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Step back in time
Joanne and Seth Carpenter in Jones-Wright House

FRANKLIN COUNTY -- This region was a vastly different place in the very early days of this nation when Capt. Daniel Jones came home from service in the Third Continental Army and selected a spot along what is now the Epsom-Rocky Ford Road for his new, Georgian style home.

Capt. Jones -- who attained the rank of captain while at Valley Forge with General George Washington -- had roots in this region since his father, Edward Jones, owned a plantation near Shocco Springs in what was to become Warren County.

At the time, residents in the region were lobbying hard to have what was then known as Butte County divided into Franklin and Warren counties, and that division finally happened on Jan. 20, 1779, just as Capt. Jones was ready to start work on his new home.

Workmen started constructing the two-story house in 1779 and completed it in 1780 -- and on April 27 the majestic home will be open for visitors as part of the Franklin County Historic Homes and Garden Tour that is also a fund-raiser for the Person Place Preservation Society.

In somewhat later years, the house was the home of Mary Delphia "Polly" Wright and has direct and indirect ties to a number of notable Franklin County families.

Currently the home is owned by Seth Carpenter and his mother, Joanne, who purchased the property in 1980 and have spent the ensuing years carefully researching and restoring the home that was once thought so endangered that it might be lost to the ravages of time.

Theirs is a fascinating saga of almost pre-ordained destiny that has so many moving parts it's difficult to believe it all worked out and saved a local historical landmark.

They were living in Tuscon, Arizona, getting a little tired of the heat and desert when they found a publication from Preservation North Carolina that listed historic homes for sale.

They came to Franklin County to take a careful look but that original deal didn't work out.

But something unexpected did. They met the late Betty McKinne, a literal force of nature, an artist, a history lover and a woman who was noted for seeing a project through to completion.

Mrs. McKinne decided that this mother-son duo really, really needed a historic Franklin County home so she loaded them into her station wagon and began visiting all the homes she could remember, some for sale, others not.

When the determined trio eventually pulled up to the front of the Jones-Wright House, which is nestled in a grove of trees between farm fields, they thought the house was vacant and unloved.

The front door was standing partly open but as they approached, they saw a man suddenly sit up in a bed where he had been napping that hot afternoon.

The Carpenters recall Mrs. McKinne making a somewhat panicked 180-degree turn and speeding back out to the main road, fearing they might got shot at any minute.

They didn't get shot, but they did get hooked on a once grand house that was in serious need of tender loving care -- including the removal of a huge poison ivy vine that covered nearly half the structure including a beautiful brick chimney.

It took months to figure out who actually owned the house, which sits near the Franklin/Vance County line, and to get all the descendants to agree to sell a house many had never seen and didn't know they partially owned.

But the Carpenters pulled off that feat and began the long, arduous task of figuring out what was original, what changes had been made and how, exactly, they wanted to proceed.

They knew that the house had a two-room, slightly later addition across the back but wondered why the original staircase, which once turned near the bottom into a downstairs room, had been straightened so it opened into the addition and the original opening boarded over.

That mystery was easily solved when they realized that the original configuration of the stairway was almost like having another large chimney in the downstairs room and the updraft sucked heat out of the room rapidly.

So, they decided that change would stay, making that downstairs room much easier to heat and cool.

As they studied the house, they noted that there was a vernacular archway added where one of the original outside doors had been and which now leads into that two-room addition.

A little research indicated that the arch was added about 1814 by Griffen Wright who crafted it from seven pieces of wood, each carefully shaped. It's still in place more than 200 years later.

As their plans took shape they hired Richard "Rick" Lambeth, who was then a local restoration contractor who worked with the Carpenters to retain as much of the original fabric of the house as possible while preserving it for future generations. (Lambeth has since moved to Tarboro.)

Mrs. Carpenter fondly recalls Lambeth's dedication to the project -- especially the time he spent on hands and knees scrubbing and repairing the original yellow pine floorboards.

As restoration progressed, additional original details of the home were discovered, including one original window, rendered unnecessary by the two-room addition, that was literally encased in a wall. It's still there, by the way, a prize that a future owner may re-discover.

An earlier photograph of a fireplace mantel in a front room indicated that it was decorated with wooden diamonds and other moldings which were missing. (See photo above.)

But, amazingly, all the missing parts were found under the hearth. How they got there, no one knows, but they were recovered, cleaned up and restored to their rightful places on the mantel, preserving another bit of Franklin County history.

A careful analysis of the paint history of the home revealed the original colors -- and an effort was made to match those colors.

One of the stunning architectural details of the home is a double-shouldered exterior chimney that was laid in Flemish bond with a glazed header chevron.

The house is a two-story, three bay, single pile late Georgian-style heavy timber frame dwelling. It has a low gable roof and brick end chimneys, is built on a stone foundation and the interior includes an enclosed stairway (a typical Franklin County steep stairway!) paneled wainscotting, six-panel doors, framed fireplaces and a host of other original details.

The front gabled portico is a replacement -- and comes with a story.

In the early days of figuring out how to restore the house, Seth Carpenter was in an upstairs window opening and decided to step out onto the porch roof. He realized in the nick of time that it was a bit unstable -- and was fortunate to be holding onto the window sill when the entire porch suddenly collapsed, falling away from the house.

"It was literally still being held by one nail," he recalled and adds that he was lucky to be able to scramble back through the window opening unscathed. "I couldn't do that now," he laughs," nearly 30 years after the original incident.

Seth Carpenter works for the U.S. Postal Service in Raleigh -- and fondly recalls the day when he could get to work in half the time it takes today because of the increased traffic.

Joanne Carpenter is a retired school teacher who taught in several states before wrapping up her teaching career at Vance-Granville Community College.

But regardless of their vocations, history is their avocation -- and they are digging through county files in several different counties and combing through any other records they can find to document not only the Jones-Wright House but also the region around it and the people who played such important roles in local history.

As they are getting ready to welcome visitors at the April 27 Homes Tour, Seth Carpenter paused to offer some sage advice learned from literally decades of working to restore an early home.

"If you're just looking for a house, buy a house.

"But if you want to live in a historic home, you have to realize that it has to be a labor of love."

Editor's note: The biennial Historic Homes Tour will be from 10 a.m. until 5 p..m. Saturday, April 27, rain or shine.

Tickets are $18 in advance and $20 on tour day but children 12 and under are fee.

Tickets are available at The Coffee Hound Bookshop and The Franklin Times in Louisburg; The Cotton Company in Wake Forest and in the Lake Royale, Bunn area by calling 919-539-7868.

Tickets will be available at the Person Place, 605 North Main Street, Louisburg, on tour day.

For more information, see: www.personplace.org

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Members Opinions:
April 30, 2019 at 12:48pm
Congratulations to the Carpenters for their impressive restoration. Their house was a popular stop during the recent homes tour.

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