By Paul T. Choate
Nov. 14, 2012. On the most recent Boone Town Council agenda, one item to be presented by the Cultural Resources Advisory Board read, “RE: Disposal of Property at 122 Moretz Street (White House on Rivers Property).” Following deliberation, the house was temporarily spared thanks to rumors of a descendant of Daniel Boone living there.
“It’s been brought to our attention by the Historical Preservation Commission that this house may have some historical significance,” said Council Member Rennie Brantz. “People have suggested that a person by the name of Ester Boone, a descendent of Daniel Boone, lived in that house and taught piano to generations.”
On Tuesday, Oct. 16, Cultural Resources Advisory Board Director Pilar Fotta asked the Boone Town Council for an evaluation to determine the current structural condition of the two Rivers-Coffey Property houses — the rock house on Clay House Drive and the white house on Moretz Street — for possible renovation.
The two homes on Clay House Drive and Moretz Street were donated to the Town of Boone in 1998 by former Watauga Democrat publishers Rachel Rivers-Coffey and her husband Armfield Coffey. At the Oct. 16 meeting Council Member Andy Ball said he had recently been in the house at 122 Moretz St. and that it had deteriorated significantly, noting that the ceiling was uneven and that the plumbing and electrical systems probably needed to be worked on.
Now, however, the dilapidated white house may be spared pending further investigation into its historical significance.
Ball said the council had talked about the white house for two or three years due to groups coming to the town and asking about possible uses for it. He said at those times the town was not able to perform a full inspection and analysis of the property.
“I think now is the time, before we talk about demolition or removal, to go through and have an official evaluation of what condition the house is in,” Ball said.
Brantz added that he would like to question as to whether or not there was historical significance associated with the house to be answered before demolition was considered. He went on to inquire to the audience in attendance if anyone could possibly confirm or deny the rumors associated with a Daniel Boone connection. Planning and Inspections Director Bill Bailey stepped forward.
“I’ve got staff that can probably do this in 10 minutes who could trace it back for generations,” Bailey said, adding regarding the condition, “Any of my inspectors can go out at any time and look at it. We would probably send the fire marshal out there with them to look at it … and give you a pretty fair assessment of what’s going on. They may say that, based on their observation, you may need to get a contractor in here to look it.”
Bailey said he could look at Watauga County records as far back as they go to determine if a descendant of Daniel Boone ever owned the house.
“My thought is, we may decide that it’s not worth saving but we should know if it has some historical significance so we can write that in the history of our community,” Brantz said.
Fotta said the property had been looked at before by town staff and that, if the property did not have any historical significance, it would probably cost the town more to renovate it than would be worth it for future uses for the house.
In a deed dated Oct. 28, 1998 that gifted the properties to the town it was stipulated that a life estate be reserved for Jim Butler, who lived in one of the homes. Butler passed away in November 2011, freeing up the home for use by the town. Also in the deed restrictions was a life estate reserved for Rivers-Coffey, but she passed away less than a year after the deed was finalized on Aug. 24, 1999.
Now that the properties are free for the town to use, there is some question as to what the two homes can be used for exactly. The 1998 deed also specified that the property may only be used for recreational space, green space, installation of underground utility provided they have minimal impact on the natural environment, flood mitigation, a wildlife sanctuary or historical purposes.
The town ultimately decided to have Bailey investigate the historical significance of the property and Fotta said she would investigate the options in the event the house does not have historical significance. Fotta presented four prioritized options for the property if no connection of historical signifcance is found:
- Offer the house for sale to be relocated at the expense of the buyer. The offer for sale would expire by April 2013;
- Offer the house to the Boone Police Department and Boone Fire Department for the purpose of an eventual burning as a training exercise. After which, the area would be cleaned up and seeded with grass;
- Demolish the house immediately, clean the property up and seed it with grass;
- “Not a popular option,” to allow the building to deteriorate to the point that it collapses, after which it would be cleaned up and seeded with grass.
In other matters, the town elected to go forward with looking into future possibilities for use and the possibly of pursuing National Historical Registry designation for the rock house located at 150 Clay House Drive.
The former-Cultural Resources Board also had their name officially changed to the Cultural Resources Advisory Board at the Nov. 13 meeting.
“Yes, we realize this makes us CRABs,” joked Fotta, drawing laughter from the council members. “But the board feels that this acknowledges and clearly states that the role of the board is to make recommendations to the council for their consideration and they’re not a decision-making or management body.”
If you have more information on the property located at 122 Moretz St., please contact Pilar Fotta at 828-262-4576.