George W Adams House at 302 S Jefferson Street

20151214_122239The George W. Adams House, located at 302 South Jefferson Street in historic downtown Lexington, Virginia, was one of my old-house listings a few years ago.

The Adams House started out as a two-story, side-passage, double-pile dwelling of braced-frame construction on a coursed limestone foundation.  Adams was a merchant-artisan, specializing in tinsmithing and other metalwork.  As their family grew, he and his wife Elizabeth added on to the house (ca. 1860), incorporating a large formal parlor on the first floor and a large master bedroom on the second. A rear ell was added in the late 1800s, with a kitchen and dining room on the 1st floor and 2 more rooms upstairs.  The home, which retains most of its original Late-Federal and Greek Revival architectural elements and wonderful heart-of-pine floors, has been sensitively updated with modern mechanical systems, central cooling and heating, and a custom kitchen and baths. Well arranged for entertaining, it is situated on a lushly landscaped corner lot and has been featured twice on tours of Lexington during Historic Garden Week in Virginia.

Lexington is a charming small town in the Shenandoah Valley, and an easy drive to Washington DC, Charlottesville, Richmond, Charlotte, or Raleigh. Home to two institutions of higher education, Washington & Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute, Lexington is a tourist destination AND a great place to raise a family or retire.  Friendly, walkable, and bike-able, it has an attractive downtown with art galleries, antique shops, boutiques, and a lively restaurant scene.  The Adams House, chock-full of authentic features, is just a short stroll to everything!

Updated 2 February 2019

“Back Spring Cottage” Is Under Contract!

11 NRandolph May 2015

This sweet little 2 bedroom cottage in downtown Historic Lexington, Virginia, is now under contract and slated to be sold at the end of June.   With commercial zoning and previous residential use, it has flexible usage options.  In addition, as a contributing building in the Lexington Historic District, it is a candidate for state and federal rehab income tax credits, which return up to 45% of rehab expenses to the owner upon completion of a qualifying rehabilitation project.

The Harlow family acquired the home on its very large park-like lot (nearly an acre) in theIMAG4432 mid-20th century.  It was owned in the late-19th and early-20th centuries by the Sheridan family, who operated a livery and stable a block away (the “Sheridan Livery Inn” on N. Main). The property is historically known as the “Back Spring Lot,” after the very bold spring in the back yard that serves as a principal source of water for Town Creek, a tributary of the Maury River.  As one of downtown’s only “waterfront” properties, it offers a shady respite from the summer heat.

The building’s unusual shed roof with a tall front parapet-like façade lends the cottage a IMAG4321less-residential look than other houses nearby; the two 4-panel front doors suggest it was  previously used either as a duplex or as a house + shop/office. The cottage appears to have been built in at least two stages, and was last renovated in the 1990s. Original wood siding, a 1920s Craftsman-style front porch with exposed rafters and shaped rafter tails, and most of the stone perimeter foundation are some of the cottage’s intact character-defining features.  The turned wooden posts are 1990s replacements of what were likely plain square posts.

If you’re an investor or business owner looking to buy or sell a house or commercial property such as this one located in Historic Lexington, please get in touch.  540-460-2201 or [email protected]


Penciling isn’t about pencils


Ever heard of “penciling”? Not commonly practiced nowadays, it was once regularly used by brickmasons here in Virginia and elsewhere.  Penciling refers to the technique of applying painted lines on the mortar joints of brick walls.

Bricks were once locally produced, using clay dug out of stream banks. The clay was minimally refined in pug mills, then tamped into wooden molds, then air dried, and finally baked in wood-fired kilns that had uneven temperatures.  The resulting bricks were often quite irregular in size, shape, and color.  With irregular bricks,  even courses (rows) could only be achieved by setting the bricks into mortar joints of varying widths.  In a conservative region and time period that valued regularity in masonry surfaces, brickmasons couldn’t leave those irregular bricks with their uneven mortar joints alone!

So, they pulled out their white paint, straightedges, and levels, and applied very thin stripes to every mortar joint.  From a distance, especially in bright light, the stripes emulate finely struck mortar, and disguise the irregularity so typical of handcrafted brickwork.

Almost every older (pre-Civil War-era) brick building I’ve ever documented in the eastern U.S. uses penciling.  Penciled joints have another virtue:  alongside exterior doorways they often host signatures left by prior owners, family members, and guests.  Architectural graffiti, if you will.  But that’s a story for another post.

This Old Stone House

Vineyard Hill (ca. 1774), on Forge Road in Rockbridge County, Virginia

Early settlement period buildings in Virginia were typically built using locally sourced materials.  And by locally sourced, I really mean locally sourced: old-growth trees harvested during land clearing, stones removed from fields being prepared for planting or from mountainside outcrops, and bricks that were shaped from hand-dug clay, then burned in homemade kilns using wood cut from local forests. Here in Rockbridge County, a limestone-rich area in Virginia’s southern Shenandoah Valley, we are lucky to have a few spectacular stone buildings built with locally quarried limestone.  Vineyard Hill, on the Virginia Landmarks Register, is one of those special places.

Begun about 1774, the home is built into an embankment with a lower-level kitchen that has a massive “walk in” fireplace with old wrought iron fittings. Above the basement, the home was originally one-and-a-half stories, with winding boxed-in staircases between levels and interior partition walls constructed with beaded tongue-and-groove boards that range in width from 10 to 20 inches.  Old photos of the home revealed evidence that the house was expanded to accommodate a second story, with an attic above that, in the early 19th century.

Located on one of the old roads traversing the Shenandoah Valley, the home is about a mile south of Buffalo Creek, a major tributary of the James River.  It was originally the seat of a much larger farm owned by Alexander Beggs, and later owned by the Weaver and Brady families (associated with Buffalo Forge, a major player in the regionally significant iron industry during the 19th century).

Other stone buildings on the Vineyard Hill property survive in restored or adapted form, including a fulling mill,  and a springhouse with a lined spring. There is evidence the old fulling mill, initially built to process flax fibers into linen thread, was later used as a blacksmith shop or for some other iron-related activity.

This property is currently listed for sale with James River Realty.  Please contact me if you’d like to know more about it or other historic properties in Virginia.