When Sligo, the late 19th-century Italianate-style home next to Dixon Park in Fredericksburg, is opened to the public on Saturday, visitors will get to tour a house in the midst of a serious, historically sensitive restoration project.
Purchased last year by Lauren and Marcus Tepaske, Sligo had seen better days. It had been vacant and neglected for its last 10 years under previous ownership. Its existence and future hung in the balance until the Tepaskes undertook the rehabilitation effort a year ago.
They called on Habalis Construction, which has been doing historic preservation work in the Fredericksburg area since 2004, to return Sligo as much as possible to its original appearance. They also wanted it to serve as a comfortable, modern home for their young family.
But for now, while the project is going on, they have to live elsewhere. They hope to move into their restored home in January, though work in the basement is expected to continue at that point.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” Lauren Tepaske said during a recent tour of Sligo. “It’s going to be a little intimidating to live in this big old house.”
In the meantime, Sligo was officially listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register in September, and action on its nomination to the National Register of Historic Places is pending but expected sometime soon. The nomination, from which information for this story was taken, was prepared by Katherine Watts of the Dovetail Cultural Resource Group in Fredericksburg.
The nomination says the home’s “location, design, workmanship, and materials contribute to the property’s integrity ... as a Victorian-era dwelling constructed for a prosperous farming family in a rural area.”
Sligo stands out among the relatively few examples of high-style Italianate dwellings in the Fredericksburg area—another important one being Elmhurst, the 1871 home of Jim and Susan Pates at 2010 Fall Hill Ave. A few other buildings downtown have Italianate features. Because the ornate style was expensive to build, and money was scarce in the South when the style was prevalent during Reconstruction, such houses are rare in Southern states.
The Italianate style is known for its ornate soffit brackets, “denticulated” cornice, wide roof overhangs and tall main-level windows.
During its glory days from construction through much of the 20th century, Sligo was an impressive sight for travelers headed into Fredericksburg via Tidewater Trail (State Route 2, continuing from U.S. 17 at New Post), one of the city’s primary early gateways. For most of its existence as a plantation and later a livestock farm, Sligo sat on open land that made the house easily visible.
The existing house is the second at that exact location, though there could have been other dwellings elsewhere on the larger original parcel earlier on. The first house was built in 1752 and burned in 1888. Rebuilding was started immediately, according to history compiled for the National Register nomination, and was completed in 1889. The new house had a second story, making it significantly larger than the original.
Some exterior foundation bricks are inscribed with “Built 1752; Burnt 1888; Rebuilt 1888,” while another inside the basement has “Built in 1888.”
The existing house includes the main block of the house with a low-pitched pyramidal roof with overhangs typical of the Italianate style. An ell with a hip roof extends from the main block, along with matching front and rear porticoes and a wraparound porch that is not entirely original.
As the nomination states: “The interior retains much of its historic fabric, such as wood flooring, the primary staircase, balustrade, and paneling in the entry hall, door and window casings, tall baseboards, four-panel wood doors, tall, six-panel pocket doors at the parlors, plaster, and fireplace mantels.”
All of these features have been or will be cleaned up, but not altered. Heading up the project for Habalis is project manager Andy Fitch, who, along with Habalis owner Jay Holloway, is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington’s Center for Historic Preservation.
“The idea was to undo what had been done and get it back to what it was,” Fitch said. “We wanted to keep as much of the historic fabric as possible.”
Fitch said the exterior is 95 percent done, with the standing seam metal roof, half-round gutters and pine lap siding all installed. He said the brick foundation was in better shape than he expected to find it.
Since the Tepaskes are looking to take advantage of Viriginia Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits and the Federal Historic Tax Credit program, the renovation must be done under program rules. Without these programs, however, projects such as this might not be feasible.
“We have to satisfy the state, but still have a house that’s livable,” Fitch said. The programs are administered, and projects inspected, by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
For example, the heart pine floors may not be sanded, but a thorough cleaning has left them in excellent shape. The cracks and chips in the plaster walls and 11-foot ceilings were repaired—no drywall here—and after painting they look blemish-free. All of the brick work, from the basement foundation walls to the chimneys, has been repointed.
The interior will be heated and cooled using Mitsubishi splits, units that can be mostly hidden in ceilings and individually controlled from room to room. They are preferred for historic renovations because no duct work must be retrofitted
In the English basement, though this is subject to change, the brick foundation walls will be left exposed where the plaster veneer has fallen off, while the plaster will be left in place where it still adheres.
The basement eventually will be finished off with a bedroom, full bathroom and recreation space. The Tepaskes plan to offer it as a rental apartment, thereby making it the commercial component needed to qualify for the Federal Historic Tax Credit.
Fitch explained that the double-hung windows, many retaining their original, wavy glass, have been repaired and re-roped. At the back of the house, a patio type door added in the 20th century has been replaced with windows that replicate the home’s other, original two-over-two-pane windows. Visitors will note that the tall main-level windows begin at the floor in the Italianate style.
Also, the rear portico had been enclosed to add interior space, so those walls were removed and roof support columns that had been removed were replicated and are now in place.
Fitch said “ugly” cinder blocks that had been added between the wraparound porch floor support pillars were removed, allowing light through windows in the English basement that had been shut out by the blocks.
Upstairs, the three bedrooms originally shared a single bathroom. Now, the master bedroom, which occupies the ell, will get its own new bathroom and the existing hall bathroom is being completely redone.
Lauren Tepaske’s blog about the history, previous residents and rehabilitation of Sligo can be found at bringingbacksligo.com.