Followup to the October, 2012, Cleghorn Plantation House Post

Cleghorn Manor April, 2013
Last October, I posted an article about the historic Cleghorn Plantation Manor House (See the October, 2012 Archives). I was concerned that the structure was being allowed to deteriorate, and expressed a desire to become involved in a restoration of the property. Over the last six months, the current owners of the bankrupt development where the house is located have at least closed all of the shutters around the house, keeping most of the weather out. I thank them for that. In spite of the neglect, the view of the house from down the hill is still quite impressive (below).

Cleghorn Manor House Hill View
I contacted Robin Lattimore, President of the Rutherford County Historic Society, and below is a portion of his response. It was very gracious of Robin to share his history of the property.

Like you, I have an extensive archive of material from Cleghorn, and have written about that property many times. My family was among the first “members” to join the Cleghorn Country Club in 1971. I have spent many wonderful hours in and around the mansion house.
I was also on site in 2005 when Mrs. Bortner (previous owner) told me that she was not interested in keeping the house the way it was and proceeded to tear out all of the interiors. I was then on site when the next owner (representative) Jimmy McDonald claimed that a full-scale restoration would be conducted. I spent many months producing a historical report- “Belle of the Backcountry: The Story of Cleghorn Plantation,” that was intended to be published when the restoration was complete. Needless to say – I was never paid for my time or work with the developers even though they promised to reward me financially.
As for the future of the property – you have already identified the primary obstacle; no one is interested in getting involved in a property that is tied up in bankruptcy court. The greatest problem stems from the fact that the house is surrounded by commercial / residential development. Most all restoration efforts would require that the property be used in some commercial manner, and NO ONE is willing to risk money on that property. It has gone through successive bankruptcies since 1979.
On a personal note, I’m so distressed that a previous owner allowed an architect to change the facade and add the faux antebellum veranda. Luckily, the rot that can be seen on the wood dates only to 2007. If I had my way the entire front veranda would be pulled away and replaced with the same type of portico that was constructed by David Paton.

Thanks,

Robin S. Lattimore
2009-2010 NC Historian of the Year
Official Rutherford County Historian
President, Rutherford County Historical Society
Chairman, Rutherford County Library Board of Trustees

I received a letter from a person who was leasing a townhome in the Cleghorn developement, and below is my response to her.

Dear Erin,

Thank you so much for writing. Just yesterday I heard from Robin Lattimore, who is the head historian for Rutherford County. He, too, would like to see something done, but he feels that the legal problems of the bankruptcy restrict outside parties from taking any action. I think there are precedents across the state where developers have been forced to protect historic properties from destruction, even when the company is having financial problems. Also, if we could have the house added to the National Register of Historic Places, many other laws would kick in, even if the management company refused to participate. We have options here.

As a property owner, what information have you been given about the legal situation of Cleghorn Plantation? Do you have any names that might be of assistance to me in learning more about the property’s financial future? It was told to me by the last superintendent at the golf course that $250,000 had been appropriated to restore the house, and it looks like a good deal of work had been done inside before everything was frozen. I wonder from where that money would have come?

My first goal is to get permission from someone to make the windows weather tight so that further water damage can be minimized. The roof looks sound, and the rot on the 2007 portico is not really a concern. Most likely, that will be removed anyway. If nothing else, that double floor portico and porch is protecting the front of the house. I don’t think those three foot thick walls are going anywhere, but my biggest concern is with fire, arson or otherwise. In the past, these old houses have mysteriously burned down, releasing the property owners from any obligation to restore these treasures. Money causes people to do strange things.

I envision a restored plantation house, furnished in period furniture and decorations, and opened for scheduled tours, much like the homes along the James River near Williamsburg. Staff would dress in period clothes, and guides would relive the early 19th century plantation experience. A trust would be created to keep the house going, and entry fees would help to offset those costs. Much of the staff would be made up of volunteers. As a major historical attraction in the North Carolina Foothills, there would be money available from many other sources. Perhaps WUNC public broadcasting could become involved in the effort to save the house. So much can be done, but we just need to start the ball rolling.

Thank you again for your concern, and I hope to hear from you again very soon. We are so lucky to live in such a beautiful place, and it would be a crime if our history were allowed to disappear.
Sincerely, Vann Helms

I also now have a contact name of someone who worked at the golf couse for many years, and his knowledge will be of great help when the time comes to make the next step in this effort.

18 thoughts on “Followup to the October, 2012, Cleghorn Plantation House Post

  1. Vann, I agree with you, it would be a shame if this beautiful historic house not be saved. Good Luck on your endeavor

  2. I went by manor house just the other day to see the condition of the home. I do not understand how such an amazing piece of history can be allowed to be destroyed in such a disgraceful display of negligence.

    • While it may seem “self serving” since I have recently bought a house in the area, it would seem a shame to let this piece of NC History not be preserved.

      • Why this beautiful and historically significant edifice wasn’t protected from the vandalism of previous owners is disgraceful. Those who stood around, watched this happen and did nothing about it are as guilty as the perpetrators.

      • Judging from photographs, hardly anything remains of the original interior fittings such as moldings and mantels. Two ground floor walls were broken through to create one large space out of the front rooms and hallway. Since there appears to be no record of what the interior looked like before this destruction, any restoration would be based on
        pure conjecture. Also, as no saw fit to preserve the original entrance porch and stairs, it will take a great deal of money to bring this place back. As so much architectural and decorative elements have been destroyed, it might be better just to preserve what’s left and put the structure to good use rather than attempting a costly restoration. The time to have acted has past. It’s a crying shame.

      • I can send the NCSU drawings if anyone wants – post your Email address.

    • I’ve seen the drawings at the NCSU site. However, they present limited information. My point is that, even if we had all the necessary material to achieve an accurate restoration, the enormous financial outlay required to do it right would only result in a reproduction of what was. Again, I think it would be best to preserve what’s left of the building and put it to good use. Good copies of all the existing visual material pertaining to the house could be displayed so as to drive the point home that we shouldn’t allow this sort of thing to happen again. Just to let everyone know, I moved just less than a year ago from Los Angeles, where I’d lived all my life, to Asheville. I’m thrilled to now be living in a charming
      1939 brick house on over an acre of land including a barn and eight magnificent oak trees. I’m so grateful that this property didn’t fall into the hands of some greedy developer who would have taken down the house, barn and trees to make way for three to five dwellings. Preserving what is beautiful from the past is important for me. I wish more people felt this way.

  3. You are so right Kirk………….. You are so right Kirk, but I think that many drawings survive from the many incarnations of the house over the years. Permits were required for each change, and all of that is on file somewhere I would think. Also, there are written accounts from the original families about the house which might contain details about the original plan. And Mr. Thorenson, I would love to have a link to those drawings. They might be different from the newer versions that I posted in a previous entry. mountainvann@gmail.com Vann

  4. I wish there was a way to get the State of NC involved, but I am not sure of the legal issues- this could be a tourist attraction that would also benefit the area.

  5. I think that Ken, the owner, is aware of the importance of the property, and as the owner, he is doing his best to preserve the Golf Course and the Plantation house.

  6. I am the great grand daughter of John Washburn who owned Cleghorn during the early 1900’s. He and his wife, Camilla Miller Washburn raised their family there. My grandmother, Kate Washburn Champion was married at Cleghorn and I have the newspaper article describing the wedding, complete with the description of my grandmother meeting her groom at the bottom of the curving stairway. I have a huge place in my heart for Cleghorn and would love to see the home refurbished for history’s sake. My great Uncle, Dr. Benjamin Washburn lived in the home around the 1940’s. He is rather famous in your area as he was know as a country doctor who treated those living on Cherry Mountain and helped started Rutherford County Hospital. He lived in a large home across the street from the hospital in Rutherfordton for many years. If you would like any further information from me, please contact me at Kathywgibson@aol.com
    Thanks for loving Cleghorn Plantation!

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