FRONT ROYAL — Retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. William Lee Hammack recently wondered why he bought Guard Hill House in 1994. A longtime lover of history, he said that likely influenced him.
At the time, coming off years of living in the “new country” of Arizona and Hawaii, he recalled, “I needed a transition into history.”
The Winchester native was returning to manage the Wayside Inn in Middletown. When he saw the Federal-style brick house at 4142 Guard Hill Road overlooking the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, he knew he had come home.
“I bought this just kind of like that,” he said with a snap of his fingers.
His wife, Dr. Cee Ann Davis, credits the house with bringing the couple together.
“I was invited here as part of a dinner party, and I wrote him about the house. I was so excited,” she recalled. “It just had a wonderful feeling to it.”
Hammack showed Davis’ letter to his mother, “and his mom informed him that he needed to become better acquainted with me because I appreciated the house.”
The house, which has had several owners over the years, is for sale again as Hammock and Davis plan to enjoy their retirement traveling and visiting with their children around the country.
The couple listed the fully restored 1821 brick and stone house through Washington Fine Properties and are working with agents Anne Michael Greene and Alan Zuschlag.
Guard Hill House sits on nearly 1.8 horizontal acres and 6 vertical acres with a stunning view of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. It boasts four floors plus a walk-up attic, five fireplaces (four wood and one gas), a generous kitchen, newly restored and painted roofs, a multi-story adjoining guest house, a separate garage suitable for a fitness room, and modern conveniences like Wi-Fi, central air and all new electrical wiring.
The asking price is $679,000.
“We didn’t go high on the price just because we want somebody who loves it and will take care of it,” said Greene.
“You’re really taking over a stewardship of history,” said Hammack.
When Isaac Longacre purchased 500 acres from Otha Williams around 1821, he’s rumored to have chosen the spot for its fresh air, Hammack said. Longacre is believed to have had tuberculous and wanted a house that was self-ventilating. To this day, opening the upstairs and downstairs doors will produce a “whirling breeze” that Hammack said fills the house and keeps it cool.
Over the years, the house switched hands several more times, with the Kenver family keeping it the longest — about 92 years that included the Civil War.
When Hammock bought the house, it had been standing empty for years.
“He got it really close to having to be condemned,” Davis said. “The house has really good bones. We had lots to work with.”
Since then, the couple has torn away walls down to the stone, finding hidden fireplaces that had been walled in and exposing rafters that during the 1800s were plastered over according to the fashion of the time.
Hammack and Davis modernized the home, replacing electric equipment and plumbing, adding central air and heating, and also restoring much of the house to its former glory.
The house is wired for TV, internet and a sound system, though most evidence of technology is hidden behind wooden rafters and cabinet doors.
“We went through many iterations of restoring the house,” Davis said.
“This is an interesting twist on Federal design,” she said. “What’s different is the planning — windows, doors and ventilation.” She said whoever added the chimneys must have received good advice from someone who knew their stuff.
“We can actually burn all the fireplaces at the same time, and we do for big parties,” she said. “It’s just a lot of fun.”
The house comes with its fair share of stories, and Davis said that includes strange sightings.
“[It’s] sort of like stuff was going on at another time … like crisscrossing historical events,” she said.
She said after the big Civil War reenactment near the property, someone praised her for the role she and Hammack played in hiring “the guy who was walking sentry at the bottom of the hill for you in full uniform.”
Only, Davis and Hammack hadn’t hired anyone to do that.
Another time, they sitting in their dining room and out of the corner of their eyes, “we could see a bunch of uniform pants walking past the window outside. And that was it, just for a second.”
Despite the sightings, she said she hasn’t had any fears about living there.
“It’s a very welcoming and happy house. It’s a place that makes you really feel like relaxing and staying,” she said.
In addition to the parties, she’s also offered the house to nonprofit events. Sometimes, visitors just stop by to see the property.
“People drive up here and insist they want to spend the night,” she said, laughing. “Wow, it’s a private home, we’re really sorry.”
But she understands their excitement too.
“People really love this place,” she said.
“Sometimes when you live somewhere, you feel like you belong there, and this house has that feeling.”
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of U.S. Marine Corps Col. William Lee Hammack's name.