Harmony Hill History
Harmony Hill: Restoration fulfills a long-time dream for the Halseys by Lynn Worth
The Alleghany News, Sparta NC, September 14, 1995
If Frank Fields could see his homeplace, he would surely be surprised. The renovations to this 19th Century house are striking even to the modern eye.
Fields built the Victorian farmhouse in Piney Creek in the 1890’s for his family. It was sold to cattle trader Aaron Gambill in 1925.
Gambill raised eight children there and the house has been in the family since then, though it sat empty for about the past 20 years.
Now, in the hands of Gambill’s grandson and granddaughter-in-law, Jim and Barbara Halsey, it has come to life again.
Atop a hill on Halsey Road, the house is surrounded by sprawling views of hay, tobacco, Fraser firs, corn and distant mountains. The white clapboard siding, green shutters and abundant gingerbread duplicate its appearance around the turn of the century.
But the interior is perhaps the most stunning. It combines the airy brightness of Charleston décor with the stately beauty of the Victorian style.
This blend was masterminded by Barbara, who has named the place "Harmony Hill."
"My husband says there’s no harmony on this hill," she says with a laugh. Turning the old farmhouse into a luxury bed and breakfast has taken over a year, endless hard work and many twists and turns.
"I took out 50 bags of trash before we even got started. One was full of peach seeds. During The Depression people never threw anything away," she said. One room was full of old tires and broken glass. "It was unbelievable. We just threw it out the window."
The house was also moved a short distance up the hill, to a spot Barbara picked out for its panoramic view. "The hay was so high it was taller than me. I stood there in that hayfield and picked out where I wanted my front door."
Once the spot was chosen, a basement hold was dug. "It took two weeks to get the house on rollers to move it, and an hour to get it up here with an 18-wheeler and a bulldozer. It took four hours to back it into the hole," she said.
Then the house was renovated and restored inside and out.
The front porch, where the family cats like to snooze, has an attached gazebo and inviting padded furniture.
The front door opens into an oversized 15-foot by 14-foot foyer. The eye catcher here is a huge, hand-carved newel post at the foot of an oak stairway. There was no electricity when the post was made, Barbara noted as she began a tour of the interior with a guest recently.
"It is said that the Fields family walked along the land to pick out oaks they wanted these stairs built out of," she said. The Halseys found a typewritten letter in the foyer dated to 1893. It is now framed and hanging on the stairwell wall.
The original screen door and wavy glass windows remain in the front entrance. The old jingling doorbell works and will be refinished.
"All the floors are original except in two rooms," she continued. Much of the trimwork was painted to lighten up the dark interiors that were typical of the house’s time.
A parlor, where the Gambill family had Christmas, is to the right of the entrance. This room is a three-sided bay that is a feature of Queen Anne architecture.
Another three-sided bay was added in the Halsey’s renovations so that guest bedrooms could have bathrooms and closets.
To the left of the entrance is a library. "We made this into a library because a teacher and bookstore owner has to have a library. No way around it," she mused.
Barbara is a former English teacher at Wando High School in Charleston and owner of Hemingway’s Bookstore in Sparta. Jim is human resources administrative manager at Bristol Compressors manufacturing.
A back wall was knocked out to add a music room that includes son Jonathan’s piano. "When he’s home the piano goes from the time he wakes up until the time he goes to bed," she said of her son.
Walls were also knocked out to add a breakfast nook and extend the kitchen. The kitchen, also designed by Barbara, is built to be neat yet convenient to use.
She opened one cabinet in the kitchen island to show baking utensils. "When I want to make biscuits, all I have to do is open this door and everything I need is right here," she said.
On the outside is a two-level deck and gazebo. This area is available for social events such as weddings, she said. An outdoor hot tub is also here for bed and breakfast guests.
Each bedroom has a fireplace and a bathroom with a Jacuzzi bathtub, except for one with a clawfoot bathtub that was found in the old house.
A stained glass window was installed in the upstairs hallways and opens to a view of the east. Jack Belk of Trade, Tenn. went to Scotland and got the windows for the Halseys, she explained.
Throughout the house is a primary color scheme of buttercup yellow, rose, blue and hunter green.
Victorian furniture and Oriental hooked rugs of the period help complete the antique look of the house. Elegance is lended by 12-inch ceramic tiles in the kitchen and baths, ceiling fans and granite facings on the fireplaces.
Magnum Pottery in Piney Creek painted likenesses of the wildflowers that grow along Halsey Road on the kitchen fireplace facing, Barbara noted.
The house has been a full-time job for local builder Ronald Davis, who also restored Bella Columns10 years ago. "Barbara knew what she wanted. She’d tell me what she wanted done and I’d tell her whether we could do it or not," he said.
Barbara added that local people and business were hired for refinishing and interior decorating as much as possible.
"Mitch Franklin made all the architectural changes to the house. He was successful because it is hard to tell where the old ends and the new begins," she said.
"I just never thought we’d actually do it," said Jim. He had taken Barbara to see the house 40 years ago just after they were married.
"I said then I’d give anything to restore that house, never thinking I’d get a chance to do it," Barbara added.
After living in Charleston for several years, the couple moved back to Alleghany in 1994 and looked at the house again. The originally planned to remove the stairway and put it in another house they wanted to build.
But they found the entire structure in remarkable shape. Bed and breakfasts had also become popular, giving the couple more ammunition for the decision to restore it.
"It was in such a good condition. It was solid. I just couldn’t stand to see it torn down," said Barbara.
Though the work may have been a nightmare at times, the couple have also seen a dream come true.
Barbara said," When I sit on the porch, the four or five times I’ve had the chance, to me there’s just peace and harmony."