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

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.

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: 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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