Thursday, April 20, 2017

Charlotte's Historic Wearn House a Work in Progress

I first wrote a feature piece about the Richard Wearn house in 2012.

For years, the house had seemingly been on the chopping block. Unoccupied since the late 1980s, it was maintained by a single surviving heir and Bank of America, until it was sold at auction to a real estate development company.

After much negotiation, it was purchased by Susan Ward and Doug Bradley, who made the decision to restore the home and move in after substantial progress had been achieved.

“We saw a report on the news and we had read a few stories online,” Ward recalls. “As I was reading, I found it so hard to believe that no one had stepped up to the plate to save this incredible piece of history in Mecklenburg County. We decided to come look at the house. The back door was open, so we just came in.

“It was the stairwell that made us fall in love with the place.”

“The stairs were what really showed me how old it was,” says Bradley, who has worked on several restoration projects around the country and in Charlotte. “They allowed me to see the true age of the house, and that it was really solid. I saw this hand grime on the rail and took a stiff brush to it. You could see the beautiful grain. It doesn't get any better than that – this wood was hand picked to be a hand rail.”

If you're wondering why so many folks like myself and Dan Morrill of the Charlotte Historic Landmark Commission have gone to bat for this house, here's a quickie condensed history recap: the house was originally built in 1844 by Richard Wearn, who with his wife Henrietta Thompson, immigrated to the U.S. from Scotland in 1823. Wearn was a key figure in the first U.S. gold-mining efforts and the eventual decision to locate a U.S. Mint in Charlotte in 1837.

In the latter decades of the 19th century, the Wearn House passed through multiple owners, but by the early 20th century, it landed in the hands of Mary and Edward Hayes, who operated a botanical nursery on the property. Following the death of the elder Hayes, sons William and Edward Jr. continued living in the home for many years. Edward died in 1983, and William moved out of the house in 1989. He died in 2006.

With no more surviving heirs, Bank of America auctioned off the massive piece of property and the house to the real estate development company Magnolia Acres LLC, for a reported $1.5 million.

At the auction one of the bidders was overheard talking about the house as being nothing more than “a tear-down.”

That prompted me to write about it several times, put together a Facebook page  and attempt to rally several Westsiders to let the the city know how many people wanted to see the house saved.

Ward and Bradley, who undertook the restoration process themselves, had  a major task before them. Despite the fact the structure was resoundingly sturdy, it  had been modified many times over since it was originally built.

“We've accomplished a lot,” Bradley offers. “Picking through the layers and sifting through the changes that have been done to the house over the years was a rewarding challenge."

“Their was plaster done over the wood beams, and it was done well, probably sometime in the 1920s. But it wasn't in keeping with the original period of the house. Then later they added they cardboard wall covering!”

Their enthusiasm about the house and Charlotte's west side is bordering on contagious.

“I grew up in Charlotte,” Ward explains. “But I never knew much about the west side of town. It's great and we're excited to finally be living in the house."

“Most people wouldn't have been able to come in and do this themselves,” Bradley says. “They'd would have had to hire someone to do it, and usually have more done than you need to. You don't really wanna have somebody else come in here and do it because you don't wanna take it all off. You just wanna kinda explore and poke as you do it.

Ward points to a fireplace in the main parlor.
“It was a larger fireplace, but over the years they kept making it smaller. You can see the original brickwork here.”

“And we've found a lot of the original wood trim work upstairs in the attic.” Bradley chimes in.

Clearly, the two are in their element and thrilled to be saving a significant part of Charlotte history, and so far, Bradley and Ward have managed to strip down to the original timbers and return much of the house to the architectural gem it once was. But their job isn't finished yet.

As with restoration of a house from this period, many unexpected challenges have cropped up along the way, leaving their funds virtually depleted.

"A lot we hadn't expected did crop up, with the foundation, electrical and plumbing, but we were able to handle those. Along with what we did expect, our budget is practically nil, and we still have significant chimney and roof repair and restoration to do."

But don't expect these challenges to stop the two from completing this monumental task. They are dedicated and determined to finish the job they've started.

Just recently they even crossed over into an area they're not entirely familiar with -- the internet -- to seek out additional funding for the project.

"We set up a go fund me account," says Bradley. "The thought had never crossed my mind, but a friend reminded me of the many people that were so enthusiastic about saving this home. Every little bit helps, and we're hoping that some of those friends of the Wearn House might be able to chip in whatever they can afford to help us save another important part of Charlotte history."

For Charlotteans who have followed the story of the Wearn House and would like to help by contributing, more information at the go fund me page Saving The Wearn House.