Aberdeen Pilgrimage: A grand lady

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

Stepping inside the Adams-French Mansion in Aberdeen is like taking a step back in time.
The parlor, the dining room, the bedrooms, the central hallways – even the master bath – are all filled with period antiques. The only nods to the modern world are the home gym in the basement, the home theater on the third floor and the state-of-the-art kitchen.
“This house was built in 1856 and the Victorian style was definitely on its way in,” said owner Dwight Stevens, an antiques auctioneer. “You can definitely see the influence here.”
The home will be one of eight on tour during Aberdeen’s annual pilgrimage, which begins today and goes through Sunday. The weekend’s events include demonstrations of pioneer life and crafts; a Victorian dinner party and candlelight tour; “Life in a Small Southern Town” comedy at the Elkin Theatre; a pancake breakfast; a barbecue; a cemetery tour; and storytelling.
Some events are free, including tours of Bella Vida and James Creek Missionary Baptist Church. Tickets for tours of the other homes range from $10 to $40, depending on how many homes you want to see. Tickets are available online at www.aberdeenpilgrimage.com or at Aberdeen Antiques, Bird’s Nest and Victoriana Rose.
Adams-French will be open for tours on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon and again from 2 to 5 p.m. This is the third time the home has been on the tour.

History of the home
The 7,000-square-foot house was built by John Cox, a wealthy plantation owner, as a wedding gift for his daughter, Elizabeth. Just before her wedding, her fiancé was killed in a duel. But Elizabeth rose to the occasion and soon began courting again. After a whirlwind courtship, she married Robert Adams. After his death in 1872, she married again, this time to Dr. Anderson French, who died in 1886.
“After the war ended in 1865, Elizabeth freed all her slaves, but some of them didn’t have anywhere to go and stayed with her. One slave girl, Lou Anna, was by her side when she died on Easter Sunday,” Stevens said. Two different dates are given for her death: one is 1898 and the other is 1902.
Because Elizabeth had no children of her own, the home went to her nieces and nephews, who rented it out to different families. Eventually, the home fell into disrepair with broken windows and birds roosting inside.
In 1933, the Masons bought the home and made some necessary repairs and put a new roof on it. They made it their official meeting place in 1940 and continued to meet there until 2002. That’s when Stevens got his hands on the property.
“I bought it and restored it to a house,” Stevens said. “I used it as a showplace for auctions to sell antiques until June 2006, when we had a devastating fire.”
The front of the house and the columns were left standing but the roof caved in and floors and walls were heavily damaged by fire and water.
“It was at that point that I realized it could either be torn down or saved,” Stevens said. “I decided if I was going to spend the money to build it back, I was going to live here for the rest of my life and that’s what I’m doing.”
Stevens said it took two years of non-stop work and $700,000 to put the house back in order.
“After the fire, we gutted it and put it back the way it was originally built,” he said. “The Masons had moved walls and reconfigured the staircase, but they didn’t throw anything away. We corrected all the alterations they made. We had all the moldings that were destroyed put back exactly as it was in 1856.”
Stevens had a team of craftsmen from Germany come in to rebuild the staircase and the handrails. That project alone cost $100,000.
“I didn’t mind spending the money,” Stevens said. “I figured I wanted to leave something behind when I go. And I am the one who started Save Aberdeen Landmarks. I’ve never had any regrets about rebuilding. I enjoy every day I live here and I live in every inch of it.”
Exquisite antiques
Being an antiques dealer has certainly helped Stevens fill the home with exquisite period antiques.
A very rare Victorian rosewood music box from 1855 takes center stage in the downstairs central hallway. A rosewood parlor suite with two couches, two arm chairs and four side chairs fills the parlor, along with a matching pair of Empire bookcases and an acanthus-carved piano from 1800-1810.
“Many of the antiques in the house were saved from the fire,” Stevens said. “They just had to be refinished.”
The dining room table is an American Empire mahogany banquet table from 1840 that’s 60 inches wide and 13 feet long. Above it hangs a punka, a device used to fan the air in the room as well as shoo flies from the food.
There’s period lighting through the home and all the bedrooms except one feature full-tester or half-tester beds. In the master bedroom, the bed is a full tester made of rosewood by Prudence Mallard of New Orleans around 1850.
Above all the mantels in the parlor, dining room and bedrooms are enormous mirrors.
“I replace the mirrors as I find better ones,” Stevens said. “Having a big house is just half of the battle. The other part is furnishing it. I’m always looking for big pieces.”
ginna.parsons@journalinc.com

About the Tour of Homes
WHAT: 37th Aberdeen Southern Heritage Pilgrimage.

WHEN: Today, Saturday and Sunday.

TIMES: Different houses will be on tour on the different days. Today, Crestwood, Shadows and Lenoir Cottage will be open from 9 a.m. to noon; Dunlee, Magnolias and Bella Vida will be open from 2 to 5 p.m. On Saturday Adams-French, Crestwood and Shadows will be open from 9 a.m. to noon; Adams-French, Holiday Haven and Lenoir Cottage will be open from 2 to 5 p.m. On Sunday, Holiday Haven, Dunlee and Magnolias will be open from 2 to 5 p.m.

COST: Tickets are available online at www.aberdeenpilgrimage.com or at Aberdeen Antiques, Bird’s Nest and Victoriana Rose. Prices range from $10 for 1 home up to $40 for seven homes (ticket prices for three homes and up are less if ordered online).

MORE INFO: Call (662) 369-9440 or (800) 634-3538 or visit www.aberdeenpilgrimage.com.