Whenever I drive through the historic district in town I spot old houses I long to see inside. If I’m fortunate, a few of those homes are on the tour in the fall. This year there were a number of them, many built in the mid-19th century.
After spending a whole day touring these dwellings, details become blurred in the mind. It’s hard to remember floor plans and other specifics. However, each home has something that stands out, something that makes it special.
In 1872, a “prosperous textile mill operator” built an L-shaped home in the Italianate style. Over the years, it went through a number of changes/additions—another of those grand homes that was converted to apartments. It has now been returned to a single-family home. Entering the front door, one can walk the long hall and straight out a matching door at the rear of the house. Rather than the typical rectangular door with a straight edge across the top, these had a unique arch, as did the windows. Only a handful of yards out the back door stood two small, square buildings connected by a roof, giving it a breezeway affect. These were supposed to have been servant quarters. We weren’t allowed inside, but each building was probably no larger than 15 x 15–if that big. Can you imagine living in a space as small as one of your employer’s bedrooms? In the center, under the roof, was an old well. Partially covered in foliage, a nearby stone trough brought to mind past days of needing to water the horses.
An 1854 Greek Revival was once the home of a Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives. It is said that former President Woodrow Wilson, a friend of the Speaker, once visited. One room contained an impressive collection of family memorabilia and heirlooms. Another has walls still covered in the original wallpaper. For the tour, the family set out a number of documents dating back to 1756. I was impressed with official forms from the 1830’s that were machine printed, rather than hand-written.
One of my favorites, a home I had seen a few years ago, is a brick Italianate built in 1869. In 1976, it took four days to move this house from land that now holds a Wendy’s fast food restaurant to its current location about two miles away. They even moved the fountain out front. Originally, the dining room sat at the side of the house. In the move, it was placed at the back to become a kitchen. When renovating the house, the wood plank ceiling in the parlor revealed a surprise circular painting, which has been restored. Another aspect of this house that I found unique was that the inside walls are brick covered in plaster.
I can’t ignore the home owned by the historic foundation. It is open for tour year-round and I’ve seen it more than once. Time didn’t allow another peek inside this year, but it’s incredible with high ceilings, large rooms and a beautiful staircase. Built in 1820, this Federal style was originally a girls’ school. In 1859, the doctor owner added a two-story porch, complete with elaborate cast iron arches and railing, and the front windows became floor length. Later the attic was enlarged to include “a high-hipped roof and dormers.” Inside, patches of the original wallpaper were found, copied, and the reproduced paper hung. As a historical tidbit, the doctor who owned the home was the hospital surgeon and surgeon in charge of the town’s Confederate prison.
Next Tuesday, I’ll end our tour with homes built in the early twentieth century. Each has its own unique features.
Question: What famous person from history has visited your hometown?
Some of the background material for these posts was taken from the foundation’s tour brochure.