Homeowners love their granite-clad dwellings
By Maggie Blackwell
For The Salisbury Post
“It makes sense to me that there would be granite houses in an area known for its granite,” Al Dunn says.
There are numerous such homes in Rockwell and Faith, and a few in in Salisbury as well. Two of them started out as wooden structures. Al’s is one of them.
Most folks in Salisbury recognize the gracious and imposing structure on the corner of Mitchell Avenue and Boyden Street, a story-and-a-half granite house atop a verdant green lawn with a granite wall. What they may not realize is that the house was originally a humble wooden bungalow, much like the others in the Fulton Heights neighborhood.
It originally faced Boyden Street, or Bean Street, as it was called back in 1918 when the house was built. Bean Street was named for its location on Ludwig’s farm, which preceded the neighborhood’s development ó the bean patch.
Trish and Al Dunn moved into the home almost 15 years ago and live there now with their two children.
“I’m not sure I would have been as attracted to the home as it was originally built,” Al says. “The granite definitely gave it a facelift.”
Facing the house with granite was the inspiration of Robert Wallenborn, then a manager for Harris Granite in Granite Quarry, and later the owner of Salisbury Granite Co.
His son, Dr. Peter Wallenborn, lives in Roanoke, Va.
“Being in the stone business,” Wallenborn says, “he had ready access to all the stone he needed, and it was great advertising.”
Wallenborn bought the house in 1918 and by 1920 had begun the work of refacing it.
He did not do the work himself.
Joe Marchesi, an Italian-born stonemason from the quarry, lived in the small outbuilding behind the home for three years. During that time, he cut all the stone by hand and enclosed the entire house. Two dormer windows facing Mitchell Avenue were increased to four, and the attic was transformed into an upstairs.
Photos indicate the yard was raised about 18 inches, and enclosed with a granite wall. The family became close to Marchesi over the course of the work, and recalls him fondly.
Along with the “before” photos they have given the Dunns was a tiny clipping with Marchesi’s obituary.
What’s it like to live in such a solid home?
“It’s a lot like living in a bunker,” Trish observes.
While the exterior walls of a modern home measure about 10 inches, the Dunns’ walls come in at about 16.
Al notes that they do not turn their air conditioning on until late in the summer, and when it failed one time, he could cool off by lying on the living room floor.
Across town out Faith Road is another granite house that began as a simple wooden house. Not so simple anymore, the house boasts 6 bedrooms, 4a baths, a formal living room, dining room, breakfast room, sun porch, study, den, playroom and more. The master suite includes a separate sitting room and large master bath with an exercise area. At about 5,000 square feet, Graystone seems to have it all.
Unlike the Dunns’ house, not much is known about Graystone, other than the legend that has been passed from owner to owner.
Built about 150 years ago, the house was originally a frame structure. The log beams that supported the house can still be seen in the basement.
About 1930, the owners decided to face the house with granite, and at the same time, they excavated a basement óall while the family lived in the house. Additional square footage, the south side of the house, was added at this time. Because the basement was added during the granite phase, the interior walls of it are granite, as are the steps leading down to it.
The house was surrounded by 100 acres of land, also owned by the Graystone homeowners. Eventually, this land was developed into a water park of sorts known as Mirror Lake. Many Salisbury couples courted there, enjoying the driving range and water activities. A prior owner sold off much of the 100 acres to developers. That land is now Oakview Commons subdivision.
John and Tracy McMillin bought Graystone in 2002 and have been busily loving it into restoration ever since. They have totally renovated the kitchen, fenced in the outdoor fountain and fish pond, built in bookshelves, added trim and installed period lighting, which was removed at some point over the years and replaced with inexpensive, modern fixtures.
“We want it to have the feel that everything is as it was back then,” Tracy says.
A native of Massachusetts, Tracy grew up in older homes. As a child, she observed her mother attacking the old homes with a passion, and she attributes much of her talent to those early lessons. In fact, Graystone is the “newest” house Tracy has ever lived in.
Her husband grew up in older homes as well, and his skill as a woodworker is evident in the bookcases he built and the crown molding they have installed.
The house is beautiful. Tracy has tastefully blended modern living conveniences with antique fixtures and accessories.
The kitchen boasts state-of-the-art stainless commercial appliances while the living room sports confessional chairs and camelback sofas, and it is all tied together with eclectic accessories used in creative ways.
The TV room in the basement, at about 40 by 20, might present challenges to anyone else.
Tracy has made it warm and cozy, furnishing it entirely with furniture from the Habitat General Store.
“I wanted to see if I could do it,” she says. “It’s like the ultimate recycling.”
Although they had to install HVAC in the basement, they hired local trompe l’oeil artist Tyler Kent to paint “granite” on the sheetrock enclosing the ductwork.
The McMillins’ exterior walls measure in at 21 inches, and they agree with the Dunns that living in a stone house is much like living in a castle.
“Our neighbors have notified us,” she says, “that in the case of bad weather or national emergency, they’re coming here.”
Beside the fish pond are nets the children use to try and catch fish. The family’s all-terrain vehicle is a favorite ride for the neighborhood kids ó they often hear the hum of the engine and come running. The dog, children and guests are all welcome to walk the wooden floors and plop on the antique furniture.
“That’s our goal,” Tracy says. “We want the house to be totally livable.”
Freelance writer Maggie Blackwell lives in Salisbury.