Keeping Its Character

Jim and Cathy Arrington have renovated a house built in 1835, but they’re keeping as much as they can original

Driving down Vernon Road, it would be easy to miss the antebellum, greek revival cottage tucked behind two ancient magnolia trees, but the historic Ferrell-Holder House seems satisfied to sit away from the hustle and bustle of the busy road.

The historic home was added to the National Register of Historic Places Inventory on August 14, 1979, as the Ferrell-Holder House, after some of its best-known occupants, and it is now owned by Jim and Cathy Arrington. The couple fell in love with the house itself long before they began to delve into its histor, however.

Jim and Cathy Arrington take a break on the front porch swing at their home on Vernon Road. It’s one of their favorite places to spend an afternoon. –Alicia B. Hill

“I’ve always just loved this house,” Cathy said. “I actually came here as a little girl. I remember one time, the grandchildren of the owners, the Holders, were my age, and we came over, and I remember coming over here in the living room and playing hide and seek. It is not a really clear memory, but I can remember that.”

For Cathy, historic homes are a passion that she can trace to her childhood.

“I grew up right down the road, on Vernon Street at 1106 — and that house was actually a Callaway home that was built, I think in the early 1900s — so just growing up in a historical house, I’ve always had a passion or a love for them,” Cathy said. “I love being right here on Vernon as well.”

That passion blended perfectly with Jim’s expertise as a builder when renovating the house to make it their home.

“The things that really intrigued me as a builder are how well the house was built in 1835,” Jim said. “I mean obviously, they had to use the wood off the land to build it, and everything was hand done. All the beams in it are hand hewn, so the labor intensiveness of the house, of the building, and for it to still be in as good of shape as it is in — like Cathy said there is a lot of character — but when you look, the floors are pretty level, and it was just well-built.”

Cathy agreed, noting that the character of the house was part of what drew their interest.

“It has so much character,” Cathy said. “We didn’t want to change a lot of things about it. We wanted to preserve the character that is in the home, but it just needed a little more love. So just basically paint and refinishing the hardwood floors, but we tried to keep a lot of the original things of the house that we could.”

Even with their love for the old home, the couple did make some changes in order to bring it into the modern age.

The living room of the Ferrell-Holder House is shown. The home was originally built in a typical antebellum Greek revival arrangement with four rooms. That arrangement was altered in the early 20th century, but the living room received the fewest changes. –Alicia B. Hill

“Every light fixture in the house had a gas line piping gas to it because at one time they were gas lights,” Jim said. “Originally, they were candles, and then there was one fixture that we took out, and we don’t have anymore. It started as a light fixture that you put candles in, and then it was converted to a gas light fixture, and then it was converted to an electric light fixture. So, it has been in the house since basically about the original date.”

Bringing a home built when the primary sources of light were candles and sunlight into the present can be a challenge, but judging by the seamless transition from old to new in the home, the Arringtons seem to have succeeded.

“You had to have a vision for how can you modernize it to some extent,” Cathy said. “Jim came over here without me the morning that he looked at it … and he said ‘OK, I can fix this kitchen up, update it, and I can do a master bath. Everything else, I know I can do that.’ But he had that vision, and could see it, and then he called me to come over.”

That modernization only further highlights the home’s history with touches from prominent locals still visible, like Sarah Ferrell’s boxwoods that still line the garden over a century after she planted them.

“If you really just take time to walk around the yard, all the boxwoods, those were done by Ms. (Sarah) Ferrell who did Ferrell Gardens at Hills & Dales,” Cathy said.

The home was built in 1835 to be the home of Mickellberry Ferrell, a pioneer settler of LaGrange whose daughter, Sarah Ferrell, created the Ferrell Gardens, which are now known as Hills & Dales. Mickleberry Ferrell served in the state legislature in 1843 and helped form the Masonic Lodge in 1842, according to information from the National Register of Historic Places.

The fully updated kitchen sits ready for use. –Alicia B. Hill

“That was Mickelberry Ferrell’s daughter, and it originally was a 405-acre tract,” Jim said. “He ended out giving her that parcel of land over there where they built (Hills & Dales Estate). They were here for a while after he passed.”

The Ferrells were far from the only historically significant figures to live in the home, though. The home and 28 acres of the property were sold to George Heard, then C.T. Freemen before local industrialist C.V. Truitt purchased the house for his son Forrest in 1917. In 1937, Truitt hired an architect to make several major renovations to the home that included bathrooms, an addition and lower ceilings. In 1948, Dr. James Smith Holder, who also founded Clark-Holder Clinic now known as Emory Clark-Holder Clinic, purchased the home.

“Just about everybody in this house was somebody that had an impact on LaGrange in some kind of way, so it is just kind of neat to live somewhere and think: What kind of people have been here? Have eaten dinner at the dining room table? Have sat on the front porch and had conversations?” Jim said.

Cathy agreed.

“A lot of times, Jim and I like to sit on the front porch in the evenings because there is not as much traffic in the evenings,” Cathy said. “We just sit out there, and we think what kind of conversations (have taken place) or who has been here sitting on this front porch almost 200 years ago. We just kind of take a moment, and really think about that. It still blows my mind.”

While the home holds a great deal of local significance, it saw nationally significant history in the making as well.

“They say that the troops marched right past here going to West Point in the Civil War, and so you know that they had to come by the house and see it and (wonder) why didn’t they burn it like so many other places,” Jim said.

“You don’t know, it is just neat to sit and think about those things, and your mind can just kind of wonder. I can sit on the porch, and I know the road was not right here where it is at now, but it was probably very close.”

Hopefully, the home will still be stand as a reminder of those who have walked its halls 200 years from now.

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