When the Georgian Revival house with its asymmetrical windows and crowned dormer peaking through the roof first caught Karen and Paul Dudley’s attention, it had sat empty for years.

The couple drove down Rivermont Avenue one day and noticed a “cash for houses” sign out front. Paul asked about purchasing it but the price was too high for the amount of work necessary to restore it.

Graffiti marred the dining room wall. Random junk cluttered the corners. The stately heart pine floors were coated in white oil paint and little strips of wallpaper clung to old plaster.

“It had just been basically abandoned, more or less,” Karen said. “So, the guy gave us a price and it was more than what we thought we could handle. ...

“We have ran into so many people who said, ‘We looked at that house.’ Everybody went in and said it was too much work, or they didn’t know how to do all the work.”

Months passed, and the owner reached out to Paul and said “Make an offer.”

They did, closing on the house in May 2016. It took about five months before the family of five could move into their circa 1906 home.

Rehabilitating a more than 100-year-old home, though, isn’t without challenges.

“I think living in a historic home, what I love about it is everything is unique,” Paul said. “It’s not like going to Lowe’s and picking out some supplies. ... Nothing is at a general hardware store so everything was uniquely made for these homes. Everything, all the trim, all the woodwork, the pillars, everything. So as exciting as it is to restore, it’s also difficult to replace.”

The house features a large front porch and entryway flanked by a double set of columns. Paul recalled to restore those columns, he had to call a craftsman to match the original shape.

And the ornate, green slate roof: “If that breaks — no luck in finding that. As awesome as it is to restore it back to original, it is also very, very difficult,” Paul said.

Inside, the wide hallways are arched and lined with the original wainscoting. The heart pine floors were cut from the center of a mature pine so the planks the family walks on each day are decades older than their historic home.

The paint a prior owner coated on that old heart pine ended up providing a layer of protection. Of course, to remove it took a lot of sanding.

“If you look closely, you’ll still see some of the white paint in the very deep cracks but we love that because it still reminds us of the journey and the history of this house,” Paul said.

Karen added, “The floor might not look perfect ... but it tells the story. There’s a story behind every imperfection, so that is pretty cool.”

One of those imperfections is the hole in the former dining room floor. Now the Dudley’s living room, the hole once held a button for the head of the household to step on to call for a servant to deliver the next course of the meal.

The Dudleys reconfigured the foyer as they determined how to use the first floor space. A door near the main staircase that led to the enclosed sun porch and another that led to the former library were closed off.

The Dudleys turned the library into a master suite and the sun porch became the ensuite bathroom and closet space.

“A first-floor master was something we always wanted and that was the perfect spot for it,” Karen said.

The master suite features an ornately carved fireplace mantel flanked by two built-in bookcases, paying homage to the room’s original purpose. The new bathroom space features a soaking tub, a shower and a large closet covered by a barn door.

“I’m totally a Chip and Joanna Gaines fan, so all my friends are like, ‘Oh my God, “Fixer-Upper” threw up all over your house,’” Karen chuckled.

The couple kept the original sunroom windows but frosted the glass panes to ensure the neighbors couldn’t see into the bright, sunny bathroom.

Pocket doors separate the foyer from the parlor where Karen has displayed some of the treasures she found amid the junk former owners left behind. For example, a book of music published the same year as the house was constructed ranked among the finds. Karen framed two pieces of music from it.

Down the hall, the couple decided to turn the full bathroom that once sat between the dining room and kitchen into a half bath, leaving in place the original pedestal sink.

“I realized how little they probably were back then, how short, because I feel like I have to bend down,” Karen said, demonstrating washing her hands in the sink. “My kids love it because it’s their height but I’m like wow people must’ve been very small.”

The tile floor, though, was too damaged to salvage so the Dudleys replaced it with the same pattern and matched the grout color.

The house’s original kitchen was a narrow galley-style space so the couple expanded its footprint to engulf part of the covered back porch for an eat-in kitchen.

“When it comes to doing a historic house we like to bring in the modern and kind of meld it with the historic,” Karen said. “Of course, we kept so many historical features that are here. We added our modern twist to it because we like to meld the generations. That’s why the kitchen is definitely more of a modern look.”

The Dudleys employed a structural engineer to expand the space, since the process required removing an exterior, load-bearing wall and installing a massive beam to take the weight of the upper floor.

Two historic elements emerged in the modern kitchen — the original wood shiplap that had been hiding under old exterior siding and a brick chimney that seemingly leads nowhere.

“It was covered in plaster and we could tell there was something behind it so we uncovered it, and that’s when we found the brick chimney underneath,” Karen said. “So we thought that was a really great addition to bring out the old in the middle of our new room.”

The second floor gave the family enough space for each child to have their own bedroom, as well as for Paul to have an office and the children to have their own arts and crafts room.

Karen said the man who had the house built slept in what now is the office and the wife slept in the room at the top of the stairs to keep an eye on the comings and goings of their children.

The couple installed a laundry on the second floor, as the craft room space featured a plumbed closet space. That cute, oval window on the facade is situated in that laundry closet.

The house originally had old knob-and-tube-style wiring, but all that has been replaced with modern electrical systems, though non-functional elements still reflect that history in the attic and in the fancy, old electrical box in the upstairs hallway.

The couple finished the basement into an Airbnb rental, with a bedroom, bathroom and kitchenette. An Airbnb guest who grew up in their home in the 1960s marveled at the basement transformation. The house, he told them, was heated by a coal-fired furnace and it was his chore to sweep out the coal dust, recalling how he’d return from the task with nostrils full of black dust.

The unfinished attic space may one day become a bonus room with tall, cathedral ceilings and exposed brick but for now, it remains storage. The dormer window provides a unique view of the steeple of Centenary United Methodist Church across the street. An old electric candle still sits in that window.

“The man who came in to visit who lived here in the 60s, he said, ‘Oh my word, that candle. That was from my family. … My stepdad always put candles in every window for Christmas and he must’ve left it here,’” she said. “So that candle could’ve been here since 1968.”

As the couple worked to restore the property, social media connected them with pieces of its past, including a woman who reached out on Facebook to say it was her great grandparents’ former home and she was thankful to see it alive once again.

The house, the Dudleys learned, was built by the Acree family, Leighton Cheatwood Acree and his wife Florence Royall Acree, in 1906. It was designed by prolific turn of the century architects Edward Frye and Aubrey Chesterman.

The Acrees, who worked in real estate, kept the home until 1968.

“It’s so neat to hear the history and it makes it kind of come alive,” Karen said. “I can picture what it would’ve been like. … They were throwing dinner parties here where they dressed to the hilt and everybody in Lynchburg came to the Acree house for a party.”

One of the Acree children, John White Acree, died serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II while leading a damage control party during the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands; he was buried at sea. A destroyer later was commissioned in his honor.

As the couple ripped into walls, they found little hidden pieces of the Acree family, including a photograph taped behind a piece of trim of a man stooped down on a porch talking to a child.

“I can never forget the first day,” Karen said. “We were ripping into the walls pretending like we were on ‘Fixer-Upper’ during the demo day. … We went into the wall and we found all this hair and we were like, ‘They bury dead bodies in the wall,’ and then someone who knew what they were doing said, ‘No, they used horse hair to insulate the house is back in the day.’”

The second owners of the house, the Roberts, owned Roberts Piano Company on Main Street. The Roberts’ son, who stayed in the Dudley’s basement Airbnb, told them of playing ping-pong in the attic and all the lost balls that might still be stuck in the rafters.

The family enjoyed jazz music and would host big house parties, complete with concerts, using the radiator covers as bar tops for the guests.

Clark Terry, a famous jazz trumpeter, once put on a concert there, and afterward had grown so tired he went upstairs to nap in what now is Karen’s daughter’s bedroom.

In the house’s 114-year history, the Dudleys mark just the fifth family to have lived there.

“That’s pretty amazing,” Paul said. “It’s a keeper. The high ceilings are amazing. Just the carpentry that’s done — you just don’t find it anywhere.”

PHOTOS: Lynchburg family uncovered history in restoring 100-year-old home

When the Georgian Revival house with its asymmetrical windows and crowned dormer peaking through the roof first caught Karen and Paul Dudley’s attention, it had sat empty for years.

Sidener is the special publications editor for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5539.

Sidener is the special publications editor for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5539.

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