The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Picnickers praise Cleydael renovation work
BY CATHY DYSON
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Members of the King George County Historical Society have nothing but gratitude for Charlie and Renee Parker, who are restoring Cleydael.
“It was hard to believe someone from within the county would step in and take over,” said Jean Hudson, president of the society. “And I’m so glad they did, because this is our history.”
Last Thursday, Hudson welcomed a crowd of more than 85 people to Cleydael, the 19th-century home near Dahlgren where John Wilkes Booth tried to find refuge after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
Cleydael had fallen into neglect in recent years when previous owner Kathryn Coombs became ill and died without a will. Goats and sheep that she brought into the house left their marks, and termites and weather also did damage.The Parkers, who live in King George and are civilian workers at the Navy base, hope to get the house in shape again. Soon after they bought Cleydael, they agreed to let the historical society have its annual picnic on their lawn.
Last week historians were joined by bankers, builders and other members of the King George Chamber of Commerce, who all faced sweltering heat and temperatures in the 90s.
The group put up tents in the backyard, and Cleydael’s mature trees gave welcome shade, but there were still as many paper plates used for fanning as for food.
Historian Walter Gallahan said he is glad that Cleydael is still standing. This time last year, its future seemed uncertain.
“We thought it would probably be torn down” by a developer who wanted to subdivide the 12-acre lot, Gallahan said. “Thank goodness, it was saved.”
‘FELL INTO OUR LAPS’
After Coombs died in January 2011, Bank of America scheduled three auctions on the courthouse steps last summer and fall, then canceled them at the last minute.
When the bank allowed an estate auction in October, developer Ed Veazey offered the highest bid.
He had restored the home in the 1980s and developed the subdivisions around it.
He said he bought Cleydael a second time so it wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands. He hoped he could transfer ownership to someone who wanted to live there.
Months went by before the bank announced it wouldn’t accept Veazey’s $141,000 offer.
Meanwhile, he met the Parkers at the county’s fall festival. Renee, who served on the School Board, was running for supervisor, and she and Charlie had a booth right beside the one for the historical society.
The Parkers told Veazey they always dreamed of restoring an old house.
They were thrilled that Cleydael had historical value and ties to Lincoln. The manor house was built in 1859 as a summer home for wealthy landowner and doctor Richard Stuart.
After Veazey’s offer was rejected, the Parkers made an offer to Bank of America and spent four months negotiating. They paid $215,000 for the two-story house, and started the grueling process of restoration in March.
“It’s kind of weird that the whole thing fell into our laps like it did,” Renee told the crowd of picnickers.
GUTS AND DRIVE
Sam Hastings, who has also restored old houses, joked that just looking at the work that had been done at Cleydael made him tired.
“I admire their guts and their drive,” he said. “With an old house, if you don’t have someone living in it, it will deteriorate.”
Cleydael suffered from a different fate; outside creatures came inside and did damage to the floors. On hot, humid days, the smell of urine still surfaces, despite all the scrubbing that has been done.
The Parkers also discovered that the kitchen, which wasn’t part of the original home, had massive termite damage. The couple has a blended family of eight children, so Charlie and his sons gutted the kitchen floor and jacked up the room so they could put in a new foundation.
“Whenever we find something, we’re going to take care of it and not just cover it up,” Charlie said.
Renee said the restoration process is taking longer than she expected. Because Cleydael is on the National Register of Historic Places, the Parkers have to use materials similar to what was in the original house.
That means the insect-infested beams torn from the kitchen have to be replaced with rough-cut wood. The Parkers order it from Wood Preservers Inc. in Warsaw, where workers cut and dry it in a kiln.
As the name suggests, the rough-cut wood isn’t planed and finished like lumber sold in hardware stores.
Renee and Charlie hope to move their family into the home by the end of June.
“We’re not afraid to rough it for a while,” she said.
The Parkers told society members they are welcome to have their annual picnic on their lawn for years to come—and to stop by whenever a car is in the driveway for an impromptu tour.
Historical society member Koontz Campbell was impressed by her attitude.
“We’re just so lucky we have people like the Parkers who are willing to preserve the house,” she said, “and open it up to everyone.”
A busload of people following the route Booth took from Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was shot, into Maryland and King George and Caroline counties recently pulled into the circular drive at Cleydael, unannounced.There’s not much in the house besides rugs and a few pieces of furniture, but Renee invited the tourists inside anyway.
“The same applies to you, and any of your relatives who enjoy history,” she told the group.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425