“I’ve found a house for you!” Jenny Woodward Burgess told her parents on the phone from Fuquay-Varina last year.
The parents, living in Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh, were eager to hear what Jenny had in mind.
It was a house on Broad Street, unoccupied and suffering from neglect in recent years. A part of its porch roof was falling in. Its paint was all but gone… a “For Sale” sign was planted in the front yard.
The parents, Mark and Nancy Woodward, were definitely interested. They decided to come south and have a look. They learned that the house, built about 1918, looked bad on the outside – and on the inside – but the walls and foundations were, for the most part, solid.
They decided to purchase the house at 705 Broad St. (known locally as the Akins house), and soon they went to work evaluating the salvageable parts and listing what would have to be taken out and replaced. They checked in with the town to see what they could and couldn’t do to restore the structure and what permits would be needed.
Experienced in restoration projects, the Woodwards began going to auctions, seeking good prices on insulation, windows, flooring and other materials they would need.
“We probably got 90 percent of the building supplies we needed at auctions,” Mark said in an interview.
The Akins house is the fourth, and by far the largest at about 3,400 square feet, the Woodwards have purchased and restored. Two were subsequently sold. The third they live in now in Pennsylvania.
Mark is a mechanical engineer. He worked 20 years for a power plant in Pennsylvania, then retired to do what he enjoys most.
“I like to do houses,” he says. “I’ve been doing this kind of work since I was 10. It’s hard work, but it’s what I like to do.”
Mark grew up in a family of builders. His parents built their own home; uncles and cousins did the same. As soon as Mark was old enough to help, he did.
Jenny, the Woodwards’oldest of three daughters, teaches special education at Fuquay-Varina High School. A job fair she attended after graduation from college led her to the position. An aunt lives in the Charlotte area, so she was familiar with the state. She liked the idea of coming south. Now her parents do too.
Mark and Nancy have enjoyed meeting their neighbors along Broad Street and many other local folks who have stopped in to see changes being made to the historic house. Some have come seeking work. A few have been hired from time to time.
But Mark has done most of the work with help from Nancy when she can be here. She has not retired. She teaches at the Heritage Valley Nursing School in Pennsylvania.
Nancy is beginning to enjoy southern living. She laughs as she tells that many of the younger people who stop by – and the workers who sometimes help Mark – call her “Miss Nancy.” She loves it and is beginning to envision herself sitting on the large front porch with a tall drink in her hand and maybe wearing a wide-brimmed hat a la Scarlet O’Hara.
Among the visitors Mark has had since he began the major restoration project is one who has been able to provide the house’s history. Willa Akins Adcock was born in the house as were her three older brothers, Sherrill, Belvin and Waverly. She lived there until she married in the late 1950s.
She knows the house was built about 1918 for F.W. Kurfees, the first cashier at the Bank of Varina, which opened in 1914. The bank later became Southern National Bank and is now a branch of BB&T.
Kurfees and his family lived in the house (financed through the bank) for several years. Then came a dramatic change.
Kurfees and family disappeared along with an unspecified amount of money from the bank. As far as local historians can determine, they were never heard from again.
The house they left behind was soon rented. Herbert Akins and Annie Adams Akins, who married in 1924, rented an upstairs apartment. Another family rented the downstairs. In 1927 the Akins bought the house. They raised their family there and continued to live in the house until their deaths.
The house was inherited by a family member who lives in another state. Once again it became a rental property. It was rented for a number of years and finally offered for sale.
When Adcock visits the house and its new owners, it brings a flood of memories and some sense of awe as she sees what Mark has accomplished. When he discovered that the 10-foot ceilings were actually false ceilings and that above them was another two feet of space plus another ceiling, he removed the lower level material opening up the additional two feet of overhead space.
He has taken out the five fireplaces the house had, explaining that none were functional and their elimination created more space. He has increased the number of bathrooms from one and a half to three and a half. (Adcock says the house had no bathrooms until after World War II.)
The house has a new metal roof, a new back stairway to the upper rooms, lots of insulation, many gallons of paint… The list goes on and on.
Adcock enjoys seeing the improvements. She also chuckles over memories some of them evoke such as the nights when her brothers, who slept upstairs, climbed out a window near the fireplace and down along the chimney to enjoy a little nighttime adventure – until the time their father discovered their mischief, crawled into one boy’s bed and went to sleep while he awaited their return. When the boys started their climb up the chimney side, they heard their dad snoring and were scared out of their wits, their sister recalls. Nighttime adventures came to a halt.
The Woodwards have a plan for the house’s future. They will live in it for a year (a state legal requirement since Mark signed up as the general contractor), as will Jenny and her husband who plan to purchase the house from her parents once the restoration and remodeling are complete.
Then Mark will need another house to work on. He and Nancy have another daughter, Sarah, who is getting married in May and a third daughter, Abby, who has just finished college and is working in Pennsylvania.
“I want to do a house for each one of them,” he said.
And where will he and Nancy ultimately live?
“Well, I’ve thought about spending four months with each of them,” said the dad with a chuckle.