as well as electric and gas available.”

The Methodist church is still up the hill behind the chapel. A cemetery lies between them. The chapel is across Main Street from some railroad tracks. In the aerial view below it has a blue square.

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Zillow listing

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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Update: The house sold for $370,000 on February 18, 2020.

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