Houses such as 908 Cornell St. in Fredericksburg, which turned 80 years old this year, are young enough to have been built using 20th-century construction practices, but old enough to be venerable members of the community.
Sitting on a nice-sized, quarter-acre city lot in the “below-the-university” or College Terrace neighborhood, 908 Cornell is a solid, white-painted brick Colonial with trim and details that speak to its pre-World War II workmanship. Credit for that goes to E.G. “Peck” Heflin, a very busy local builder in the first half of the 20th century who built this house and many more of the city’s finer, older homes.
Owners Bob and Chay DeBlasi have decided the time is right to move to the San Diego area, where their children and grandchildren live. They’ve listed 908 Cornell with Suzy Stone of Century 21 Redwood Realty in Fredericksburg. The asking price is $995,000.
The DiBlasis also own the contiguous lot that extends from the rear property line to Mortimer Street. The buyer of the house will be offered the first opportunity to buy the additional lot, which is listed for $300,000.
“We’ve loved this house from minute one,” Bob DiBlasi said. “I always thought it would be our forever house, and it would be if we didn’t want to move closer to the kids.”
He said the couple found it to be the perfect location, “a beautiful house for us,” as Chay put it. It allowed them to participate in activities on the University of Mary Washington campus and enjoy “all the stuff going on downtown,” Bob Dibiasi added. He said the couple became known for riding their tandem bicycle around the neighborhood.
DiBlasi said he and Chay are only the second owners of the 1939 house, the first being the family of Fredericksburg attorney John Cowan, from whom they bought it in 1995.
Cowan said in an interview that his father, Charles M. Cowan, after whom Cowan Boulevard is named, was mayor of Fredericksburg from 1949 to 1964.
“My father had Peck Heflin build that house. I think it was the last house he built,” Cowan said. “My father said [Heflin] took offense because a local doctor was having an architect from Richmond build his house [elsewhere in the city]. My father said Heflin said ‘I am going to show what I can build’.”
Cowan said the home’s intricately carved crown molding and trim was created in Heflin’s shop, and the crown is unique from room to room.
In a 2012 story about nearby 814 Cornell St., Gary Stanton, a former associate professor with the University of Mary Washington’s Center for Historic Preservation, said Heflin was instrumental in bringing sidewalks to the neighborhood because he didn’t think the students and faculty who lived there should trudge though mud to get to school. Back then, the school was the State Normal and Industrial School for Women.
The house is listed with 4,323 square feet of living space on three levels, though the large attic has a floor and could be finished off for more living space. There are four bedrooms, two full bathrooms and two half-baths.
The house has an impressive presence on Cornell Street, with its painted brick façade, heavy door and window frames, bold dentil molding and slate roof. There’s an attached, one-car garage alongside.
The main entry opens to a foyer that shows the original narrow-plank hardwood with darker border inlays that were popular at the time. The handsome main stairway with curved banister is to the right and straight ahead is the formal dining room. The sight line from the foyer continues through the dining room and rear bay window into the lush backyard and additional lot.
To the left of the foyer is the den or library, which has one of the home’s fireplaces, and beyond that is the sunroom that the DiBlasis added in 2003. The sunroom’s windows and doors have screens that can turn it into a screened porch.
Also to the left of the foyer is the kitchen. The functional space with checkerboard tile floor has room for a breakfast table and has a butler’s pantry built into it.
The formal living room to the right of the foyer has the Heflin-carved crown molding and fireplace mantel trim.
Behind the living room is an enclosed porch with skylights that opens to the backyard and leads to a two-story addition built as part of the 2003 project. Considering it their “forever” home at the time, the addition includes an elevator that rises to the second story.
Upstairs, the graceful staircase arrives at an open common area. Three secondary bedrooms share a hall bathroom, and one of the bedrooms has access to a cedar-clad storage room.
Thanks to the addition, the master now extends into a new walk-in closet and dressing area, master bathroom, and finally to a well-appointed home office with built-in wood shelving and cabinetry. The master bath features a steam bath, multi-fixture shower, jetted tub and a bidet.
One flight up is the attic, which has flooring and a pair of quarter-round windows at each end.
The finished portion of the basement has a large recreation room with bar and refrigerator, as well as storage and utility space with a half-bathroom. The house has radiator heat and retrofitted central air conditioning.
The backyard has the potential for a variety of new features. Flagstone paths lead around the house and to the detached screen porch. The private garden has dogwoods and a variety of other mature trees and shrubs.