Preserving History: An Incredible Oakwood Restoration

A pair of handy homeowners combine elbow grease, attention to detail and architectural detective work to restore a long-neglected house to its Victorian glory.
Written by Ayn-Monique Klahre | Photography by Keith Isaacs

The home in 1939.

“When I was a teenager, I told my grandma this was my dream house,” recounts Heather Scott. “And she said, Darlin’, you can’t live there, that’s the liquor-runnin’ neighborhood!

And so it was, at the time: A once-grand house that fell into hard times, with a history that mirrors the development, fall and revitalization of downtown Raleigh. If you’ve ever strolled through Historic Oakwood, you’ll know the Heck-Pool-Parker house: Perched on a hill with a stop-in-your-tracks Mansard roofline, the robins-egg-blue home is now a landmark in the neighborhood.

Designed by architect George H.S. Appleget, this classic Second Empire home was built around 1875 by Jonathan McGee Heck, a lawyer and Civil War colonel turned real estate developer. He sold it to Stephen Decatur Pool, another former colonel who was working as the state Superintendent of Public Instruction. According to local historian Matthew Brown, Pool and his wife were unable to keep up with payments on the house; it was foreclosed upon and the Hecks rented it until their daughter and family moved in (to whom they sold the house at the price of “natural love and affection, plus one dollar”). It later passed on to the Jones family, then the Parker family by 1910, who owned the house until 1961, making key additions like building the retaining wall out front, extending the front porch and constructing a carriage house and two-story addition. By the 1950s, they were renting rooms on the top floor to World War II veterans.

The Parker family.

As the neighborhood declined through the 1960s, the home changed ownership and served as a rooming house. In 1972, Annie Brantley Gardner (later Barbour), who owned several properties in the area, bought and repaired the house, turning it into seven efficiency apartments, each with its own bathroom and kitchenette. In 1974, the home narrowly avoided being demolished to make room for an on-ramp for the highway when the Society for the Preservation of Oakwood was formed to protect the historic neighborhood. By 1990, Barbour and her husband moved into the apartment at the rear of the house, leaving the main part of the house unoccupied for the next two decades.

The home in 1976.

Click here for room-by-room before and after photos.

And there it sat until Barbour passed away, and Scott’s husband Randy, a firefighter, switched jobs. He found himself driving down East Street to the new fire station, and one day a “for sale by owner” sign popped up on the lawn. He called his wife and she headed there that night. “I could hear the car keys jingling when I told her it was for sale,” he laughs.

But the house was out of budget, especially considering the many renovations it would take to turn an apartment building into a family home. “We spent months dreaming up plans and revising our budgets on paper napkins at The Raleigh Times,” says Randy Scott. After more than a year—and the threat of a developer buying the property to knock down the home for new construction—the price came down enough for them to take the plunge.

“After we bought it, I’d walk through the house and think, where do I even start?” says Randy Scott. “There was the sheer size of it, and everything needed repair; there wasn’t a single thing that didn’t need to be done.” The floors sloped, the wiring was shot and the house had been chopped up and added on to: seven kitchenettes and seven bathrooms would have to be pulled out. The couple worked with the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office to piece together the period floor plan. “The team from the Preservation Office would literally crawl under the house to look at the age of the brick to figure out what was original and what wasn’t,” he says.

The room that is now the dining room, which served as an efficiency apartment.

Click here for room-by-room before and after photos.

The Scotts stripped away the more recent additions—linoleum floors, fake mantels and dropped ceilings among them—then started the painstaking task of putting the home back to its original form. They reached out to former owners to find photos and floor plans from decades before—even doing a walk-through with the aging Parker sisters, who shared their memories from growing up in the home in the early 20th century. They lucked out when they learned that the N.C. State School of Design had done a takeoff of a neighboring home, one that’s a mirror image of their own, in the 1960s; that helped them replicate the window details, trim and framing around the front façade to its original splendor.

As the Scotts started adding details back in, they reached out to experts and artisans to get everything back in period detail. “To build the apartments, they had just bashed through the walls, bashed through the windows, cut the trim wherever they needed to—so the biggest challenge was patching the place back together,” says Randy Scott. They got permission from the Preservation Office to remove the plaster from the walls (63 tons of it), which allowed them to completely redo the electrical, address rot and reframe the structure. They salvaged the heart pine from the demolition to patch floors and complete a new addition. “They called me the wood hoarder,” he says. “I’d go out to the barn on the weekends and pull out nails for hours—I filled five buckets!”

The view from what is now the dining room, looking toward the back of the house.

Click here for room-by-room before and after photos.

All in all, they kept much of the original floor plan, adding a few bathrooms, closets and an up-to-date kitchen. While keeping the details period-appropriate, the couple made sure to add visual markers to each of the new additions, like different trimboard, so that future owners could trace back the history of the home. They also balanced the décor between Victorian grandeur and softer, modern touches. “We didn’t want it to feel like a museum or a time capsule, it had to be a cozy space we could come home to with our children.”

As the Scotts put the final touches on the renovation, they felt both a sense of accomplishment—and a new sense of place within the home’s history. “We knew we were doing important work,” says Heather Scott. “This hadn’t been a single-family home since the 1940s, but it still had that sense of warmth to it. It was our responsibility to give this home another century of life.”

The home in 2019.