For years, the Dr. Campbell A. Baird House has sat dark and empty on Cherry Street in Mount Airy, a testament to a long-forgotten era in the city’s history.
Recently, however, a buzz of activity has been under way at the house described by one longtime local resident as being “like a governor’s mansion” before falling into a state of disrepair.
A crew led by restoration expert John Kidwell has been working since about early December to return the home built in 1913 to its former glory.
“We’ve torn this house completely apart,” the contractor said while taking a visitor on a tour of the premises Wednesday. “We’re going to put it back the way it was intended to be.”
The Neo-Classical Revival-style structure that was the home of Dr. Baird, a prominent local physician, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its most distinguishing features are the large Doric columns in front. Among the professional accomplishments of Dr. Baird was the delivery in 1930 of Eleanor Powell, a longtime employee of The Mount Airy News who retired in December.
After his landmark home was neglected for decades, Mount Airy preservationists worked diligently to stimulate interest by someone who realized its potential and was willing to make an investment. That breakthrough came in the early part of 2012 when it was purchased by Gordon and Lesa Reeves.
Though the two already had bought a home in Rural Hall, the couple was so smitten by the Baird house that they decided to put their newer one up for sale and concentrate on acquiring the historic property here which was listed at $165,000. The price tag for the renovations is $350,000.
“With great risks come great rewards, and I try to keep that in mind,” Gordon Reeves said Wednesday in summing up the massive undertaking that will lead to him and his wife living in the home. Lisa Reeves said the target date for renovations to be completed is mid-May.
“An Interesting Project”
To return the Baird house to a state of livability, Gordon and Lesa Reeves turned to Kidwell, 76, a veteran remodeler who has handled many such renovation tasks before. Kidwell hails from the metro Washington, D.C., area, where he was employed by a major construction firm and worked on some of the finer homes there.
“All my life I’ve been renovating and working on older houses.”
About seven years ago, Kidwell and his wife moved to Mount Airy, where one of the first orders of business was buying and restoring the Hale Yokeley House built in 1890.
“You have to love what you’re doing,” he said of remodeling such a home. “You have to have an idea of what it’s going to look like when you’re finished.”
There always are unknowns attached to such projects, which proved to be the case when tackling the work at the Dr. Baird House, a 3,275-square-foot structure. “It’s really been an undertaking,” Kidwell said, “because I didn’t expect the house to be in this bad a shape.”
That included uncovering termite damage and some foundation problems due to the settling of the structure over the years. Five large (6-by-8) beams had to be replaced, and “that was quite extensive,” Kidwell said.
Also, the crew is having to shore up the foundation with new concrete, and some of the bases on the large columns at the front of the house were gone. “We’re going to fix them all back like they were,” Kidwell said of the structure’s most-striking features.
Removal of old mantles also was on the list of things to do, which will be replaced with the same type as before.
Still, the old house is solid in other ways, Kidwell said. That even includes some of its 100-year-old timbers. “They’re here — it’s no sense taking it out.”
An antique clawfoot tub in the house, which is quite heavy, also will be refurbished for use in a first-floor bathroom. “It’s actually in pretty good shape,” Kidwell said.
In addition to its Doric columns, the structure has other interesting features such as high ceilings reaching 10 feet on each floor. “Everybody wore hats back in those days,” Kidwell said of the early 20th century.
And in the grand foyer, an intricately detailed staircase leads upstairs.
The house at 311 Cherry St. is in Mount Airy’s Historic District and listed as a “contributing property” to that district on the website of Preservation North Carolina, an organization dedicated to protecting buildings and landscapes important to the state’s heritage.
Due to the Baird House being on the National Register of Historic Places, the refurbishing is being done in a manner that preserves its architectural style. One new feature will be a screened-in back porch that the new owners requested.
“We’re going to try to make it right — that’s the purpose of this whole thing,” Kidwell said.
He has brought in an engineer to sign off on the project and the site has been visited by a local building inspector as well. “He understands what’s here,” the contractor said. “Of course, when this house was built in 1913, there were no regulations.”
Gordon and Lesa Reeves said the renovations got off to a slow start because of bad weather, yet are pleased with how they are coming along.
“Things are going well,” Lesa Reeves said. “We’ve run into some unexpected issues, but we have faith in John Kidwell. He’s on the job and he’s getting everything done. It’s progressing now.”
“You just want to snap your finger” and have it done, her husband said of the process, but there is a realization that the project can’t take place overnight.
“It’s been a job, but it’s been interesting and I can’t wait to see it all come together,” Lesa Reeves said of work at the house. “I visit it frequently.”
“It’s an interesting project,” Kidwell agreed. “It’s going to be a grand old house when it’s done.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.