Friday, December 14, 2012

What's the purpose!?

I ask myself this every day. I stood for so much then. I still do. It was about the history, honoring those who first lived there, the architecture, the city, the homeowners, community... All the times I was humiliated, and anyone else who stood with me, into thinking I, we, were the one(s) in the wrong!! Made me fight even more! For those who did care, the handful of us, we would join in neighborhood meetings and events eventually forming our own neighborhood association. I heard a lot of complaints from people who thought we were the complaint department but did not want to join our efforts. Perhaps it was because they knew we wouldn't really win anything. The police finally became involved in our meetings encouraging us to become a neighborhood watch. We could call them anytime we saw suspicious activity. The only problem with that was there were people who thought all we had to do was continuously watch suspicious activity ALL the time without EVER taking a stand. Those who thought it was ok to always report but never take a stand were the ones who were born and bred there for many generations. The ones who wanted change were the ones who moved in from other parts of the US who really wanted to live in a nice neighborhood.

Neighborhood Watch was no doubt encouraged through the good ol' boy system so nothing in that particular neighborhood would really ever have to change. It was a way to appease us.

After looking into local city codes, our group found out that our neighborhood was zoned R2. Which meant that any house at any given time could be turned into another duplex. We did accomplish changing that code to R1, single dwellings only, which also meant that if a house sat vacant for two years and was apartments, it would have to be converted to single family. However, there were houses that had three apartments that should have been turned into single family homes, but once again, the city failed to follow there own codes. We carryed on feeling like we were making some sort of head way...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Meet my Neighbors :)

I had many colorful neighbors living in ye old 'hood. Many of which are still there today. Amy Johnson and her mom and dad, June and Tony, whom were never married, still live in the "yellow" house on the left of my house. Her dad has since passed, and Amy's mom, June, has since moved to a trailerhood. But Amy still lives there. She had a little boy with her boyfriend that was about my youngest daughter's age. He was born into a bad situation. His eyes were crossed and he drooled all the time. I taught my girls that it was not nice to make fun of people. They learned. But I hated living next door to them. They locked themselves up in the downstairs apartment they rented from Mr. Curtis Drake at the time, an absentee landlord, doing drugs, drinking, and smoking all day, everyday, day in and day out. There friends would often visit for that purpose as well. The smell from there apartment was nauseating. I became friendly with these neighbors, well, because, isn't that what God would want? "Love thy neighbor" comes to mind. I was friendly, but I wasn't "friends." I was trying to teach my girls manners as well. As Paul, Amy's son, got older, he would come over to play every once in a while.

Then on the right side of my house, lived a spoiled, snotty woman about my age, Cory, whom I was actually one day older than she was, who never had kids or was married. She owned a dog, was an RN in Chesapeake General, VA, and had many boyfriends. She became a hard core animal person. I guess the fact that there were a lot of cats in the neighborhood due to renters moving and leaving them behind bothered her. A LOT!

Miss Barbara moved in not long after we did. She was a sweet lady. Had two older daughters of her own. She got along with everyone! She kept busy with work and traveling. Next to her was a yellow and brown house that was owned by someone from the "other side of the tracks." Please remember, I moved to a small southern town. Mr. Turner lived nextdoor to that house. He was an older man who lived in the neighborhood for forty years before we moved there, raising his family there, and watched the neighborhood deteriorate in front of his eyes. He was a fountain of information.

Carol, another renter, was the only one who lived in the three story house that had been broken up into three apartments years ago. She lived in the first floor apartment. At that time she seemed to be a decent neighbor. It wasn't until she moved out of the neighborhood then back in two houses down the street from me that she became mean and ugly toward me. This three apartment house would later be auctioned to a  guy who tore it up and would rent to single moms, like Amy. All the while the four year renovation was going on he would rent to the people who were working on the house. So for four years, we had drug dealers living there.

The house across the street from me on the corner, had been bought by a rental property owner. After destroying the integrity of the home, a single mom with three boys moved in. She didn't stay long because of the neighborhood. Then the house became what we all thought was a half way house for women who were trying to be integrated back into the community. This house must have been unsupervised, because we had a lot of problems with them. Our new association spent a lot of time at City Council meetings complaining about all the houses, but this one in particular. The City would not give us any information on this house. We finally found out that even though we were zoned residential, this house was given a conditional use permit.

Then there were the neighbors that had lived there for many years on their own little plot of land, not paying attention to anyone or anything else around them, and would tell you there was nothing wrong with the neighborhood...

I have many stories to tell about these neighbors and my battle to make our neighborhood more family oriented! I am going to let it all out for the world to read. I am wondering if I am the only one who had a battle like this?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Historic Cemetery Franklin VA

Franklin, VA

Historic Cemeteries and Taphophiles

I have been asked to share information on historic cemeteries. I am a fan of funeral art and believe the dead should not be forgotten. I have visited numerous cemeteries from my hometown and a few in the south. I have found many differences between the north and south cemeteries and have been told that it maybe Southerners are more sentimental. I have noticed that Southerners tend to use more symbols and epitaphs and tend to use more elaborate architecture than those I have visited in the north.

It wasn't until about the mid 1800's that the views of death had changed. Death became more of a celebration creating more elaborate rituals and customs for the Victorians. Prior to that, death wasn't taken as serious. Everything from how to dress for a man death vs. how to dress for a child's death, what food should be taken to the bereaved, how long the process of grieving would last, using the hair of the beloved in funeral art, memorial cards, post-mortem pictures, how large the head stone would be depending on how much money the family had... all fell under the practice of Social Darwinism!

Cemeteries were the forerunner for public parks. Victorians would have family outtings, such as picnics, by their departed's graveside. A graveside picnic :)

So far this year I have visited Oakwood Historic Cemetery in Raleigh, NC; Historic Lynchburg Cemetery, Lynchburgh, VA; Capron Cemetery, Capron, VA; Historic Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg, VA; Courtland Cemetery, Southampton County; Cobleskill Cemetery, NY; Schoharie Cemetery at Old Stone Fort in Schoharie County, and numerous others.

Some of the best books I would like to suggest are ones from the historic cemeteries themselves! I have found a cookbook from Lynchburg Cemetery, VA, for what food is appropriate to offer comfort and solace to the bereaved and also tells the story of customs. This cookbook and Widow's Weeds and Weeping Veils can be found at Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg, VA, can be visited at and Historic Elmwood Cemetery can be visited at:

Other books I'd like to suggest could be:
Stories Told in Stone: Cemetery Iconology by Gaylord Cooper
Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography
Cemetery Walk: Journey into the Art, History, and Society of the Cemetery and Beyond by Minda Powers-Douglas

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gathering my troops... continuation  Link to Jeannie Tidy and how she helped Petersburg, VA

Next I would hear about a woman from Petersburg, VA. Jeannie Tidy! She was a catalyst and power house in aiding restoration efforts there for their historic district. Jeannie had all kinds of ideas! Everything from workshops to creating Petersburg Landmarks, Inc. She and her husband came down to visit me one cold rainy day in January of 2005 for a meeting with the Mayor of Franklin! I was excited believing we were actually going to get somewhere with this project! MY project really. By that time I had already rounded up what few homeowners there were and created somewhat of an association of our own. Franklin's historic district had been taken over by many residents who became absentee owners. These absentee owners had apartment houses that were split into two, three, or sometimes more apartments depending on the size of the home. What became typical was the fact that when someone became ready to sell their property for whatever reason, another City of Franklin resident would purchase the property retaining it as a rental. These properties were not hitting the market or the MLS. And the ones that were, well, they were not being made known about the value. So, many people were coming in buying the homes that were fortunate to survive renters wrath, only to move again shortly there after. When I lived in the neighborhood, the city would take houses down for unpaid taxes rather than promote them, losing a substantial tax base. Investors saw Franklin as an opportunity to make money on these homes. I can't begin to tell you how many homes I watched being "renovated" within a matter of weeks and resold for three times or more than what they bought them for. In my opinion, not only did it take away the value of the property, it also swiped a chance for a new homeowner to be able to save money rather than buying a lemon. I have a few great examples of that.

Another problem we (homeowners) faced was the fact that this area (our neighborhood) has been zoned for apartments. Which meant any single family home could be turned into apartments with a new owner. We already had 70% rental properties in our neighborhood. Also I figured if these property owners had money to turn these homes into rental properties, why not restore them properly? But their way of thinking was that they could get more money out of turning a single family home into 2 or more apartments, and they had downtown business owners believing more rentals would bring more people to their shops. There were a lot of problems with that.

The rental property owners were allowed to rent until the houses became to blighted to rent, then once the houses became blighted the city could take them down, because who was going to buy a broken house? The city was not enforcing their own basic codes they had for the upkeep of properties.

Another issue was Churches. They were buying some of the most beautiful architectural and well constructed houses and tearing them down to create parking lots. I was appalled but remained headstrong in my battle.

Jeannie Tidy spent the entire day with me. We had lunch at Fred's then walked to the then Mayor's office to discuss the advantages with him. Mr. James P. Councill the III owned Financial Concepts in the almighty  Downtown Franklin. I say that a little facetiously because a lot of the same people who owned business's in the downtown and promote it as great place to shop also own a lot of the slum houses in the historic district and then complain about the crime... hmmm...

Jeannie, her husband, and I sat patiently in his office for 45 minutes before he came back from conveniently "being out." He had scheduled this appointment with us and I guess he was hoping we would forget. We talked, or rather Jeannie talked, to him for about an hour. After we walked out of there, her comment to me was, "You're Mayor has no interest in making this historic district what it could be." Those are very hard words to hear.

I gave Jeannie and her husband the Grand Driving Tour and she was just amazed with what we had. All of her ideas just started pouring out. I took many useful notes that day and would later incorporate them into useful ideas of my own. Her suggestion to me was, and still resonates through me to this day, "Be the water!" Thank you Jeannie Tidy for your encouragement! Jeannie Tidy, last I knew, moved back to her hometown, New Orleans, after Katrina to aid them in there time of need with preservation issues!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Not so Frequently Asked Questions...

If someone told you you could save 20% on every dollar you spent on your home, would you take advantage of it? In the state of Virginia, if your home is on the National Historic Register you can! It's all about how much information the community development department is willing to share with you and if the locality has adopted guidelines as to the special care of their (the cities) homes. Only if we had THAT information when we bought our home!!! I could have had my kitchen and bathrooms upgraded to include granite or marble, a new heating system, my floors redone, my roof redone, etc, etc. instead of digging deep into our pockets for the extra pennies. As long as the property maintains it's historical integrity, you can upgrade it to your liking! As a bonus! If the property is an income producing property you not only receive 20% from the state for owning the home, you also get an additional 25% through federal tax credits! Incentives are great! And wouldn't it make sense that if you did this to your home you would only be improving the value!? And wouldn't it make sense that in return to the city that they wouldn't have to give tax hikes every so many years because they are increasing and stabilizing property values?!? Hmmm...

Where does the money come from? I found a nonprofit organization in Richmond called A.C.O.R.N. --Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighorhoods, who would unlock the answers to many of the questions I had about how to finance a "proper restoration." Dave Herring was my contact.

"A.C.O.R.N. serves as an educational entity as well as a clearinghouse for information on how to acquire, finance, and renovate a property in the city's oldest communities. While working to revitalize the city and enable home ownership for people of all income levels, A.C.O.R.N. advocates for the preservation of the cultural and historic assets that give these old neighborhoods their unique character.," Website:

I took a road trip one very early, dark saturday morning to the historic St. John's Church in Richmond to a workshop to be educated on Renovation Loans. ONE of their many information sources. This was only one of the communities I had the pleasure of meeting that really took the time to promote resources for their historic resources without the homeowner losing their a$$ in it. Richard Day, Wells Fargo loan officer for renovation loans and advocate for historic homes, would at that point become my friend.

Not only can you get a renovation loan if you know this guy, you can also apply for tax credits and your local tax abatement progam through the Commissioner of Revenues office for structures 50 years or older for seven years! WOW! That means you don't pay the higher taxes on the restored project for seven years! You pay only what the structure is worth when you bought it!

Myths: Grants do not exist for historic homeowners in the state of Virginia. Not at the state level or the federal level. Franklin (the city I had bought my home in) was misinforming people.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Donna McCollough, Executive Director for the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce from September 1976-2004 and part of nominating committee for downtown initiative for economic growth through Downtown Franklin Association (DFA)-1985: "The "downtown" formed an association known as the Downtown Franklin Association in 1985. One of our first steps was to put the "business" district on the National Register for Historic Places. Marc Wagner (Architectural historian and register manager for Department of Historic Resources, Richmond, VA) walked through the "downtown" with me. We got up to "the top of the hill" (repeating his reaction-her eyes got big to show surprise) he said "You need to get THIS on the National Historic Register!" ...

Unfortunately they were only thinking about the commercial area at the time. After an association for downtown business is formed, they become part of the Main Street initiative but it all promotes preservation. The fact that they weren't thinking about the old houses becoming a tourist attraction should've been a sign for me to run.

"Do you have a copy of that (NHR)?" I asked. I was making enemies already. I got my copy and contacted Dept of Historic Resources (DHR) that day. That's when I met Paige Weiss. She shared all her knowledge she had learned from college, earning at least a four year degree on this subject, she talked to me for about an hour and a half. Paige Weiss, Architectural Historian, Department of historic Resources, Richmond, VA, at the time and my first contact for historic preservation, played an integral role for quite sometime in my efforts.!search/profile/person?personId=334803765&targetid=profile

I had found out that I needed to round up more people in the neighborhood to be on my side. Bottom line. More people who thought like me. I needed to utilize the NHR and give myself a self guided walking tour of the historic district and arm myself with information. First lesson learned: it is always good to do your homework and get your facts straight before going head on into a project of this size. I had to learn what were rental properties and who the homeowners were; what the issues were and who was concerned; what the significance of the structure was and how it contributed to the neighborhood/community. I took a lot of pictures for documentation and knocked on people's doors, I even had a disasterous Tidewater News interview with a girl that was just hired, but later found out that the article had been edited extensively by the editor at the time, in an effort to sabotage me. I kept plugging away, making ground. The article actually benefited me because I met more people who DID think like me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fast forward three years later (after moving in)... My husband comes home one day talking to me about his day, people he's talked to, etc. He was a Navy Recruiter at the time and spent a lot of time in Franklin and surrounding areas meeting and talking to people all day. He had been exploring our downtown when he happened to wander into the Franklin Downtown Association's office to meet Nancy Drake for the first time. Nancy Drake had served as Downtown Association Manager for the Historic District then. There is only one comment I remember specifically being made by Nancy to the hubby that was relayed to me, and that was, "I wish somebody would do something about this historic district." What could that comment mean? What DID that comment mean!?--It was surely a mystery to me at the time. I wanted so bad to know what that meant. How would I even go about accomplishing a gargantuan task such as this. That statement was all I had to work with.

I have to stop there for today... I am revisiting my old neighborhood to interview my friend who owns one of the oldest houses in that area dating back to the 1840's. Yes, this house served time during the Civil War as a clinic for wounded and sick soldiers. I hope to be posting pictures and stories soon...

Monday, December 3, 2012

So this is my blog... I've decided today to post my first script. I wanted to write a book. I should. My boyfriend thinks my blog should be about my travels to historic places. It will be, however, I also plan to tell my story about my battle to save pieces of history here in Southampton County, VA, and how unwelcome it, no, I, was. Who was I to think that just because my ex husband and I bought a home to settle forever, raise our daughters in, pay taxes on, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood full of turn of the century homes on the same historic register, that I wouldn't have a say in how the neighborhood was "run"... And that's when it all began...

Not being able to address your concerns to even the police is pretty frightening. They were just there to keep the peace. I personally felt they didn't do their job. We tossed around the idea of selling and moving, but just kept falling in love with our home. It was OUR home! And! it was our investment. The American Dream.

We visited Franklin, VA, in Spring of 1999, and thought "Wow! This looks like a quaint neighborhood." With all of the big old houses that I have always been fascinated with; nobody tells you what's really going on in the neighborhood. I didn't find out for three years after living there that my home was on the National Historic Register. Okay, so it's not Colonial Williamsburg or Jamestown, we were not part of the "Historic Triangle." BUT! We were historic! Franklin had it's own story to tell. As with all historic districts, and the stories can only get better and come alive with artifacts. This is my way of thinking. I become very involved with PTA, Girl Scouts, and so on in the area, and I even formed a Neighborhood Association. That's when the real story started to unravel.