By Colby Gable
On December 19th last year, the High Country said goodbye to the elegant white home located on 4259 U.S. Highway 321 South, where it sat across from Tweetsie Railroad since the home’s construction in 1908. The property of the house originally came to about 93 acres in total and was owned by the Prevatte family. Laura Lillis, granddaughter of the Prevattes, was up here to see this demolition of the home she had visited after her grandparents had purchased the farm house in 1930. Her brother, Roger, and his wife, Sheri, had lived in the house for the last 30 years. After her brother Roger’s death a number of years ago, Sheri who inherited the house, remained living there until the last two weeks of the house’s standing.
“My grandparents had a farm there when they were alive with cows, chickens, pigs, horses, goats, and all that stuff,” said Laura. “It was really my mother who lived there and not me. Mu cousins and I would be there during the summer. I grew up in Hudson and my mother and aunt were the ones who grew up there.”
Despite only having summer visits, Laura was certainly “sad” to see the house go as she attended the demolition, “But it had outlived its age and started to just get too old. I know my grandparents’ spirits flew away happy because it was time for something different.”
As for the future of the property, Watauga County Planning and Inspections Director Joe Furman has stated how 5 acres plan to be used for building a Quality Plus gas station. When asked about the new plans for the space she had known since her childhood, Laura remained positive saying, “I think to me it was time. I think it will be a good thing because I would rather see something go up there than watch the house continue to age like it had been.”
The family has also sold 12 acres assigned for to The Middle Fork Greenway, as a trail that can help future travels between the town of Blowing Rock and Boone. The 76 remaining acres are currently listed for sale by the ROCK Real Estate Group. Communications and Outreach Associate Nikki Robinson of Blue Ridge Conservancy, the group in charge of the development of the Middle Fork Greenway, mentioned that the 12 acre linear plot is vital to the continuation of the project, as it “follows the side of the Middle Fork of the New River and its bank. We’re hoping to connect that land to the Middle Fork Greenway on the other side of the highway where Tweetsie is. There is actually a mile of the Greenway that already exists in front of Tweetsie, and so to travel north on the Greenway you would actually need to go through that property. Not only does this addition connect important property, the 12 acre linear corridor will help ensure protection of the river as well as water quality. And it will provide new public access for the Greenway.”
Alan Gordon, the realtor representing the property for the last eight years and negotiated with Blue Ridge Conservancy about the Greenway being implemented in the post-demolition plans, also added, “Many people felt it was too prime to sell, but our feeling was that it was good for the community, because some people have said well, you could sell it and have lots on the river. But we didn’t want to do that because it wouldn’t have helped the community, and this was the legacy Laura and her family wanted to leave. We had an offer the first day, and a really good offer in the works when the economy tanked. So, we’ve been through the economic downturn and the upturn.”
When the Middle Fork Greenway opportunity came up, Alan and Laura felt it was the best fit for the future and recognized the importance of the space for future plans with the Greenway. “It was a vital piece. That 2200 feet was really vital for the Greenway because they’ll bring the trail up and then go under the highway to Tweetsie. So it was a really good part for them. And now everyone can enjoy the river, especially if its developed with eco-friendly cottages out there so people can walk out there and enjoy the river and the walkway. I didn’t realize the bridge going in to Tweetsie was state-maintained, and now they’re gonna change it to line up with Middle Fork, and that’s gonna be fabulous. Because now there’s going to be a nice intersection there and it won’t be so odd and will be lined up.”
ROCK Real Estate, which has been around in the High Country since 1994, working with residential and commercial buildings, has been Gordon’s work for the last 26 years. Gordon commented on why the company fit so well with Lillis’ dreams for the future of the property, saying, “We like to think of ourselves of being pet friendly and trying to work in developing eco-friendly things, we don’t like to see the devastation that sometimes you see in development.”
As for Laura’s hopes for the future of the 76 acres of property, which has been estimated at a value $45,000 an acre totaling 3.42 million dollars, “I’d like to see something good come out of it. Whatever somebody wants to do is fine, but I’d like to see nice buildings or houses put up because I know what it would be good for the community.”
Our conversation reminded me of a quote from the renowned Italian architect, Renzo Piano, who said, “One of the great beauties of architecture is that each time, it is like life starting all over again.” This sort of vision is one which Lillis certainly hopes for and can hopefully be achieved by Watauga County officials and the future owner of the property.
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