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Oak Ridge Restoration

Updated on May 12, 2014

Welcome to our ongoing project to restore this antebellum plantation home in Pittsylvania County, Virginia

Oak Ridge was built in 1836 by George and Justinia Adams. The interior woodwork was manufactured by Thomas Day, of Milton North Carolina. Thos. Day was one of the leading cabinet makers in the area and his furniture is highly prized today. My wife and I bought Oak Ridge in 2006 and have slowly been restoring it, and we thought it would be interesting to others to follow our misadventures in this project. Sadly, Elaine passed away in June, 2011, and I am trying to carry on with the help and support of some wonderful people.

!!! Update! We had a fierce wind a few weeks ago that toppled a large oak that crashed into the front of the house. To learn how much damage it did and what happened, scroll down to the end!!!

Guide

As the number of modules grows I thought a site map might be helpful

Exterior Restoration: 20 modules

Interior details: 20 modules

Interior Restoration: 4 modules (so far)

Grounds: 13 modules

History of Oak Ridge

If you would like to learn about the history of this magnificent antebellum tobacco plantation in Southside Virginia, you might enjoy reading this site.

Peeling paint
Peeling paint

Restoration: Decaying Dignity

By 2006, much had changed

By the time Elaine and I purchased Oak Ridge, much had changed. The previous owner had tragically died in an automobile accident some 20 years ago, and the house had not been well maintained for some time. Some of the peeling paint on the roof and columns can be seen in this photograph, taken from a distance, but it looked much worse up close. Oak Ridge, like the subject in a Gilbert and Sullivan song, looked best "in the dark with the light behind her."

When I was negotiating whether to proceed with the purchase I brought a dear friend and colleague from work, Dr. Ken Walker, to show him what I was considering. It was amusing to watch Ken trying to be polite, though he was clearly appalled by the decay and challenges. Finally, he said "Well I've got to admire you for having the energy to take on such an ambitious project." hoping that wouldn't offend me.

That aptly pointed to the tension between me, the dreamer who sees what Oak Ridge could become, and Elaine, who had to deal with the harsh realities that affected her daily life. That tension characterized our 41 years together, and each needed the other. I was startled to hear her say to a friend once "Just once I wish I could see what Bob sees when he looks at Oak Ridge." Though she enjoyed complaining about it, she also was very proud of the beauty that unfolded as we slowly righted the problems.

Boxwood maze ground level
Boxwood maze ground level

Restoration: Saving the Boxwoods

Century old boxwood garden inundated with vines

The gardens at Oak Ridge are magnificent. They include magnolia trees as big as a house and an intricate maze of English boxwoods that have been growing for 150 years. Sadly, the gardens had been overrun with volunteers who had taken over the during past few decades. The first order of business was to remove the canopy of honeysuckle, wisteria, poison ivy and grape vines that were blocking sunlight from the boxwoods. Standing on the ground, we literally could not tell there were boxwoods there, in places, and it took the whole summer to clear the vines. We would pick a spot, and just dive in, pulling off the vines and then clipping them as close to the ground as possible. In a day we would clear about ten feet. If you know anything about Virginia you are laughing right now, because this area is rife with an insidious little insect called a chigger, and we suffered terribly from chigger bites from one week til the next.

Restoration: Balcony View of the Boxwoods

The boxwood gardens before they were cleared

This view, taken from the balcony, show the deteriorating condition of the boxwood gardens the farther you got from the house. It was a steamy, miserable summer spent diving into the hedges to remove the vines. At times we wondered whether we would ever finish.

Restoration: Boxwoods Six months later

Revived

After a summer of scratching and swearing, the original shape of the gardens emerged. I am not sure whether this picture conveys the difference we could see, but the pattern of boxwood plantings became clear. On the right is an open rectangle 200 ft by 70 ft (70 m x 20 m). On the left of the path is a large square which was once marked by a double row of boxwoods. Inside the square was a diamond, also made with double rows, which provided footpaths around the geometric structures. Even though they are over 150 years old, these English boxwoods have not grown four feet tall, so one can see over them. Sadly, some did not survive the infestation of vines, but many did, and those are recovering. Meanwhile, we transplant others from time to time, to fill in the gaps.

The best summary of this exhausting effort came from a neighbor, Myrtle Shadrick, who has lived decades in Bachelor's Hall, another plantation a mile down the street. When I proudly told her that we had at last finished pulling the vines out of our boxwoods she caustically remarked "Young man, you will never be through pulling the vines out of your boxwoods." And she was absolutely correct.

Restoration: Roof condition

First step is sealing and painting the roof

This photograph shows the condition of the roof when we bought the property. Elaine called in a couple of roofing companies that specialize in old, standing seam, metal roof repair, and both estimates were in excess of $50,000. That was too stiff for our budget. As you can see, the roof on the main house is in better condition than the rear. That's probably because it is older.

This view also shows that the house is actually two separate buildings that have been spliced together. There is a bridge filling in between the rear building, whose windows are lower than those of the main house, to the left. If you look carefully, you can see that the foundation of the basement drops four feet because the right hand building is lower than the main house. In between, starting at the chimney, a structure was built to span the gap and unite the two buildings. This splice currently houses the kitchen. Forty years ago the kitchen was located in the rear building, and a four foot stairway led to a breakfast room. The Boyers soon tired of the stairs, and the old breakfast room was converted into the kitchen. A new breakfast room was then appended to the new kitchen on the opposite side from this view.

The point of this picture is to show the condition of the metal roof. Especially in the rear, the rust and flaking look terrible, and we needed to seal the surface and paint the steel before the underwriter canceled our insurance policy.

Restoration: Preparing the Standing Seam Metal Surface

How do you strip a rusting metal roof?

After trying several alternatives, we settled on power washing as the first step. Here is Mike Boyer, secured with his rock climbing gear, blasting away at the compromised surface. Chunks of built up paint and tar splattered everywhere. It took a weekend just to power wash the rear roof, but it came out well. We learned that the rusty color was deceptive. Someone had primed the roof with an iron oxide primer,like Rustoleum, several coats ago, which was a really bad idea. The reason the roof looked so rusty was because the paint separated at this primer coating. This caused large flakes of paint to come off like potato chips and exposed the rust colored paint, which looked from a distance like rusted bare metal. Happily, the metal was fine. We learned that the tin-plated steel used "back in the day" was in good condition under it all. After we were finished, we now had a relatively smooth surface for repainting. But what kind of paint should we use?

Restoration: Surface Preparation

Why does paint flake off metal roofing?

A roof is exposed to direct sunlight as well as freezing ice and everything in between. Metal expands and contracts more than most materials and, importantly, it expands at a different rate than paint. That is a problem because paint is, essentially, a coating, and it cannot stay bound to a surface that is changing dimensions. Over time, the matrix (the stuff that binds the pigment grains together) hardens, and when it loses elasticity the paint starts to chip off. Oil-based paint or water-based latex paint are not much different.

Elaine did some research and discovered a product designed for commercial buildings that claims to solve this problem. It is a latex base with no pigment in it. You apply it using a one inch nap roller, and roll it on thickly. Then you cover that with a second layer, creating a coating that has the consistency of rubber cement. It is supposed to remain elastic for years. The idea is that the pigment layer sticks to this elastic layer so there is some stretching between the expanding metal and the stiffer paint layer.

The other attractive feature of this Polar Seal product is the way it handles blemishes, seams and other potential sources of leaking. Their solution is to cut out a flexible polyethylene fabric mesh, and glue the fabric over the seam or blemish by applying it on top of wet Polar Seal. An additional coat of primer over the fabric embeds the cloth in a rubbery sandwich, similar to the way you make fiberglass. We applied this fabric at all the chimney flashing and roof penetrations to try to form a watertight seal. On this photograph there is a patch near the roof line on the left. You can see the white fabric that covers the repair.

As you can see, the coating is clear. It was quite sticky after a few days of drying, and we then applied two coats of latex roof paint over this under layer.

Restoration: Painted Roof

How did it turn out?

Well, we made our choice and invested in the Polar Seal system. Whether it works or not, or how long it lasts remans to be seen.

We applied this system to the main house, and six other outbuildings. However, as a scientist, I had to include a control. So the roof of the carport was painted without using the Polar Seal primer. This way we can see whether or not the Polar Seal made a difference.

So far it has been four years. As of today, the paint job is holding up very well, except the roof of the car port, which has started flaking badly. Since the car port roof was the only one that wasn't primed with Polar Seal AND it was the most recently painted, we conclude that the Polar Seal has helped. How long it lasts is anyone's guess.

While we were exploring different options we asked several farmers for their advice. We figure that farmers have a lot of buildings with metal roofs and word would spread quickly if any solution worked better than the others. The reply we got from the farmers was the same. They said, no matter what you try, you'll have to paint it again in five years.

We think farmers are pretty smart, so we felt it important to close this chapter on roof paint with their wisdom, while we hope otherwise.

Breakfast room
Breakfast room

Restoration: First demolition

The breakfast room has to go

This photograph shows the breakfast room which was installed by a previous owner. A kitchen window was converted to a door and a new addition was tacked on, perched atop cinderblock pillars four feet tall. Perhaps it was the anomalous jalousie windows, perhaps it was the fiberboard siding, but Elaine and I decided this admittedly useful room had to go away.

This view is from the back of the house, looking North, opposite to the driveway. The shed roof attachment to the right contains the downstairs bathroom. Upstairs, note that the Master bedroom is partially obscured by a hanging bathroom, which is the next target for deconstruction.

Hanging Bath
Hanging Bath

Restoration: Second Demolition

Master bathroom

It is always a problem to find a place for bathrooms in homes that were built a century before indoor plumbing. People convert closets, or insert bathrooms inside bigger rooms. But whoever installed this gem was definitely thinking outside the box. This view shows the protuberance which was literally tacked onto the upstairs bedroom. The addition sticks out from the house and is completely unsupported. There are no posts, cantilevers, cables or other means to hold the weight of a full bath. How the craftsmen of the day could imagine that nails would hold a bathtub full of water mystified everyone. They were wrong. By the time we showed up there was an eight inch gap at the top, and the whole structure was tilting.

This photo also provides a better picture of the state of the external paint and the roof. You can see what Elaine and Ken Walker saw, and share with them the amazement that anyone would tackle such a daunting project.

Restoration: Replacing the Fascia Boards

Behind the rusted-out gutters we ran into a problem

Once the roof was repainted, the next step was replacing the gutters. We quickly learned that the fascia boards were in bad shape. The rotting boards provided convenient access into the attic for the local squirrels, raccoons and opossum to enjoy shelter in winter.

For those who don't know, fascia boards cover the ends of the rafters that support the roof. On Oak Ridge they were installed at a 45 degree angle, running from the crown molding to the roof overhang. Like all the wood in Oak Ridge, they were actual size. Meaning that they are one full inch thick and six full inches wide, unlike a 1 X 6 available in a lumberyard today. They were enhanced with lovely fluting,

This photograph shows the roofline with the fascia board removed, exposing the rafter ends.

Restoration: New Fascia Boards

Fortunately for us we had Chris Roberts and his crew working on the problem. Chris was able to purchase some old heartwood pine from a tobacco warehouse in Greensboro, NC. We then took it to RC Tate woodworks, in Danville to mill the boards and replicate the fluting present in the originals.

This photograph shows the new fascia boards, just after painting.

Restoration: Installed New Fascia Boards

This photograph shows the same view as above, after the new fascia boards were installed. It probably doesn't look like much in these pictures, but it was very impressive on the ground.

If you look closely, you will notice that there are vented soffits on this old house. Under the eaves Mr.Day had installed squares which were honeycombed with hand drilled holes. On the crown are spaced vertical features which have a unique crown carved in them. Over the years, these vent holes had become clogged up, but Chris Roberts and his team drilled out each one of them and repainted. All said and done, he did a great job for us.

Restoration: Columns

How long can they last?

Once the roof was painted, we next turned to the columns. Locally, the pronunciation is "call-yumes," we quickly learned. This photograph may not show sufficient detail, but they were in sorry shape, with paint peeling and seams letting in water.

Restoration: Columns During

No alligators

Elaine insisted that the old paint had to go. She loathed the "alligator" effect that happens to thick coats of paint. We eventually chose P.L. Anderson to strip, repair and paint the columns. The good news is that there was no significant rot. They set up scaffolding and sweated it out for weeks to get them down to the bare wood before painting.

Restoration: Columns After

Looking good

You decide for yourself how they look. Thank you, Tom Leggett, and your team. Of course the bad news is that the rest of the house looks shabby compared to the brazen new finish, but we will get around to that in time.

Restoration: Pink Siding

After the bathroom disappears

Here is a photograph taken during the removal of the upstairs bathroom. You can see, in the corner, the two perpendicular stairwell windows are, for the first time in 70 years, open to the lighting which they were designed to channel into the stairwells. Our architect, Richard Morris, was absolutely correct that the house was situated to achieve specific lighting effects, and once we saw how lovely the morning light is, illuminating the stairwells, we realized we could not do any construction that would block them.

The interior bathroom door is visible. Notice the weatherboard beneath the door is a dusky pink color. It has turned brown with time, but this shows a sample of the pink color by which Oak Ridge was once known, prior to the restoration in 1940.

You can also see that we had to replace some of the standing seam on the shed roof, due to damage as the bathroom slowly separated from the house. Hunt Construction company, in Cascade, VA did a great roofing job for us.

Restoration: Close Up of the Pink Weatherboard

This gives a little better idea of the original color

Restoration: Exterior Paint

Before painting, we stripped the surface down the the wood

It took weeks to scrape all the layers of paint off the clapboards. Jamie Hunt and the crew from Hunt Construction Co. worked very hard to strip the paint. This was during what turned out to be Elaine's last few weeks. It was very gratifying to her to at last see the exterior painted before she died.

Restoration: View From the Road After Painting

Restored to her splendor

This is the view from the road. With her new coat of paint the old girl looks magnificent once again, at least for a few years. We chose to use Duration exterior paint, by Sherwin Williams. We are starting to see Oak Ridge return to the state of grace she enjoyed for so many years.

Restoration: East Side After Painting

Oak Ridge in her Sunday finery

Here is a view of the east elevation after she had her new face lift. The shutters are still in storage, awaiting repair before we rehang them, but the old girl looks splendid in her new paint job.

Interior: Ladies Parlor

Check out the ceiling in the parlor

On the left as you walk in the front doors is the fancy room. The Lady's parlor was the showplace, and has the fanciest plasterwork on the ceiling, and the clearest window lights. The mantle has columns that are signatures of Mr. Day. Notice the floor boards, which were milled from the heartwood of the native pines, run the entire length of the room. In the basement you can see that each floorboard is hand fitted to each joist. One of many examples of the craftsmanship that went into the construction.

Interior: Thomas Day Mantle in Parlor

Corinne studying her next shot

This photograph gives a better picture of the pillars on the fireplace mantle in the Lady's Parlor

Interior Features: Foyer Ceiling

Foyer rosette

The front foyer was designed to make a great first impression. This is the plaster rosette in the ceiling. Some have said this plaster work was added later, but we have seen other Thos. Day homes with similar plaster decorations. Not sure which is true, but we enjoy the elegance it imparts to the room.

Interior: Foyer Ceiling

Discovering the paint underneath the wallpaper

After discovering the faux marble on the stair, we tried to find out what is painted underneath the wall paper. When we peeled the paper off the ceiling in the foyer we discovered this green paint with a stencil trim. The plaster repairs are obvious, but the stenciling was a delightful surprise. Our decorator and architect believe this stenciling is not original, but was added during the Victorian era, so we will probably bury it again under wallpaper, for someone else to discover later.

Interior: Stairway

Different angle of front stairs

Here is a different view, showing the way the stairs looked when we acquired the property. Note the risers are painted the same "sea foam" as the walls. The only exception is the faux mahogany painted railing above the wainscoting.

Restoration of the faux marble painting on the risers

Imagine our delight when we uncovered this!

The baseboards in the foyer were painted with faux marble. Thos. Day was know to have craftsmen in his shop who specialized in painting pine to look like mahogany and faux marble painting was very popular in his day. The faux marble was probably painted by Samuel Shelton. On a hunch, we tried taking some Strypeeze to the paint on the risers, and behold!

Ed and Gloria Burkett did a wonderful job of gently loosening the outer paint to show the original faux marble underneath. It is especially meaningful to Bob that this wonderful effect was possible using Strypeeze, because his father was the long time President of Savogran, the company that makes Strypeeze.

Interior: Stair Paneling

Paneling on the side of the front stairwell

This view shows the panels that Thos. Day built along the side of the stairway. Here, they are highlighted with a cream color. Notice, also the hand carved scrolling at the risers. Too much Sea Foam color for our taste, but that will be remedied with the help of Terry Lowdermilk, our decorator. http://www.tlinterior.com/

For those who are familiar with Thos. Day's work, the newel post in Oak Ridge is comparatively plain. We are not sure whether that is due to the insistence of the owners or because Oak Ridge was a relatively early project for Mr. Day, and he had not evolved the more elaborate style for which he is known.

Restoration of spandrel

We had the good sense to engage Lowdermilk Interiors to select colors for the front foyer, and this is how it looks after the restoration. The rich cream of the damask wallpaper may not be apparent from this photograph, but the luscious colors of the wood panels and the refreshed floor are apparent. Notice the original faux mahogany of the closet door is still stunning, 175 years later.

Restoration of the foyer

Here is an oblique angle, showing the stairs after the restoration. The risers now expose the original faux marble milk paint, and the panel colors are more subtle. The ghost railing highlights the break between the wainscoting and the wallpaper. A rich and lustrous entryway.

Restoration: foyer wallpaper

This picture shows the damask wallpaper pattern in the hallway above the foyer.

Heartbreak

Heartbreak

Be careful about wallpaper.

Wallpaper disaster! I was reluctant to post this story, because I don't like to criticize friends. But this is a story about the perils of restoring an old house, and I hope my misfortune will prevent someone else from making the same mistake.

Old plaster walls are not the same as sheet rock. They absorb moisture and expand, then contract when they dry. Sadly, the people who installed the wallpaper at Oak Ridge did not understand this (even though Joanie is a professional) and Rick Morris, who supervised the project, is supposed to have lots of experience in restoring old homes.

Joanie used a vinyl liner underneath the paper. Vinyl is impermeable to water, so the plaster couldn't "breathe" on one side. The result was water accumulated between the vinyl liner and the wall, which dissolved the glue.

This happened about six months after the installation. It happened on both interior and exterior walls, one of which is shown in the picture. Needless to say everyone is blaming somebody else (Surprise!).

Ultimately I will have to redo all the walls. Hate to pay twice for the same job.

Interior: Box Locks

Period hardware for interior doors

This is a typical box lock. Surprisingly, we have a complete set of keys for the doors, despite the irregular chain of custody of the years. It is worth noting that, after 175 years of settling, every door in the house still swings freely. Don't find that in new homes, even with lightweight, hollow doors.

Restoration: Dining Room

The dining room at Oak Ridge was originally the back room of the house. In the early 20th century a room was added behind the dining room, which was converted into a kitchen in the 1960s. The wallpaper in the dining room was an elegant Chinoise pattern with an 18 foot repeat of the pattern. The trim color was that ubiquitous sea foam. There was a door made to the kitchen on one side, shown here.

A kitchen, to us, is a place to gather and this arrangement isolated the kitchen which was a little small for socializing. It was also cluttered and in very bad repair, with torn linoleum floor and ancient appliances. So we (meaning architect Richard Morris and decorator Terry Lowdermilk) suggesteded converting the dining room into a family room and open it up to the kitchen by creating four foot wide open doorways on both sides of the fireplace. The front parlor will become the new dining room.

Restoration: Home Construction in 1836

When we opened up the frame to make the doorways this is what we found. This view is looking into the kitchen from the dining room. Notice that, instead of vertical 2 x 4s, this house has 4 x 8 angled braces at each corner. It is no wonder that we can't tell when the wind is howling unless we look outside!

Restoration: Door Frames

Thomas Day took pains to make every room unique. For example, the door frames in each room are different. This picture shows the fluting in the frame for the doors in the dining room, and the hand carved decoration at the corners. Those in other rooms are similar, yet have different fluting and circles. The wainscoting in each room has a different pattern of panels. Also, the thresholds all are two colors. The floors for each room are stained slightly differently, and the demarcation between the two colors is the line along the threshold where the doors close.

Interior Restoration: Family Room Floor

The floors in Oak Ridge are made of yellow pine cut from the virgin timber in the 1820s. Each floorboard runs the length of the room (21 feet), without a joint. All we did was to sand the original floor and apply oil to it. No tints or dyes. This is what the family room floor looks like.

Interior Restoration: Family room

We converted the dining room into a family room, opening up two doorways into the kitchen, Here is how it looks, now the wallpaper is up. The paper is a damask style, with adobe and cream. The trim color is the same as that in the kitchen.

Interior Restoration: AGA stove

We just couldn't imagine that a stainless steel stove would look right in this kitchen, so we searched high and low for an enamel stove that would look right. The answer was an AGA stove, from England. We chose the ivory finish, to match the sink in the center island. Here is how it looked, flanked by cabinets, before anything was painted.

Interior Restoration: Kitchen Counter tops

We chose soapstone counter tops, to reflect the black off the stove. This was taken shortly after oiling, so they appear darker than normal

Interior Restoration: Kitchen Pie safe

Rick Morris thought it would look great to have one kitchen cabinet that looked like an old pie safe, with punched tin panels in the doors. Can you see the glorious gold color of the tin?

It was originally planned that the cabinet be stained pine, but we agreed that it needed Andy's skill to paint it an adobe color. Here is how it looks, next to the cabinets that flank the stove. Note how the blue milk paint of the cabinets shines in the sunlight, where the upper cabinets, in the shade, look gray.

Interior Restoration: Pie safe panel

Here is an individual panel for the pie safe. The tin is about 50 years old, and the artist who applied the pattern copied a period piece. We think the color and the pattern are simply lovely.

Interior Restoration: Cabinet colors

Back in the day, people made paint using milk protein as the binder. The reason we were able to preserve the faux marble paint on the stair risers is because they were painted with milk paint, which resisted the solvent we used to strip the oil paint off. We were intrigued by the idea, and Andy Compton has preserved the art of milk paint. He uses curdled milk protein as a base, and adds pigment to that before applying to the surface. It takes several months to fully cure, but then it is as hard as enamel. So that is what we chose for the cabinets.

We insisted that we wanted blue, to everyone's chagrin, but blue is what we got, and we are very pleased with the result.

Interior Restoration: Kitchen Exhaust hood

This picture provides a better view of the cuprous coloring that Andy Compton was able to achieve on the hood exhaust. It picks up the faucet color but adds some unique lustre.

Interior Restoration: Stove wall

This picture shows the cabinets that flank the AGA stove, with the island in the foreground and the pie safe in the corner. Hopefully you can see how the colors integrate. Note the hardware is different on each piece. Also, the cuprous finish on the fume hood compliments everything.

Interior Restoration: Center Island in Kitchen

We were very lucky to have the services of Compton Interiors to realize the goal of having our new kitchen look old. For the center island, Andy applied three coats of stain and two coats of paint to be able to "stress" the surface, revealing different colors underneath. This photo shows the end product, with which we are very pleased.

Hutch Opposite Stove

Behind the wall opposite the stove is the back of the chimney. This, too is painted with milk paint. To try and give it some texture we applied three colors, then sanded through so the colors bled through a bit. What do you think? Does it have a Goth look?

Restoration: Passage into the Family Room

This photo shows the new passage way from the kitchen looking into the Family Room. Note the framing duplicates the originals in the dining room. You can see that the wallpaper in the dining room has been removed and the walls primed for new paper.

You can see the floor in the kitchen turned out very handsome. There were three layers of linoleum that Elaine and Owen had stripped, but they looked hopeless, with all the glue and dirt that had built up. We expected we would have to buy some old heartwood pine from somewhere, but our floor sander insisted that, once he had sanded it, it would look smashing. He was obviously correct. We plan to oil the floors, rather than use polyurethane. The original finish is Tung Oil, and we much prefer the matte appearance to that of reflective synthetics. The beauty of the old door at the far side of the kitchen speaks for itself.

Grounds: Kitchen House

Draped in snow

Back in the day, cooking was done in an outbuilding, out of fear that fire might destroy the main house. Here the kitchen house is blanketed in a wintry shawl. In front is a brick well house, which was built in the 1940s. The original well spring remains full of water. The fireplace inside the kitchen house still contains two iron cranes, from which the cook would hang pots over the flames.

Grounds; Kitchen House Chimney

View from a different angle

This shows the kitchen house taken from behind the home, beneath the black gum. The stonework in the chimney is in disrepair, but we simply can't do everything at once. Hopefully it will survive until we get to fixing it.

Grounds: Stable

Looking back towards the house

The very first project we undertook was to build a new stable for Elaine's horses. Dr. Boyer had build a horse barn on the property, but Bob called it the "Unstable." In its stead we built this steel barn, seen here in a blanket of show. If you know Elaine, you know this is a well designed barn. Each stall has a sliding door. These aren't for access, because they hide a stationary iron grill. In the winter the doors keep the warm air in, but in the summer they open up to provide refreshing cross ventilation.

Grounds: Crepe Myrtles

Blossoms all summer long

The gardens were planned to provide flowers year round. From the white and yellow jonquils that bloom in February to the bright red berries on the hollies and nandina in winter, there are delightful colors year round.In the heat of the summer these crepe myrtles and the rose 'o sharon flower despite the dry weather.

Grounds: Magnolia

How do you replicate a century old magnolia?

There are six Magnolias on the grounds, of which this is the smallest. It is hard to convey their magnificence in a photograph, but they are truly regal. In June, when they blossom, the air is filled with an aroma that is indescribable.

Grounds: Dogwood

Spring at Oak Ridge is breathtaking

Here is a dogwood, framed by the largest of the six enormous Magnolias and the boxwoods leading out to the maze. The Magnolia grandiflora is in a sunken garden and is the largest we have ever seen.

Grounds: Black Gum

Unusually spectacular fall foliage

This post is about the restoration, but any account of Oak Ridge must also convey the magnificent grounds. It is possible to build a house, but not a tree like this. The brick house in front of it contains the well

Grounds: Maple

Autumn colors

Fall is also beautiful, when the maples bring out their orange splendor

Grounds: Redbud and Dogwood

There are many beautiful old dogwood trees adorning various places. This one is in line with a redbud and the combination can be lovely.

Grounds: Hollies

Laden with berries

As you come in the driveway, there is a line of ancient holly trees on your left. The photographs shows one of the magnolias in the foreground, and the hollies. Not sure how well they show up in this picture, but they are full of berries.

Grounds: Weeping Cherry

Loving tribute

When Dr. Delos Boyer died, in 1984, he was buried on the grounds, and his family planted this weeping cherry to lament. Dr. Boyer was a war hero, a co-founder of Danville Orthopedic Clinic and an extraordinary man of great intellect, energy and heart. Oak Ridge became one of his passions. After his wife, Phyllis, passed away, he was reinterred with her in hallowed ground in Danville, but this magnificent weeping cherry reminds us of his enduring energy.

Grounds: Maples Beginning to Turn

From the end of the garden, looking back towards the house

The boxwoods frame a garden 200 feet long and 70 feet wide. At one point this was a rose garden, but it is now simply grass. Just beyond that garden are these maples, along with catalpa, chestnuts and walnuts.

Grounds: Root Cellar

Log construction

Once there were two root cellars, but this is the only one that survived. As the name implies, these were used to lay up root crops, like potatoes and turnips.

Fallen Oak - Is your house strong enough to stand after a large oak falls on it?

Fallen Oak
Fallen Oak

Do you know what a derecho is? A wall of wind that precedes a front. Winds can reach hurricane force, even though they are not cyclones. One went through here a few weeks ago and took out a number of trees. The ground was sodden from so much rain, so, when the wind hit it the force snapped roots fifteen feet away from the trunk. You can see one of the roots pointed in the air. It just tore a trench through the ground from the point where it snapped. The top of the tree fell square on the roof.

Fortunately, Oak Ridge was stouter than the oak tree. The trunk snapped about two thirds of the way up the tree, where it was about 12" in diameter. The damage to the home was minimal, considering the force of a falling oak tree landed square on it. If you scroll up to where you see the 4 x 8 diagonals that support the corner posts you will see why it was the tree, rather than the house that gave way.

Trimming
Trimming

Trimming the tops

This offers a little better picture of what it looked like next to the house. The smaller boughs have been trimmed and the siz of the trunk is visible. Owen has plans for the wood, as you will see in the next module.

From near catastrophe to furniture

Owen is using a Wood Mizer portable saw mill to turn the logs into furniture wood

This amazing machine is able to pick up the log, using hydraulics, and roll it onto the platform. A horizontal band saw trims the top. Then it rolls the log 90 degrees and trims the side, and so on, until it has squared the log for cutting into boards. Thanks to the Gordons Owen has some new lumber to make into furniture or mantles or whatever he chooses.

two by twelves
two by twelves

Here are the first boards

The arms of the front end loader are 4 foot long, which shows you that these boards are a full 2" thick by a little more than 2 foot wide and 8.5 feet long. This log was about as heavy as the machine could manage, but it is all stacked and drying now.

We also good a few good loads of firewood out of the tops.

Thomas Day: Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color (Richard Hampton Jenrette Series in Architecture and the Decorative Arts)
Thomas Day: Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color (Richard Hampton Jenrette Series in Architecture and the Decorative Arts)

A scholarly evaluation of the work of Thomas Day, whose success in the 1830s to 1850s is inspiring.

 
Thomas Day: African American Furniture Maker
Thomas Day: African American Furniture Maker

A brief introduction to a fascinating man.

 
The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White
The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White

Written in 2000, this book describes the history of the Hairston family which was prominent in the antebellum South and their decedents, both black and white.

 

We are writing about our interpretation of how to go about restoring our home, but we are sure others know a lot more about this than us. Please feel free to add your advice and correct our mistakes, predict what's going to happen, etc.

Guestbook Comments - Please provide you comments, experiences and corrections

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      Susan Hawker Hester 20 months ago

      Dr. Lenk, It was a great pleasure to meet you today in the driveway as my husband and I were touring memory lane! The websites have been so helpful to restore and bring back memories that for me have only been stories from my mother (Irene Baum Hawker) and great aunt (Francis Jones Carter). Once I returned to Richmond I immediately shared with my mother, Irene and her brother Ashby Baum who were thrilled to see the renovations at Oak Ridge. With great excitement they would love to visit the home and bring to you some of their memories and possible pictures. Would you be willing to make this happen? Sincerely, Susan.

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      Jean 3 years ago

      Thank you soooo much for sharing this site and soooo much information and pictures of the house. It looks like you have done a lot of beautiful work and I love everything that you shared. It is very interesting and very beautiful!! I also wanted to thank Owen for showing me around on the grounds there some when I showed up there one day while going back to Eden from Danville. I stopped in hopes of seeing someone that lived there to answer some questions. Owen was VERY nice and very open to showing me around and answering my questions. I found out then I wasn't the first person to just stop in like I did... but many of people before me have stopped asking questions and wanting tours of the house and grounds. Again.. Thank you.

    • rpevlenk profile image
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      rpevlenk 3 years ago

      You are too kind. One does not own a place like Oak Ridge. We are but stewards of its legacy. There is much still to be done, but I hope we will preserve the legacy of Thomas Day and the craftsmen who built it.

      When I saw it for the first time, I saw what it was and what it could become. Elaine saw it in the present and was not entirely happy. I recall overhearing her talking with some friends at a party saying "I wish I could see what Bob sees when he looks at Oak Ridge."

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      sbavari 3 years ago

      Bob,

      Thanks a ton for allowing us to see this amazing transformation. We have to give you a hard salute for taking such a challenge and giving us all a chance to enjoy the beauty of the past. I am so impressed with the progress. We are waiting to see what kind of furniture comes out of near disaster and hoping to see the house soon. Oak Ridge is blessed to have you as itâs caretaker.

      Debra and Sina

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      ashleydpenn 3 years ago

      Wow! Looks like you have had quite a job. I haven't had time to read the entire lens in detail, but it looks fascinating. I'm looking forward to coming back to read more. Thanks for sharing your project!

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      elissa-forsythe 4 years ago

      Bob,

      This was fascinating to read & view. Holy smokes, what a project!! I didn't realize how many phases you've gone through in restoration. Kudos to you & Elaine; really magnificent progress. I believe you are developing more than scientific discoveries - you are also unearthing the historic beauty of this home. Thanks for sharing. See you again soon I hope

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Jamie sent me your link and it's very exciting to see all you have done since Bob Carter and I met you two years ago - I am sending it on to him also. The interior work you are doing is really great, and all the details you provide are so helpful. Like Marie Reedy, especially appreciate the name of the faux painter. Many houses like mine in Madison, from the same era, are faux painted - surely it can't be the same artist, but until now I hadn't heard the names of any painters at all - thanks for taking the time to share like this!

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      rpevlenk 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you for your interest. I know little about your ancestor. I have been told he was the artist who did faux painting for Thomas Day. When the local economy blossomed in the 1830s as new roads and waterways provided access to new markets many of the colonial settlers built new homes. Either adding to the existing houses or building anew. Day flourished between his furniture business and providing the cabinetwork for this construction boom. His shop was in Milton, NC, in Caswell County. You might approach the Thomas Day museum, in Milton for more information on Mr. Shelton. They told me that Samuel Shelton was employed to provide faux painting to many of these homes. Hope this is some help.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Your restoration is fantastic. My family has been in the building trades, that we can trace, back as far as the 1830's. It's much easier to start fresh but not nearly as rewarding as bringing a place back to life. The trees and shrubs are worth owning the property. I'm interested in the mention of Samuel Shelton who painted the stairs. Can you tell me about the man? Was he from the area? A traveling faux painter? I'm trying to find what became of my 4th great grandfather. We have no idea what he did for a job , but we think he was in the area of Leaksville, NC in 1800. This area was being developed by William Barnett, Junior and his father William, Senior. They were also the developers for Danville, VA. We find a couple mentions of a Samuel Shelton around 1800-1815 in Rockingham Co., NC. Lots of new pieces of property bring in painters and the area was growing up quickly. Shelton's son, Richard, married a daughter of William Barnett, Senior. They are all from Louisa Co., VA. Richard Shelton's family is still in the area in 1822 before going to a farm in Guilford County purchased from the records we have found to use for Methodist Camp meetings. It was to the north east of Greensboro.Thousands of people came for weeks and lived in tents set up like a city around 1820. . Thank you for sharing your home with us. Marie Reedy

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      What an amazing job on the restoration. I have been in love with this home since I was a child when my family and I would travel to Eden. I would build this house out of shoe boxes and dreamed to own this house one day. Im sorry for the loss of your wife. I know she is looking down proud of the accomplishments that have been made. I would love to see the inside. It is absolutely beautiful.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I am so sorry for the loss of your wife, you both did a magnificent job on the restoration of the house and grounds! I live in Halifax County near Vernon Hill and love to see the magnificent older building being so lovingly restored. I have a new home that is falling to pieces due to poor building techniques and it is all I can do to find people who will work on it; I can only imagine the painstaking search you have had to go through to procure the services of these craftsmen but judging from your photos, I would say they have done an exquisite job! I hope you enhoy it for many years longer!

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      rpevlenk 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you for your kind words. It is heartwarming to know that others enjoy the story. It is satisfying to make progress, even though it is slower than I would like.

      The ruin you describe was Oak Hill, built by the Hairston family. Thank you for reminding me. I have added a link to an interesting book written about them. The Wilson and the Hairston family trees shared many branches. JEB Stuart's sister, Columbia married Peter Hairston and lived (and died) at Oak Hill. It was a large and very prosperous plantation. The house, which had been abandoned, burned about 30 years ago.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I have been reading about your restoration & amazed of the hard work you have done. Iam sorry for the loss of your wife & sure she can see the wonderful home now that it is once again beautiful. I grew up in Eden & live in Madison now but visit Danville often. I hope it makes you happy to know that I choose the Berry Hill Road just because of your home & the other neighboring old homes. Iam curious about the ruins of a plantation that may have burned. If you have any info on that I would love to hear it. Thank you, Susan

      PS If you ever open your home for a tour, please let me know. I would love to see & feel the inside.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      @michael-lynskey-16: I am one of the sons of Anne M. (Lynskey), who grew up at the Lynskey farm and lived there from 1901 to about 1920. I visited the farm many times. Someone should compare the stonework on the chimney of the mansion and any other stonework still on the premises, such as water springs with the chimneys and spring work by M. C. Lynskey at the Lynskey farm, which is only a couple of miles away. They might find a match.

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      michael-lynskey-16 4 years ago

      @rpevlenk: Not a problem, and thanks - next time you run into any of those Lynskeys tell them a cousin from New Jersey said hello.

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      rpevlenk 4 years ago

      @michael-lynskey-16: The Lynskeys have been great neighbors since we moved in.

      The only stonework on my property is the chimney on the kitchen house, which we are rebuilding. Of course we only own 30+ acres out of the original 1,700. I do not know of a stone building, but I have not explored the area. Sorry I can't help.

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      michael-lynskey-16 4 years ago

      Enjoying the story of this renovation project. My great great grandfather, Martin Carroll Lynskey purchased 217 acres from Dr. Wilson in the 1850s. I believe this was just north of Oak Ridge, on today's Lynskey Farm Road. Family history states that he received this land in exchange for a "stone house" he built for the doctor, he was a stone mason. Any idea where this stone house was or if it still stands on the property today?

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      rpevlenk 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you for the offer and the kind words about the restoration. I find it interesting this discussion has drifted into a focus on the ghost of Oak Ridge. I should clear up one thing. There is a slave cemetery about a mile from the home, where the original, colonial era home was built. I believe it was customary to designate a specific plot for burial, and the slave cemetery is adjacent to the plot where George and Justinia Adams are buried.

      There are two ghost stories I have encountered. The first was told me by "Doc" Jones daughter, Fannie. When she was young, her beau and eventual husband, Alan Carter, was courting her and they were dallying in the library. She had a strict curfew, and one night they heard someone come down the stairs and walk across the living room. To their surprise, the steps went into the dining room, not the library. Alan took the hint and scurried off. The next day Fannie chided her mother for frightening them. Her mother denied that she had gone downstairs at all. Til his dying day, Alan believed that there had been a ghost that night, although Fannie did not take it so seriously.

      Mrs. Dorothy Rich's youngest son, Charles, was delirious with fever one night, and they were afraid he might not live. As she attended him, the bedroom door suddenly opened, and her son said "Why, come in Dr. Wilson." Mrs Rich did not see the apparition, but the fever broke and she believes the spirit of Dr. Wilson saved her sons life. Sadly, he later died in an automobile accident a few years later.

      I have not come across any references to ghosts of slaves seeking revenge for their maltreatment. I will admit to wondering, as I wander the grounds, what stories are lost in the clay. Sometimes, on moonlit nights when there is a ground fog I catch a glimpse of "Beau" Stuart's plume, dancing in the garden with the fireflies. Perhaps I will learn more in time, but the two stories that have been handed down are benign.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @rpevlenk: Mr. Lenk,

      I am a private investigator in Greensboro. We were hired by a previous owner to set up surveillance cameras in order to catch incidences of vandalism that unfortunately had become commonplace on the property. We documented several instances of just that. I remember thinking how solid the house looked from the outside and how great it would look if it were restored. I have several weeks of interior video footage that I can share with you. We were looking for human subjects in the context of a

      B & E investigation and thus didn't inspect for anything paranormal. Footage was shot over several months in the spring and summer of 2005. I've seen some strange things in my years as an investigator. We spent several nights in the house and never saw or heard anything, but you never know, there might be something there if you care to look through the tapes.GREAT job on the house! john@waltonpi.com

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @rpevlenk: As one of the nine children of the previous owner, I can say with sincere honesty that living at Oak Ridge demanded great human sacrifice.I not only tragically lost a father that I loved dearly while living there ,but I watched my Mother die a very prolonged and undiagnosed illness and subsequent death which took place in her home there. The reason that my family was able to acquire Oak Ridge when we did

      was because the previous owner lost her husband and son while living there. Regardless of your skepticism of Parapsychology, Oak Ridge seems to require a great deal of it's inhabitants. I hope as you uncover it's many treasures that you are careful when dealing with it's years of physic debris from housing 112 slaves many of whom are most likely in unmarked graves on the property.The Rhine Research Center for the Science of Parapsychology at Duke may offer you some help if your skepticism begins to lift. I hope your vision and the subsequent outcome for the Renovations of Oak Ridge are successful and that it results in years of happiness for you with little sacrifice and personal loss.

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      rpevlenk 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you for your kind comments. It is gratifying to learn that others share our love for this magnificent heritage, and appreciate the work we have done.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I grew up living in the Draper section of Eden so the Berry Hill Rd has always been a familiar place. Watching the decay through the years was so very sad. After living in NY, FL and Texas I am back in Eden (Central Area) and was filled with joy when I first saw the restoration. This past Sunday I actually got the nerve to drive into your entry and viewing Oak Ridge from the back of the home is as breathtaking as the front. I am overwhelmed with the beauty of your home. I love your essay and the pictures you provided. The next best thing would be to view the inside. What a dream you had and followed through to an absolutely gorgeous fruition.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @rpevlenk: Mr. Lenk, I have always admired "old southern mansions" but especially Oakridge.. but only from afar. I have often wondered, as I pass by, "if only those walls could talk...wonder what tales they would tell?" After finding this web-site, I now know you have purchased Oakridge. Congraulations!! For the first time, in a long, long time,someone is finally taken a serious interest in improving her and she is now getting some much needed attention. If you are ever in need of "extra" help please, do keep me in your mind. Not only am I trustworthy, reliable and deicated to doing an excellent job for you, I would be available to work weekends. If you are interested and need more information concerning me or references, please, just ask. And, of course, the jobs I do for you will be on a volunteer basis. Oakridge...what a fine piece of the old south. I most definitely would be honored in helping you restore this mansion to her former glory. Welcome to Virginia...and, wishing you nothing but continue success!! Thank-you for your time, Trina Law trinalaw@hotmail.com

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Breathtakingly beautiful. Educational. Informative. Fun.

      Don't think I have ever seen a floating bathroom. Was that a trap-door in the floor? Appreciate you dream. Admire your passion. Thanx for update. Keep up the good work.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Beautiful, informative and entertaining!

    • rpevlenk profile image
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      rpevlenk 5 years ago

      @anonymous: We have heard stories about the "haint," as the locals pronounce "haunt," but we have not had an encounter. We even had a group of ghostbusters set up their equipment and monitor for ghosts, but to no avail. Of course any spirit would have to be very determined to penetrate our cortex of skepticism

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      What a great way to journal the trials and tribulations of restoring your home. Very interesting history and I love the before and after photos. I look forward to following the progression of your work. Nice job!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Wow this is amazing! This is worthy of publication in FineHomebuilding!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      How wonderful of you to share this with everyone. We drove by there at one point because I do believe that this house was listed in a book called Ghosts of Virginia...but at this time I cannot put my hands on the book to verify it. We are now in MI but lived in Danville from 1997 to 2005. We puchased a home on Holbrook in Danville that was 3 apartments and started restoring it to it's 1911 glory, so we understand you passion. The historical part of VA has become a part of our lives. Thank you again for sharing.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Really enjoyed reading this, Bob