Exploring an old house with new friends

Exploring an old house with new friends

Note: I wrote this for another publication. I have expanded it here and added more photos.

BETHEL — Tucked away behind a wall of trees along a curvy stretch of Holiday Island Road, a stately white plantation home in Perquimans County is receiving some tender loving care from Edenton-based Down East Preservation.

After sitting vacant for about 10 years, the Isaac White house recently was purchased by Kent Will family, of Greensboro. According to Down East owner Dawson Tyler, Will owns Old Town Wood Floors and has come to northeastern North Carolina on several occasions to help Down East with its preservation efforts in the area.

“I think some younger people are gravitating toward country living because of the amount of detail and work that went into the ways used to be done,” Tyler said of the trend he is seeing of younger families shunning city life for life in rural areas. 

“There is a societal change where people want to get away from technology and social media.”

During a recent tour, Tyler noted that the building is “infinitely saveable.” The structure is in decent condition. The walls are strong with little visible rott. The second-floor balcony, with its attached bench, is solid under the weight of two adults who love old homes and their stories.

However, short overhangs and broken windows exposed the inside to the elements, allowing water and various bugs  — mostly wasps — make their home there. I must say, visiting a home with wasps giving you a tour is not fun. They didn’t sting me, but they were scary to be around.

There is dark wood paneling — real wood, not the thin plywood sheets you’d get at a home improvement store nowadays — in some of the rooms in the newest section of the house. It looks like it only needs a good scrub to be beautiful again.

One thing you immediately notice is the half completed work — bricks piled on the floor near the still-operable fireplaces and damp insulation falling out of walls, exposing the back side of the outer siding. In the kitchen, black marker on the walls notes where electrical outlets and the refrigerator and stove were to have gone.

Tyler said that renovations on the house started within the past 10 years and for some reason just stopped. 

“For whatever reason, they just weren’t able to continue and put the house on the market,” he said.

Down East’s work includes building a kitchen in the old kitchen building that is attached to the house through a long hallway.

A master bedroom and bathroom will be created downstairs in the back of the house. You can tell this was once a porch or something else, because there is a window on a wall inside the house.

The work upstairs calls for the creation of three bedrooms, a bathroom and playroom for the Will family’s five children.

Work on the Isaac White house began recently. Tyler said he expected it to take six to nine months.

The Isaac White House is on the National Register of Historic Places. According to the White family, the house was built in 1716, remodeled by 1787 and again in the early 19th century. The register notes that the house’s creation is primarily family lore and there is no data to back it up.

The first recorded owner of the land was William Tetterton. Born in 1682, he was granted 580 acres in 1716, which he sold to Thomas Long. Jonathan Skinner was the first owner of the Tetterton land who is known to have lived on it. He represented Perquimans County in the NC House of Commons in 1779, 1781 and 1782. 

In 1786, William White took possession of the land and eventually passed it to his son Isaac White before 1794. Fast forward to 1860, shortly after Margaret White inherited the land, she paid taxes on 354 acres of land (worth $2,830), eight black polls and a riding vehicle. After her death, the land was divided by Isaac N. White and John W. White in 1868 with John receiving the house. His estate was auctioned off but stayed in the family, as Anderson White bought the land from Robert B. Cox for $200.

When Anderson White died, his children petitioned for a sale of his real estate. In 1924, his son, Thomas Skinner White bid $4,000 for 75 acres and the old family home.

In 1966, the Isaac White house was given to the children of Thomas Skinner White and Jennie Blanchard White — Thomas S. White Jr., Julian B. White, Walter B. White and Virginia White Transeau.

An interesting sidenote, Transeau was editor, publisher and owner of the Perquimans Weekly from the 1960s until 1972, when it was sold to Dear Publications and Radio Inc., which also owned the Daily Advance and a few radio stations in Elizabeth City. When the newspaper was first published in November 1934, an article announced that the newspaper was founded by Mrs. W.E. White, Mattie Lister White, possibly a relative of Transeau.

Old homes have stories. You can see glimpses of them in the carved initials on the mantels, the layers of paint and wallpaper, and hidden hardwood under linoleum floors.

Tyler is helping a new family create their own memories in the Isaac White House.

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