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Posted May 7, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

The old'inn days: Site of upcoming bed and breakfast has historic past

By Linwood Outlaw III -- loutlaw@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- At first glance, it's obvious that the two-story, three-bay brick dwelling perched above U.S. 522 in Warren County has seen better days.

The old 6,000-square-foot mansion that sits on 3.7 acres at 3471 Remount Road, between Chester Gap and Front Royal, is shrouded from the main road by a line of mature trees. The home is dilapidated and in dire need of restoration.

What may not be so obvious to random people who stroll past the Greek Revival-style dwelling better known as "Mountain Home" is that it is regarded as a historic gem. The structure has been accepted into both the Virginia and National Registries of Historic Places, and it was spared significant damage amid nearby combat during the Civil War.

Nevill Turner, who co-owns Mountain Home with his son, is planning to spruce up the vintage dwelling and give it new life as a profitable venture. The Warren County Board of Supervisors recently gave Turner permission to convert the home into a six-room bed and breakfast establishment. Renovations are expected to begin in June, and Turner hopes to have the country inn operating by next spring.

"Architectural historians say the amazing thing about [Mountain Home] is that nothing has really been done to it for 140 years. Very rarely do you have a chance to find a house that hasn't had major additions done to it," Turner said. "It [was] either going to be a residence, or it could be a museum, or it could be a [bed and breakfast]. Those are the sensible uses for it."

Turner estimates it will cost as much as $500,000 to refurbish the home, which was built in 1847 by Samuel B. Gardner, a prominent farmer and former Warren County justice.

The property has other historic outbuildings, including a 19th-century slave quarters that is covered in brick, and early 20th-century structures such as a meat house, shed and chicken coop, according to documents obtained from the National Register of Historic Places. Additionally, two garages from the early 20th-century are located on the property. Architectural evidence indicates a rear addition was made to the home in 1869, and that there have been no substantial alterations since then.

A statement of significance for Mountain Home says that written records about the house and its residents "provide unusually detailed and revealing documentation of the lifestyle of a wealthy landowner and his family, whose holdings were little diminished by the Civil War that raged in the area."

The old farmstead, located near the Appalachian Trail, was home to Gardner and his descendants from the 1840s to the 1960s. Gardner's personal estate purportedly included large livestock holdings and slaves.

Mountain Home was "well placed" to observe the movement of Confederate and Federal forces, the statement of significance says. Such events from the war were recounted in the diary of Annie Chunn Gardner, one of Samuel Gardner's daughters. Annie Gardner's diary entries are recorded in the first volume of the Warren Heritage Society's journal from 2006.

The interior of Mountain Home still has its original flooring, woodwork and plastered walls and ceilings. The exterior brick walls are painted and laid in a five-course, American-bond pattern, which features flat jack arches over the "six-over-six sash, double-hung wood windows and a stepped brick cornice," according to documents from the National Register of Historic Places.

Historians say Mountain Home is not only one of Warren County's finest examples of the Greek Revival style expressed in brick, but also one of the county's seldom known structures to have borrowed directly from popular pattern books of that period.

"I think from Warren County's point of view, it was a very important house," Turner said. "It's a house that hasn't been changed architecturally very much. Generally, it's gone through a lot of wear and tear. ... We just want to bring it back to where it was."

Patrick Farris, executive director of the Warren Heritage Society, said he is glad that Mountain Home will be preserved in such a meaningful manner.

"It's very exciting from the perspective of the heritage society, and from the perspective of the principles of modern preservation, to see Mountain Home being used in this creative way," Farris said. "It's very important to preserve historic sites like Mountain Home. But, often, it's difficult for a variety of reasons. One thing that can be prohibitive is simply the cost of upkeep of a historic property of this size. I believe that the [potential] usage of that property is both useful for the preservation of the property, but also will not impact the historic nature of the property in any adverse way."

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