Plans Announced To Preserve Allen House

The Carroll News – April 3, 2015 – by Allen Worrell

Plans announced to preserve Allen House

Photos by Allen Worrell/The Carroll News – Bill Webb, Vice President of the Carroll County Historical Society, announces April 1 the group’s plan to move forward with the preservation and restoration of the J. Sidna Allen Home in Fancy Gap.

One of the most beautiful and historic landmarks in Carroll County, the J. Sidna Allen House in Fancy Gap is set to return to its former glory.

The Carroll County Historical Society laid out its plans to preserve the antique antebellum home during an announcement April 1 at the Historic Carroll County Courthouse in Hillsville. Many people know of the house because of its association with the original owner, J. Sidna Allen, who was part of the historic tragedy that took place on March 14, 1912 in the historic Carroll County Courthouse. Others know of the home because of its unique architectural style and its prominent location on a knoll beside U.S. Highway 52 in Fancy Gap.

Restoring and preserving the historic house will take several years and require an extensive fundraising campaign. But those efforts got off to a great start April 1 during the announcement as more than $11,000 was donated to the cause.

Bill Webb, Vice President of the Carroll County Historical Society, said it had been over a year since Bonnie Widener Wood sat down with Ed Stanley to sign a letter of agreement to donate the property to the historical society. The deed was signed at the end of December of 2014 and reported to the county in early January, Webb said.

“And that is the start to move forward officially with a lot of things. What we are doing officially is we have advertised with architectural firms, specifically with preservation experience, to apply to us for potentially being our work partners in developing this home and preserving this home,” Webb said.

The historical society now has a short list of three qualified firms it’s in the process of interviewing. Webb said the group will make an educated selection as to who it wants to work with over the next several years to get the preservation project done.

“Fundraising is going to be a big part of getting this done,” Webb said. “We will have to do it over several years because this is not going to be an inexpensive project.”

Making the project work will take local contributions from friends and fundraisers, but the Carroll County Historical Society will also seek grants to make the preservation a reality. The group will need a master plan and a feasibility study. Those areas, plus an estimated cost, will take the professional experience of an architectural engineering firm versed in that sort of thing, Webb said.

“As you know the house is already registered to Virginia’s Historic places and that ups the ante a little bit of the quality of what we need to do to get it done,” Webb said. “We are going to have to have quality plans and quality workmanship in order to do justice to this.”

Once work is started, one of the first priorities will be to stabilize the structure of the home.

“We have all seen the years have not been kind to the white lady sitting on the hill. Stabilizing the structure and getting this so we can then start the restorations is going to be the first thing,” Webb said. “The longer range planning is how we restore it, how we are going to utilize it, how we are going to plan for future use? We will have to plan so we can use the facility and so we can reap income from the facility in order to sustain utilities and all the things that will be required. So there will be a lot of donations and grants we need to pursue.”

Quick Start To Donations

Shelby Puckett said a small group of people came together in 1982 to form the Carroll County Historical Society. The group quickly realized the 1912 tragedy at the Carroll County Courthouse was one of the most integral parts of the county’s history. The historic courthouse and the J. Sidna Allen Home were the two main points of interest, not only for tourists, but county residents as well, Puckett said.

“To that end, the association between the historical society and Allen House began shortly after the society was formed,” she said. “During the summers of 1983 and 1984 the house was opened and tours were conducted by a number of volunteers from the society.”

A proposed lease between the historical society and the Widener family failed to be approved in 1983, but the two parties continued to work closely together to open the house on different occasions. Throughout the years, Marlene Widener kept the house open on weekends when her health allowed. During the month of March 2012, the home was reopened for tours by the historical society during the centennial commemoration of the courthouse tragedy.

“One thing we have learned over the years for sure is if the house is open, the people will come. Regardless of whether the time is March or October or July, or even Christmas celebrations we’ve had, when the doors are opened, visitors began arriving,” Puckett said. “The house is a treasure that must be preserved. Its architectural features are unlike any other in the county. Its unique place in county history makes it worth the effort it will take to restore that house.”

Puckett said restoring the house will be a major project of time, energy and money. On that note, she then presented a check for $8,000 to the Carroll County Historical Society on behalf of Courthouse Productions, the cast, crew and producers that put on the Thunder in the Hills play about the courthouse tragedy in March and April of 2014. The money was raised as part of 24 sold-out shows during a two-year period.

“On behalf of the cast and crew, and the hundreds of people who bought tickets to the play, it is my pleasure to present a check to Carroll County Historical Society for $8,000,” Puckett said.

Moments later, Kay Cox presented more than $3,300 to the Carroll County Historical Society from the Friends of the Allen House. Much of the money came from a recent Poor Man’s Supper held at Sky View Missionary Baptist Church’s new gym. She said the presentation brings the group’s total donation up to $6,000 toward the restoration of the Allen House. The group will also be selling tickets all summer for a Willard Gayheart drawing.

Ed Stanley, President of the Carroll County Historical Society, commended Sky View for letting the group use the church’s facilities and for being a good neighbor.

Levering, who wrote Thunder in the Hills, thanked the historical society. If not for them, the preservation of the home most likely would not be possible, he said. The thing that impressed him about the play was the tremendous interest and support it received.

“On the order of 3,000 people saw it. I think that bodes well for the restoration of the Sidna Allen House,” Levering said. “I think there is tremendous interest in the restoration of the house as a symbol of what is happening here and a symbol of high achievement you might say. The house represents kind of a high standard of achievement and that is what the rest of us, I hope, are all about. It is up to us now to be people of high achievement and try to save this house.”

Later, Webb thanked Brigette Hadley for her fresh artwork of the Sidna Allen House. The images will be digitized and most likely end up on t-shirts and balloons. At the end of the announcement, Bonnie Widener Wood called April 1 a very, very exciting day.

Bonnie Widener Wood

Bonnie Widener Wood

“This was my childhood home and this is just a dream we want to see come true. I just know it will. The spirit of this community and the rich history, I just know it is going to come together and save this house,” Wood said. “I can’t wait. I want to give the first tour.”

Tax deductible donations to the Carroll County Historical Society may be made by check to the Carroll County Historical Society; PO Box 937; Hillsville, VA 24343. Donations can also be made on-line through the “Donations” link on the Society website – www.carrollvamuseum.org – using the PayPal link. Donations specifically for the Sidna Allen House project should be so noted so that they may be properly deposited,

Persons are always welcome to come visit the group in the Historic Courthouse at 515 North Main Street in Hillsville.

Historic house in Fancy Gap becomes gift to posterity

The Sidna Allen house, linked to the Hillsville courthouse shootings of 1912, will pass to a local historical society today.

Posted: Friday, April 4, 2014 9:02 pm ( © 2014 THE ROANOKE TIMES | roanoke.com )

J. Sidna Allen Home | The Roanoke Times | File 2004

The Roanoke Times | File 2004
The Victorian home built by businessman Sidna Allen is located on U.S. 52 in Carroll County. The house was completed in 1911. Sidna Allen didn’t get to live in his home for very long. After the courthouse shoot out he was on the run and later captured and jailed.

J. Sidna Allen Home Staircase

The Roanoke Times | File 2004
The interior of the Sidna Allen house features detailed woodwork, ornamental tile, stained glass and oak paneling.

For more than a century, the old place that locals call “the Sidna Allen house” in Fancy Gap has been a landmark, as well as a visible link to the worst tragedy in Carroll County’s history, the 1912 gunbattle at the courthouse in Hillsville that left five people dead.

To Bonnie Widener Wood, however, the old Queen Anne-style house on top of the mountain was her childhood home, where she played in big rooms, huddled by wood stoves and hung Shaun Cassidy posters on her bedroom wall. Her mother, Marlene Widener, knew the house’s importance to the community and to local history, which is why she opened it to visitors who wanted to know more about the man who used to live there and the crime that drove him away.

“I always wondered why so many people wanted to come into my house,” Wood said. “Truckers would stop by at night and my mother would let them come inside. People were coming by all the time. As I kid, I never understood why people would just come into my home like that.”

Someday, visitors might once again be welcome inside the house. Today in Hillsville, Wood will sign a proposal to give the 103-year-old house to the Carroll County Historical Society, which will then be charged with the major task of renovating the deteriorating structure. After Wood’s parents both died in 2011, she realized she would not be able to afford to fix the house herself. Some repair estimates have climbed as high as $1 million, she said.

The proposal will be signed tonight before the performance of “Thunder in the Hills,” a play about the 1912 shootout. The play and the signing will be held at the historic Carroll County Courthouse, where the gunbattle took place.

The historical society will seek grants to help pay for a restoration, said Ed Stanley, president of the society’s board of directors. He said the historical society will soon be able to accept tax-deductible donations for the house.

“We feel very positive about” the project, Stanley said. “We have been in touch with people who have told us they can help with grants. They feel confident that we can get grant money.”
The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Virginia Landmarks Register. Even though its timbers and walls are sagging and paint is peeling, the house on U.S. 52 is still an impressive site with its steeplelike roof, gazebo, gables, stained-glass windows and wrap-around porch. Inside, eight angular rooms feature ornamental tiles and oak paneling. The fireplace in a front parlor is filigreed with gold. When completed in 1911, the house had gas-powered lights and running water, rarities in the Carroll County hills a century ago.

The house was designed and built by Sidna Allen, a businessman who lived there just one year before being implicated in the notorious courtroom shootout. On March 14, 1912, Allen’s brother, Floyd, was found guilty of interfering with the arrest of his nephews. Shortly after the verdict was read, guns blazed around the courtroom, as members of the Allen family and members of the court fired at one another.

Five people died. Sidna Allen would later serve 14 years for his part in the shootout and would never live in his dream house again. The house was purchased several times until Marlene and Bert Widener inherited it from Marlene’s family. The Wideners lived there with their two children until about 1980, when they moved to a house nearby. Marlene opened the house on weekends for tourists, but found it difficult to keep up with maintenance.

Bonnie Widener Wood

The Roanoke Times | File 2014
Bonnie Widener Wood

Wood and her brother Stanley Widener inherited the house and adjoining property after both parents died. Wood, who is a promotions manager for WJLA-TV in Arlington, and her husband, Skip Wood, kept the house and worked for more than two years on a plan to donate it to the historical society.

The proposal calls for the historical society to restore the home, then convey a Historic Preservation Easement to the Virginia Board of Historic Resources, which could make the society eligible for state tax credits. Wood will retain an active role during the house’s restoration.

Wood, 45, said that giving up a piece of her family’s history is bittersweet. The donation had to happen, she said, if the house was ever going to be restored to its former glory.
“It’s emotional for me,” she said. “I’ve told so many people that I want to be a tour guide like my mom when I get old and tell stories. In a way, I’m not totally giving it up. It will still be there and still be for the public. It would break my heart to see it just fall down. I know this is the right thing to do.”

Contact Ralph Berrier Jr. at 981-3338 or ralph.berrier@roanoke.com.

Source:(http://www.roanoke.com/news/local/historic-house-in-fancy-gap-becomes-gift-to-posterity/article_f6af44ac-bc5d-11e3-8ec3-0017a43b2370.html)