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Historic home restored by an ancestor

by Tom Chillemi

After being neglected for more than 50 years, the restored Kelly House stands as a Deltaville landmark.

If the walls of the Kelly House could talk, their stories would start before the Civil War.

The Deltaville house would echo with happy sounds of children playing, the clang of a spoon scraping gravy from an iron skillet at suppertime, and the stern voices of Union soldiers who raided the property and stole the family’s milk cow.

A Deltaville landmark on Route 33, the Kelly House sat empty for about 50 years until Diane Cox Basheer completed its restoration in the summer of 2008.

Basheer is actually related to William Henry Kelly and his wife, Nancy, who purchased the modest house in 1858.

The Kellys had moved to Deltaville from Baltimore. When the War between the States broke out, Mr. Kelly returned to Baltimore and joined the Union Army, leaving his wife and children in Deltaville.

Deltaville’s location on the Rappahannock River at the Chesapeake Bay made it a strategic stronghold.

Union soldiers who were foraging caught and killed Mrs. Kelly’s chickens and drove her milk cow to their camp on Fishing Bay, according to Mrs. Grace Selby Wake, as published in Historic Buildings in Middlesex County, 1650-1875.

One of two bedrooms in the Kelly House.

Mrs. Kelly walked the two miles to Fishing Bay and told the commanding officer that her husband was a soldier in the Union Army and demanded that her cow be returned. It was.

A story such as that lends a special intrinsic value to the assembly of wood, bricks and mortar at the Kelly House.

Basheer had found the house dilapidated, but still structurally sound. What saved the house was the metal roof that had nary a leak, the siding made of cypress, a wood that does not rot, and heart-pine floors.

Basheer, who grew up in Richmond, visited Middlesex in the summers to stay with her grandparents, Garland and Frances Mercer, who lived on Syringa Road and later moved to Fishing Bay.

The Kelly House was the kind of a home place that people would visit, Basheer recalls. “I remember being in the house as a very young child when it was vacant. There was a little closet under the stairs and I remember looking into it and thinking it was big.”

Time took its toll. As the house deteriorated vagrants would sleep in it. The original locks were stolen. Basheer wondered what would happen to it.

She kept a sketch of the Kelly House on her desk for 20 years, which helped remind her of her deep roots in Middlesex County.

To Basheer’s good fortune, an investor put the Kelly House up for sale in 2006. Basheer, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Nancy Kelly, became the new owner.

There was a lot of work ahead for Diane Cox Basheer—but finally, she had come back to her ancestral home.


Both bedrooms have fireplaces that are framed by the original mantles.

Perhaps providence kept the Kelly House from being overtaken by the brush and trees, or being burned down. But this old house was still sturdy after 160-plus years and was about to be elevated to a status never imagined by its original builder.

The house measures 16 by 32 feet with four rooms and a center hall. It is a good example of a Virginia planter’s house, popular in the late 1700s, said Basheer.

Restoration was a 16-month adventure for Basheer who employed the skills of Ryan Ingram of Master Builders and Design in Deltaville.

The foundation of brick piers had deteriorated and the whole house was jacked up, including the chimneys. However, the chimneys were so deteriorated on the inside that the cost to renovate them was more than the cost to rebuild, said Ingram.

So the chimneys were torn down, brick by brick. The bricks were cleaned and used to rebuild both chimneys, each of which serves two fireplaces.

The foundation beams are hand-hewn heart pine measuring a gigantic 10 by 8 inches. There was termite damage in only two places.

A new foundation was built and the crawl space is heated and cooled to keep the house dry underneath.

Heirloom furniture complements the Kelly House interior.

An old kitchen at the back showed scars of fire damage and was removed. The new kitchen is in the same place.

The structural corners were cut from a single 8 by 8 that form an “L,” said Ingram. “I had never seen that before.”

The biggest challenge was the front porch squirrels. Their nests and debris had caused the beams to rot. Ingram said finding beams of such a large dimension was hard.

Ingram rebuilt them using the same craftsmanship from 160 years ago, making mortise and tenon joints and pegging the members together.

The front porch columns were turned on a homemade lathe at the site to replicate the originals. They measured 10 feet tall.

Ingram used a router as the cutter to shape the 8 by 8 inch beams as they slowly spun. Although it took a day to spin and sand them, it was still cheaper than the estimated new cost of $2,000 per column.

A plaster ceiling medallion dates to the Victorian period (circa. 1870).

“Just about everything was made on that job site, including 80 percent of the trim,” said Ingram.

A plaster ceiling medallion, which is now in the dining room, was dated to the Victorian period when it was a tradition to have a formal parlor. It’s believed the Kellys brought the medallion from Baltimore.

Parts of the original ceiling medallion were cut from the ceiling and restored at a Washington, D.C., studio, which dated it as 1870.

The floors in the main part of house are original, and floors for the addition were salvaged from old houses.

A bathroom was added above the front porch. When the water was turned on last year, it was the first running water the house ever had.

The original doors were sanded bare and coated with a flat finish.

“It still has the old feel,” said Ingram. “The architect did a good job on the addition in the back. It doesn’t overpower the house.”

About 98 percent of the front is original cypress clapboards, some of which were scavenged from the rest of the house.

A pale ochre paint gives the exterior of the Kelly House a distinctive color that sets it apart.
Editor’s note: Diane Cox Basheer is president and owner of Rosegill Development and a principal of Basheer and Edgmore Development and Home Builders in northern Virginia.

posted 03.27.2009

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