By Josette Keelor -- email@example.com
WOODSTOCK -- When Tabitha and John Coverstone inherited the ruined home of a neighbor they had befriended, they might not have envisioned the role the house at 24 Sycamore Road in Woodstock would play in changing the face of their neighborhood. Still they knew they had their work cut out for them.
"We renovated it completely," Mrs. Coverstone said. "Actually the reason why she left us the house is because we helped her."
Betty Northrop, who passed away in May 2009, had lived there for many years alone with her compulsion to hoard, the Coverstones explained.
"She left us the house along with the mortgage," Coverstone said.
Before the Coverstones could begin preparing the house to sell it, they had to clean it.
"Fourteen tons of garbage [was] taken out of the house, and that was the second time," Mrs. Coverstone said.
The first time was when Northrop fell and had to be hospitalized. After the rescue squad came to transport her to the hospital, the house was condemned, Mrs. Coverstone said.
"They couldn't get the front door even open," she said.
After her hospital visit Northrop had to live in a motel for four months while the Coverstones cleaned her house so she could move back in.
"We had to keep a record of how much stuff was taken to the landfill," said Mrs. Coverstone, 44.
"We spent a lot of nights cleaning," said her husband, 53, adding that the couple used two donated trash bins and filled five dump trucks with trash.
The couple had to wear respirators and Tyvek suits while they still were cleaning the house.
After inheriting the house, they did "it all over again," he said.
The Coverstones, who live on Hickory Lane in the Rivermont development off Woodstock Tower Road, quickly learned of their neighbors' interest in helping beautify the entrance of the neighborhood.
"We knew something needed to be done with the house because it's the first house you see when you come in the neighborhood," said Mrs. Coverstone.
"Once Tabitha and John began to fix up the house it seemed to me that it would be a good thing to beautify our sign," said chairwoman of the Rivermont beautifying committee, Margaret Loewith, who also lives on Hickory Lane.
The community's wooden sign, which sat on a hill on the corner of Woodstock Tower Road and Sycamore, had seen better days, and Loewith had a vision of something more welcoming to take its place.
"It seemed appropriate that we do something else to recognize the neighborhood," Loewith said. Once the Coverstones had removed the trash on the front lawn of the house on Sycamore, Loewith said, she had a vision.
At a community meeting, she proposed raising funds to replace the sign, and the newly formed committee sought Woodstock artist Helen Jean Smith, who volunteered her time to designing an image of Rivermont situated within a bend of the Shenandoah River, surrounded by trees and backed by the Blue Ridge Mountains.
"I came up with the idea for the sign that exists now," Loewith said. Smith designed the sign, Loewith said, and local artist Kay Ely-Pierce donated nearly 60 hours to making the ceramic format of Smith's drawing.
Local mason Steve Cullers donated his time to helping build the sign, and Fort Valley Nursery did the landscaping.
"And individuals are making donations to the cultural arts center in response," Loewith said. Every little bit they can raise helps reimburse their effort, she said.
"I raised essentially $2,400 from my neighbors ... and it's a project that's worth at least four times that much," she said. "It was a very nice thing. Everybody did come together over this."
As the Coverstones made progress on the house on Sycamore, they noticed their neighbors taking interest in the daily renovations.
"People would drive by and roll down their window and say, 'Lookin' good,'" Coverstone said.
Already accomplished at renovating and reselling houses, the Coverstones had a plan from the start.
"The only thing we reused on the house was the foundation and the structure," Coverstone said.
"Everything's brand new," he said.
Both of them printers at R.R. Donnelley in Strasburg, the Coverstones have three days off one week and four days off the next making it convenient for them to renovate houses on their days off and at night.
"This is a hobby," Coverstone said. They also have renovated three houses in Bryce and two in Fort Valley.
"It's really nice to take something that doesn't look good and turn it into something that looks really, really nice," his wife said.
The house on Sycamore took them a year and half to complete, so they do not have any upcoming plans to renovate other people's houses.
"We're gonna work on our own house," Mrs. Coverstone said, laughing. "Now it's time for us to work on our own stuff."
"We finished it up ... back in the spring," Coverstone said, but he and his wife have been waiting on the home appraisal before they place the house on the market.
Also, they wanted to have an open house for their neighbors as a celebration of completing the beautification project.
"Just for the neighbors, we're having a neighborhood open house," Coverstone said, planning it for Sunday.
"It's a really nice neighborhood," he said.
"We know that they're all dying to get inside," said his wife.
"I don't think there's another community anywhere in the valley that has as interesting an entryway," Loewith said.