Many of the area’s historic houses have gone the way of the wrecking ball or lack of tender loving care, but some that have been in danger and close to extinction have been saved by those who have an affinity for great old houses.
One Chester home found its guardian in a Chester couple almost 30 years ago. Willie and Cindy Phares found the Mann house in disrepair, but they looked past the peeling paint and broken windows and saw potential.
The Phares’ moved to Chester from Hopewell after they were told if they wanted a good school they should move to Bon Air or Chester. They were referred to Realtor®, Courtney Wells, who said he had just listed a house, they may be interested in – it was a fixer-upper.
“We wanted an old house because they are well built and Willie is very handy and he can do anything,” said Cindy. “He [Wells] took us to a house he had just listed… it had been a rental property.”
While the potential buyers could see potential, not all the property could be seen.
“You couldn’t even get to the back yard, it was so over grown,” Willie said. “We had to hire someone with a backhoe just to get to the backyard.”
They were about to see the huge building in the back of the house that had been used for a garage and earlier in its life a cabinet shop. Willie said there was no access to the building until he put in a driveway to it. There had been a little building in front of the building that Willie calls the cabinet shop, although now it is used for a combination garage that holds four cars (Willie’s restoration projects) and a workshop.
During the process of getting rid of the little building in front of the current garage/workshop the Phares’ found a large piece of stone or concrete, which they could not identify. They asked Mabel Boyd, who was part of the second generation of the Mann family who married a Boyd and lived in the home for years, what it was. The well-known Chester resident Ms. Boyd, now deceased, came back to the house at the invitation of the Phares’.
“It was so big we had to get the backhoe to dig it out. It was Uncle Jim’s cabin right in front of the cabinet shop. That was very unique,” Willie said.
The stories that have come about since they bought the house, from the various descendants of the Boyd and Mann families, have been enlightening and enjoyable for the Phares’ and they have invited the family to their home many times over the years.
“One of the nieces contacted us and said, ‘I live in Florida, Mabel Boyd grew up in your house, is there any way we could come over,’ and we said absolutely.” Cindy said. “She had a story for every room: she was married in the living room, somebody was born in one of the bedrooms, just like story after story. During the depression, she was the only one with a job, she worked at Dupont, so she had the basement (cellar) dug out so they could put in a furnace.”
The story of Mrs. Mann, the matriarch of the family would sneak into one of the closets to drink her brandy after dinner. Asked why she did that, she said, “I don’t want God to see me,” Cindy said.
There are still a number of small burn marks on the refinished heart pine floor where the coal stoves sat before the furnace was installed. When Ms. Boyd’s niece, Marsha Hall, visited the Phares’ they asked her what she thought of what they had done to the house. Willy said she hesitated and then said, “Well, I have to tell you, it has the same bones, but you made it much nicer.”
Willie and Cindy have restored the aesthetics of the house staying true to its original character, installing new glass doorknobs, doors and trim where needed. Willie has spent a lot of time at Caravati’s, an architectural salvage and antiques supplier, even replacing the original window glass with antique glass, which has “imperfections” due to the primitive methods used to create it. At the same time they have updated the kitchen and original bathroom, added a second bath, while upgrading the HVAC and electrical service as well. They also added a deck and replaced a second floor porch off of the master bedroom. The tin standing seam roof on the house and garage/workshop has been maintained and Willie said, “When it rains there is nothing better than listening to the rain on the roof.”
When Mabel Boyd passed away, the Phares’ went to her funeral and afterward invited all the family to see the house, they found out that the family called the house “the home place.”
The Phares’ have plans to move to Urbana since their kids are grown and they have become empty nesters. They have listed the home place for sale at $269,000.
The Phares’ have two children: Jamie, a Thomas Dale High School, class of 2007 graduate and Brianna who graduated from the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School in 2010.