Friday, February 15, 2013

The Townhouse, Franklin, VA

I walked by it for at least five years yearning to rescue it somehow, someday. The Townhouse, as it was well known throughout the city by Franklin natives and Southampton County natives, was a big wonderful, majestic piece of art and a very important part of Franklin's history in it's heyday. Ca. 1900, this grand Colonial Revival mansion continued to stand proud at the corner of Beaman and South High Street beckoning to be restored to it's once opulent appearance. 205 South High Street, by my will, would see a renaissance. The only pictures I have of this house are in ruins and finally, the sad story that brought it to rubble. Pieces of it strewn about like it had been in a war, brought on by it's own city. The city that had no compassion or responsibility for it's own reputation it once brought them.

The Townhouse was owned first by the Pretlow family. The Pretlow family owned a store in Franklin's downtown on the corner of Main and Second Avenue.The mansion changed hands to Hal Lyons on July 10, 1947. Mr. Lyons would then renovate it as a fine Inn that would mimic the style of an early 19th century Inn. He had created a Nationally well known Inn. It had received highest ratings in such publications as "Gourmet," "Duncan Hines," and the A.A.A. books according to a Tidewater Newspaper Article I found in the local library. It was recognized as "Tidewater's finest caravansary" that drew visitors from far and wide leaving them with a lasting memory of tradition in Virginia.

Hal Lyon was a musician, he owned two movie theaters (one in Franklin, the other in Boykins,VA), he was a part of many organizations serving locally, state, nation, and worldwide. He owned businesses in Tuscon, Arizona, a large ranch; a housing development in Phoenix, Arizona; and many hotels abroad including Honolulu, Hawaii. He was married and had one daughter. Hal and his wife are buried in the Poplar Forest Cemetery in Franklin. I have talked to many local people whom have lived in Franklin long enough to remember Mr. Lyons. They all agree that he was a strange character indeed. I can only surmise his personality may have reflected that because he was a very intelligent human being indeed.

I had an ongoing love affair for this homes underlying beauty that once graced this end of town. It's luster had faded, but I could see it shine through. Not something that everyone could see when they look at an "old, dilapidated" house. I heard a lot of people say that the house needed to be "brought down, "demolished," "tore down." Wiped off the face of the planet like it NEVER existed! All words that ripped at my heart strings. It could most definitely be brought back to what it was and I was determined to do it!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

I have recently written an article for the Tidewater News (TN) concerning what finances and incentives are available for historic home homeowners in the state of VA targeted toward those who are interested in buying those homes. I have a friend that writes for the TN on a weekly basis whom I was talking to one day who encouraged me and inspired me to write an article for the guest column. I was originally going to write it as a question to Dear Abbie. As you might have guessed, Abbie is my friend whom I mentioned earlier. She contacted her editor and asked if it would be okay for me to submit my article for the guest column, and her editor said yes. I've got to tell you that I was nervous.  Historic Preservation had become a cause for me worth fighting in the past decade. I was living in a historic home in Franklin's Historic District at the time. My now ex-husband and I were restoring our home. I had noticed that not a lot of action had been going on as far as other restorations and decided to do my own research for answers. My research led me down many different paths. I met people with the same passion I had for the subject through the Department of Historic Resources, I talked with other communities that were taking restoration initiatives serious not only for VA but across the country, and I even formed a neighborhood watch and non profit organization to encourage people to become involved and take an interest. I organized workshops and neighborhood tours with the help of people I had met along the way. I wrote letters and knocked on peoples doors to sign petitions for homeowners of abandoned properties. Even though I had a great group of people formed, my challenge was with the city. The city of Franklin flat out did NOT want the change. Change meant that they would have to adopt guidelines to save architectural features that were significant to older homes without allowing just anybody to come to town claiming they were investors. When in all reality they were fly-by night investors looking to make a quick buck because they knew they could buy older homes dirt cheap. What the city didn't realize was that these investors weren't only destroying the historic district, they were also destroying their downtown businesses within the historic district, their tax base, their schools, etc. In my opinion, I believe their main concern for not wanting change was really the possibility of the fact that if they allowed people into our neighborhood to make a change for the sake of the community, they might possibly lose their political positions and power. It was easier for them to allow people to build new homes so that the people who owned the historic homes could continue to rent their homes in the form of two, or even three apartments, per house. The neighborhood was at least 70% rental property. So my cause was well worth the fight. Not to mention the home builder in Franklin who was building a new, more modern neighborhood on the other end of town was also on Franklin's Planning Commission creating conflict of interest. So there was a lot at stake for the guys that sat on city council, the planning commission, or any other seat that made major decisions for Franklin. Most of our neighborhood persisted anyway. We were headstrong for six years. We did encourage our city leaders to adopt the guidelines and make a few changes to other ordinances.. Even though the city spent a lot of money on the guidelines, they do not share these guidelines with people who buy their homes within the historic district. It has been said to me that these guidelines "are to restrictive." I don't think spending $45,000 to have these guidelines written and adopted was for the sake of hiding them from those who are truly interested in a serious investment such as home. Or better yet, a historic home at that! Historic homes retain their value more than that of a modern home! As a side note, now that I am thinking about it, this is when talks of restoring an old high school, known as Hayden, were beginning. I am thinking it could have possibly been that they adopted these guidelines because they needed them in place before beginning the restoration.