Gary Gratopp and Linda Morrison could tell you that they bought Eden Try back in 2005 with a vision. They could say they planned to turn the 12-acre River Road property into one of Virginia’s top wedding venues, and along the way wanted to establish a vineyard that would produce award-winning wines.

The could say that, but they wouldn’t, because it didn’t happen that way. As Gratopp tells it, the couple wasn’t looking much beyond remodeling the home’s interior to fit their lifestyle, or maybe even as an investment enterprise, and that was quite a project in itself. Then things took an interesting turn.

“We had people stopping by and asking if they could get married here,” he said. It was something they’d never really considered. “We said, well, we guess that would be OK.”

That someone would have such an idea isn’t too surprising. River Road itself is a scenic drive through Spotsylvania woods and farmland, running more or less parallel to the Rappahannock River.

Then you notice 6818 River Road, a classic Georgian-style home that you come to find out is patterned after the George Wythe House in Williamsburg. It was built in 1985, but looks like it could date to 200 years before that.

To say that the couple took a liking to the wedding venue idea is an understatement.

“We have put so much of our heart and soul into this place for the better part of 10 years,” Morrison said. And the result is some 300 weddings and a few other events nearly every weekend from April to November, since 2008.

So it’s tough to begrudge them their desire to change gears now. They’re ready to sell the property and business and move on to other adventures. Eden Try is listed with Tyler Williams of Virginia Estates Inc. based in Afton, near Charlottesville. The asking price is $1.695 million.

The house has five bedrooms, four full bathrooms and a half bath. It has 4,500 square feet of living space on four levels. In the 12 years they’ve lived there, Gratopp and Morrison have added:

  • An extension to the rear of the house that enlarges and provides eating space in the kitchen. The exterior brickwork matches the rest of the house down to the jack arches over the windows.
  • A fountain, brickwork and garden within the circular driveway.
  • Living space to include a guest bedroom suite in the attic.
  • A wedding reception barn with dance floor that seats 200 and has men’s and women’s restrooms, a caterer staging area and a covered patio along the side of the structure. A ramp makes it handicap accessible. Gratopp uses ground-level space under the reception hall for tractors and other equipment.
  • A bridal cottage for last-minute preparations that opens to a path that leads to a wedding arbor.
  • A tasting room for the winery operation that produces a variety of red and white wines to the tune of 500 cases a year.

The sale of the property, as stipulated in the contract, requires the buyers to maintain the property as a wedding venue. The current owners are continuing to schedule future events, necessitating a seamless transition of the operation to new owners.

Also conveying with the property are the services of vineyard manager Jayne White. The winery operation is owned by Morrison, making it one of the 10 women-owned wineries of the nearly 280 doing business in Virginia. Eden Try has a one-acre vineyard protected from wildlife by an electric fence. The winery also uses grapes produced on three additional acres in the Charlottesville/Barboursville area.

BURTON’S TRY AT EDEN

The house was built for Gabe Wharton Burton, a attorney and banker from Chicago who chose to retire in Virginia, the home of his ancestors and his companion of 28 years, Ryerson Potter. Potter was a University of Virginia graduate said to have originated the school’s crossed-swords logo.

The home Burton built reflected his love for Virginia history. Aside from the two-story gable-topped bumpout on the front, it shares the look of Williamsburg’s Wythe House, with the brick construction and hip roof. The original floor plan of many closed-off rooms also reflected Colonial design, and the deep blues and other rich, dark colors used inside and out reflected his preferences.

Burton immediately considered the spot his own Garden of Eden, or at least he would try to make it that. Hence the name, Eden Try.

After Ryerson died in 1999 and Burton passed in 2003, the house was put on the market and sold to Gratopp and Morrison in 2005.

THE WORK BEGINS

The couple started to work on the house in January 2006, and their first order of business was to reimagine the home’s color scheme and floor plan. Luckily Gratopp, a retired unercover cop in Detroit, had remodeled dozens of houses on the side. Walls came down, rooms were rearranged, paint and wallpaper were stripped and the rear addition was built.

The result is a more modern and open floor plan starting with the foyer and continuing through the main level. The closed staircase was opened and the foyer was brightened with a new main entry that includes a transom and sidelights. The entire main level benefits greatly from the combination of neutral and bright colors.

The home’s large windows are low to the floor, reflecting Georgian design. The couple upgraded all the windows, using a Williamsburg-approved nine-over-nine tapered grid design.

The formal living room and dining room are at the front of the house. Both rooms share crown molding and chair rail. The dining room has recessed lighting above the crown and the chandelier hangs from a ceiling medallion.

At the rear of the main level is the completely remodeled kitchen with granite countertops and a peninsula that helps define the space. Cherry cabinetry and a tile floor round out the look. The kitchen’s eating area addition has windows on three sides, creating a bright sun room.

The kitchen flows into a family room with fireplace. It was reconfigured when the kitchen was enlarged.

The second story has four bedrooms, including the master suite with a large walk-in closet and sitting room. There’s a dumbwaiter in the master bathroom to move items between the first and second levels.

Three other bedrooms share a hall bath. In the master suite’s sitting room are stairs to the former attic, which has been finished off to include the fifth bedroom and a full bathroom.

An elevator shaft was built into the home by Burton. The elevator was never added, but it could be.

The basement is partially finished and includes Morrison’s “favorite room in the house,” a climate-controlled wine cellar that Gratopp constructed for her. It’s not quite full, but 90 percent of what’s there is Virginia wine. The cellar can hold up to 750 bottles.

Much of the rest of the basement space is for utilities and storage. Access to the two-car garage is down here as well.

The surrounding grounds are truly special, with brick walkways and gravel paths that lead here and there to the various outbuildings. Spaces around the house and elsewhere are landscaped with a variety of shrubs and other plantings that explode with color in the spring.

A visit to a wooded area on the property reveals a rhododendron that’s 20 feet high and 60 feet in circumference. It is regarded as the largest in Virginia and possibly on the East Coast. Its name is Grandpa.

Both Gratopp and Morrison reflect fondly on their time at Eden Try. “It’s been a labor of love that we’ve been plugging away at for years,” Morrison said. “It has exceeded all of my expectations.”

Richard Amrhine: 540/374-5406 ramrhine@freelancestar.com

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