Historic home gets help

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — After $250,000 worth of grant money had been spent fixing up the major systems in the Carter Home, the Carroll supervisors have pledged a remaining and necessary piece of work to get the historic building partially reopened.

After two years of work that restored the chimney, roof, windows, gutters, electric system, plumbing and more, it was the state of one wooden floor that kept the house — which has its origins in the 1840s — from being reopened by the Hale-Wilkinson-Carter Home Foundation.

The grant money had run out before the wood on the main floor could be refinished, explained Marlin Surratt, president-elect of the non-profit agency that formed to work on and raise funds for the Carter Home.

"Now, what's really holding us up is finishing this floor," he said, after a brunch served by foundation members to Carroll County officials Monday at the Carter Home.

The foundation has been seeking other grants to do more renovations, but now isn't a good time for that because of the poor state of the economy, Surratt said. "So far, nothing positive has come back."

While the lower two floors are nearly ready to open up to the community, the upper three floors still need a significant amount of work.

Other work that's needed includes installing a fire escape, completing the kitchen, landscaping, renovating the porch and window treatments in the upper floors.

The most expensive item would be an elevator to make the upper floors accessible at an estimated $100,000, according to information from the foundation. The other items needed for the upper floors and the exterior might total $380,000.

If the foundation can hold true to those estimates, the work could come in at about half of a $1.2 million estimate created before the renovations started, Surratt added.

The remaining work needed on the second floor involved sanding, cleaning and refinishing the wood flooring, plus refinishing or carpeting the staircases from the lower level and the one up to the third floor, he said.

Potential uses for the home after it reopens range from businesses on the ground floor to historic exhibits about the town and the county. Foundation members foresee clubs meeting there, dinners and luncheons, weddings and receptions, music and art classes and more.

The foundation's first president, Evelyn Botschen, said she felt she had to get involved in 1999 after hearing talk about the possibility of tearing down the Carter Home after the county vacated its offices there to move into a new office building on Pine Street.

"That just ripped across my heart," she said.

Without the Carter Home, what historic place would be left in Carroll County? Botschen had wondered.

So, the foundation formed to work to save the pre-Civil War era home.

It has been a slow process. After years of work to change the place from the county offices back to a historic home and using it for foundation meetings and other events, the group hasn't been able to occupy or use the inside of the building after the grants were received and renovations picked up in intensity in 2006, officials discussed.

"The one word I'd like to leave you is urgency," Botschen said.

Carroll has already helped by providing assistance from Dallas Garrett, a business development specialist, in working out a plan for renovations and eventual operations of the home, she said.

Foundation members have worked themselves ragged. But Botschen said she always appreciated the support that has come in — specifically, she named the late Coy Fowler, a former county supervisor who would come to the foundation meetings and give a $25 donation.

Supervisors' Chairman Sam Dickson complimented the foundation on the work that had been done to restore the home so far.

"It's really starting to take shape," he said.

Botschen said the foundation couldn't have gotten along so well without the assistance from Ricky Dowdy, the county's maintenance director.

Dickson said that the county had sought prices on refinishing the floor, and they found Pro-Source Construction, which could do the work for $4,600.

When Dickson asked if the supervisors if they would like to do anything about this, Supervisor Wes Hurst made a motion to accept the bid to have the floor refinished.

All the supervisors voted for the motion.

"They've come so far with limited funds," Dickson said. "This is a very small token that the county can do."

This will allow people to enjoy the Carter Home in the future, he added.

Surratt expected the Carter Home could partially reopen after the floor is completed and furnishings are brought in.

This will allow the foundation and its activities to get back underway after a couple of years waiting for work to finish up,

Garrett told The Gazette later that "This gets us back inside and will allow all kinds of community events on the first and second floors."

Recently revitalized downtown Hillsville needs a tourism destination to bring in visitors and business, so this will be a positive thing for the community, Garrett said.

"I have always felt that was the key resource, to tell you the truth, to stimulate the business downtown," he said.

The next big thing will be to find a program manager to oversee activities at the building, he said.