Bobbi Hurst likes to say she and her husband Randy accidentally bought their 125-year-old home.

After all, they never planned to move to Lynchburg.

It all started when the North Carolina couple tagged along with Bobbi’s brother for one of his favorite pastimes — looking at historic architecture.

One day in 2003, the group noticed the Queen Anne Victorian home tucked almost at the end of Madison Street with a “For Sale” sign in the yard.

“The [porch] columns are what caught my eye when we were driving around,” Randy said. “They almost look like they’re upside down because they’re big and then they kind of taper down.”

The Hursts were so taken with the house they made an appointment to see it, and promptly put down an offer.

“We hadn’t even thought about moving to Lynchburg when we saw the house,” Bobbi said.

She remembered seeing its interior for the first time with her sister-in-law and brother. It was rough around the edges but all Bobbi could see was the grandeur it once had.

Still, Bobbi remembered her sister-in-law asking over and over, “Oh, Bobbi. Oh, Bobbi, are you sure?”

The Hursts intended to use it as a second home but soon they found themselves staying in Lynchburg for longer periods of time. After their business Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina closed during the recession, the couple decided to make the Hill City home.

“We fell in love with the house,” Bobbi said. “I have a friend down the street that asked us if the house bought us or we bought the house. I say the house bought us. It’s been a labor of love.”

City records show the house was built circa 1895 but S. Allen Chambers’ book, “Lynchburg: An Architectural History,” notes its construction was completed in 1900.

The house was built for William V. Wilson, an attorney and bank president. The Wilson family moved to Lynchburg in 1880 and about nine years later, Wilson had purchased a house and lot at the end of Madison Street. The couple contracted with architect Edward Frye and builders Wilson & Seay to construct the house as it stands today.

“More than any other house on the street, the William V. Wilson Jr. house … illustrates how popular ‘Quality Row’ was at the turn of the century,” Chambers wrote. “... Because the lot on which it was built plummets in the rear toward Blackwater Creek, the house had to be placed much closer to Madison Street than its neighbors.” Quality Row was a nickname for the Garland Hill neighborhood, which once was considered the most desirable place to live in the city.

The way the Wilson house is perched on the lot makes it look smaller than it really is. The five-bedroom house consists of about 4,500 finished square feet, according to city records.

“The Wilson house appears to be the most diminutive of the Garland Hill mansions,” Chambers wrote. “However, that appearance is somewhat deceiving. Because of the slope of the lot, the basement, only partially exposed on the front, is fully above grade at the rear. Although the end bays of the tripartite composition of the facade are only one story tall, the broad-gabled central bay is fully two and a half stories. The house is built of an amazingly diverse group of materials, even discounting the obviously later frame enclosure of the porch. The basement is of regular brick, the first floor of hard-pressed red brick. The second story of the central bay is clad in slate, while the gable itself and the frame around the triple attic window are pressed metal.”

Chambers noted the details of the house are Queen Anne in style, while “its basic horizontal outline and dormer are much more advanced than most of its late-nineteenth-century contemporaries in Lynchburg.”

Wilson died in 1933 and, as the couple had no children, the house sold and was converted into apartments. Walls were added, the grand stairway reconfigured and, in places, narrowstrip oak flooring was put down over the home’s original heart pine.

The house that now sits at the end of the street was built as the Wilson’s carriage house and since has been converted to a single-family home, Randy said.

The couple searched for the original architectural drawings to guide their restoration efforts, but the search has been unsuccessful.

Bobbi, a former art teacher, and Randy, a contractor, set to work removing the added walls. As they worked, the couple found architectural elements that long had been covered over.

For instance, they knew the parlor once had a fireplace and uncovered it. In the basement, they found the original mantle.

“We knew it went here because it was the fanciest of all the mantles,” Bobbi said. “So they brought it up here and it fit perfectly.”

Randy added, “It was fortunate that it survived. A lot of times when people remove things, it would leave the property.”

Randy noted the pocket doors separating the entry hall and parlor are oak on the entry side and pine on the parlor side to match the dominant woodwork in each room.

Under the rug in the dining room is a buzzer set into the floor. Wilson would have been able to hit the button with his foot to call the servant into the dining area.

The kitchen is small and intimate but makes good use of the space with its wood cabinetry. The countertops are made from a rich, black soapstone quarried from the Nelson County community of Schuyler.

The couple completely stripped out the kitchen and rebuilt it — twice, Randy said. The first time was a quick remodel and the second turned the kitchen into what they really wanted.

During the renovations, the Hursts found framework of an old dumb waiter. Randy theorizes the kitchen originally was on the basement level and the dumb waiter was used to cart the food to the first floor.

The kitchen abuts an enclosed porch with a view of the woods, Blackwater Creek and the Rivermont Bridge. Bobbi looks out over the view and tries to imagine what Wilson would have seen.

“They could sit out here and watch the train come through and the traffic, I guess the carriages, but I thought a lot of times about how it would’ve been at night — totally, totally dark because there was no lights,” Bobbi said.

The grand staircase initially was a bit of a mystery. It had been covered over and reconfigured to spill onto the front porch when the house was apartments and all its elegant woodwork covered with drywall.

The couple had trouble figuring out whether the grand staircase turned just once or twice. Finally, they noticed a notched out piece of wood where it looks as though the staircase made a second turn, so that is how they reconfigured it.

The stained glass windows behind the stairs are a newer addition. Bobbi worked with Jeg Stained Glass in downtown Lynchburg to create a pattern typical of a house of that vintage.

Under the taller stretch of stairs, the couple added a powder room and under the short side sits the air intake for the heat pump, covered by a wooden screen rescued from a dumpster at the Gastonia library in North Carolina.

Opening up walls in the entry hall in 2006 revealed a second arched doorway flanking the fireplace.

The couple didn’t know the archway was there, but finding it helped to explain the description of children running around and around through the entry hall in a newspaper article the couple came across about the Wilsons’ Christmas parties.

Behind the arch is access to the master bedroom with its en suite and an office.

Randy built storage in another arched doorway between the two rooms also uncovered during construction, which is almost invisible if you didn’t know part of the wood pattern doubled as doors.

Randy theorizes Wilson used the front room as a home office and his clients came through a separate door on the porch. Over the years, that door was covered and a bookshelf added. Randy installed a fake exterior door to restore the facade to its original look.

The stairwell wall is decorated with art. A 150-year-old charcoal portrait of a boy hangs there, a piece Bobbi stumbled upon when buying a nondescript picture for its frame. When she took the frame apart for cleaning, she found the portrait but has not been able to find any details about the boy or artist.

Upstairs features bedrooms, each with doors leading to portions of the attic. The couple turned one room into a den where a metal sculpture on the wall of the den features reliefs of the face of their son at about age 4.

The second-story enclosed porch is Bobbi’s art room, which opens to a deck with a view of the Peaks of Otter. The couple is working to restore the porch and the staircase leading to the ground, as well as build a new retaining wall in the backyard.

“The deck is in bad shape, but there’s a fantastic view here,” Bobbi said.

When the couple removed some of the oak flooring on what has been an exterior porch, they found old newspapers, with photographs of Hitler marching from a 1940s that a prior owner used as a vapor barrier. They left the newspaper in place for the next owner to find.

Randy with a smile said Bobbi always has loved a good project.

“I felt like I was home,” Bobbi said. “We really enjoy living here. It’s been a project that we’ve enjoyed doing, a labor of love.”

A photograph of a portrait of Wilson hangs on the stairwell wall, and a photograph of a younger Wilson sits in the parlor. Bobbi has been trying to put reminders of the original family back into the home.

She’s been searching for a portrait of Mrs. Wilson without success. From her research, the Wilsons were married for about 15 years before Mrs. Wilson died.

“I would like to see what she looked like,” Bobbi said.

Reference to a portrait was made in Wilson’s will. He bequeathed the bulk of his estate to the Presbyterian Orphanage, now known as HumanKind. He wanted the money to be used to build a cottage in honor of his late wife and wanted her portrait hung there.

Wilson died in 1933 and as the area struggled with the Great Depression, the cottage never was built. The whereabouts of the portrait is unknown.

Through her research, Bobbi learned Wilson handled a trust fund for a friend’s daughter for her education at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, but the money ran out before graduation so Wilson paid the rest of her tuition without telling the student.

Her research also found Wilson valued character when choosing to lend money to a client, recounting a story she heard about how Wilson gave a loan to a young man to start a business after he learned the man didn’t drink whisky or “run around with women,” Bobbi said.

The Hursts hoped to find more remnants of the family and their history but so far, they’ve only located a few postcards that had fallen behind the mantle piece.

“I feel like we own it for now but we’re hoping, eventually, that someone else will take it on and keep it going,” Bobbi said.

PHOTOS: North Carolina couple finds home in turn-of-the-century Lynchburg abode

Bobbi Hurst likes to say she and her husband Randy accidentally bought their 125-year-old home.

After all, they never planned to move to Lynchburg.

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.

Recommended for you

Load comments