In Hillsborough’s historic district, an I-house stands on an elevated hill at the corner of West King Street and South Hillsborough Avenue waiting to be loved.
The traditional North Carolina farmhouse dates back to 1850 when it was built by a David Anderson. It’s changed hands several times — including serving as home to D.W. Parks, one-time owner of the Colonial Inn, and Hillsborough’s prominent Cates family. The Herb Cates family bought the house around the 1920s — along with all the parcels on the block, which were bought by brothers Fred and Scott Cates.
But for about 20 years the house has stood vacant. Left behind on the heart pine floors are the ghost marks of former rugs, and on a wall is an outline of perhaps an antique concave mirror that traced the foyer’s comings and goings.
In 2005, the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough was given full ownership of the property. It sold the house the following year to a family who intended to renovate and move into the house. The family’s plans changed, and the structure now is the oldest unrestored house left in Hillsborough for the true lover of antique homes, said the property’s listing agent, Bill Whitmore of Churton Street Realty.
“People are charmed by it,” he said, noting the house has drawn a lot of interest. “What we’ve found is an awful lot of people have the heart to do it but don’t have the pocketbook, and some who have the pocketbook don’t have the stomach to do it. So we haven’t been able to match the organ with the purse at this state.”
The original portion of the house, a three-bay frame, is in relatively good condition except for water and termite damage in at least two rooms on one side. The original house features a full-width front porch with square posts. The double front door was replaced in the 1930s with a single door, but still in place are the door’s sidelights and Greek Revival, molded surround with corner blocks.
Inside, a wide central hallway separates two rooms about 16 square feet by 15 square feet on the first and second floors. Each room has three windows and an original fireplace, with the mantle of the original dining room significant enough that a preservation easement was investigated at one time. The two upstairs bedrooms would have been a posh addition to the 19th-century house, and the two windows flanking each fireplace are unusual in I-houses. Yet the detailing of the house is simple.
“It’s not a fancy house,” Whitmore said. “This is a little bit more workman-like. We supposed that David Anderson may have been a merchant. This would have been a substantial house but not high style.”
The interior doors and hardware are original, and many of the window panes feature the waviness and bubbles of glass at that time. The stairs are solid, with the original heart pine newel posts, balusters, handrails and tread.
“The stairwell is more sound than some of the houses you walk in today — rock solid,” Whitmore said as he stepped down the stairs, lingering a bit with his hand on the upstairs newel post. “That one has seen a lot of hands.”
A rear ell was added to the house around 1911, with German siding and a metal roof, which features a stamped design on the home’s western side. The addition includes a service hallway area that once was a covered side porch and extends from the original hallway. Hillsborough resident Owen Allison, whose family rented the house in the 1930s when he was 6 to 7 years old, recalled bathing in a cast iron tub on the porch. The family would fill the tub with heated water from the detached kitchen, now evident only from the daffodils that appear each spring marking the ghost of the building demolished that decade.
“They were considered the fancy people in the neighborhood because they had a covered tub,” Whitmore said.
The extended hallway includes the home’s only bathroom, with furnishings likely from the 1940s, and leads to the laundry/utility room. It includes entries to an added dining room and kitchen behind the home’s original dining room.
“Now you get into a special room,” Whitmore said of the kitchen, which features 1940s or ’50s pea green cabinetry with scrollwork. “Some people walk into it and say, ‘This is so cool.’ ”
Paneling behind the oven range and cabinets divide the work area from a breakfast area with a gas stove for heat. A rounded linoleum top and shelving are on one end of the cabinets.
“At the time, this was an art nouveau, jazzy kind of look,” Whitmore said.
The ell addition, however, was built too low, and the property’s drainage was not configured properly.
The David Anderson house already has a renovation plan approved by the Hillsborough Historic District Commission that can be used by new owners. Whitmore and architect Steve Clipp also have proposed another concept for restoring the original structure and renovating the back end for more contemporary living. In their vision, the 1,846-square-foot house would be increased by about 200 square feet only.
“Without adding much space, this house could be a real winner,” Clipp noted.
Their conceptual plan includes:
• Reconfiguring the kitchen and dining room to make an open kitchen and great room with a fireplace.
• Vaulting the great room’s ceilings by converting attic space now accessed through an upstairs bedroom.
• Creating a sunroom for dining from the service hallway.
• Making the eastern rooms suites with walk-in closets and bathrooms, using the existing downstairs bathroom and its plumbing. A rear window in the upstairs hallway could be replaced with a door to access the ensuite bathroom.
“We really want the best for the house itself and for the future owners,” Whitmore said. “It’s just such a sweetheart of a house. It deserves to be lived in — and it will be.”
Interested in sharing a house story or recommending a home to feature? Contact Catherine Wright at email@example.com.