A Place in Time

The Wetherbees’ New England Home on Missionary Ridge

 

Almost 150 years have passed since Union forces defeated the Confederate Army of Tennessee atop Missionary Ridge. As with any Civil War site, there’s no shortage of plaques and monuments—legendary outlooks and notorious battle heroes are memorialized across the landscape. But while the history is rich and the views are stunning, that’s not all the ridge has to offer: nestled between the scenic battlefields lie equally impressive houses that have sprung up in the years since the famous clash. Among these is a beautifully weathered cedar-shake home that sits on the ridge, surveying the valley below. The juxtaposition of a distinctly Northern exterior against a Southern backdrop is profound—a gesture of complete disregard for the Mason-Dixon line.

 

by Keely Stockett

 

 

The New England-style estate home was built in 1926 by the Mansur family, who modeled it after a specific house in New England. There are no sand dunes in sight, but the scenery rivals anything the shoreline has to offer: directly across the street is an unobstructed view of mountains and river, visible from almost every room in the house.

The home passed through several owners until it was bought by Dr. Jesse Adams and his wife, Hattie, in 1970. The Adams’ first and only renovation (adding a great room and garage) was made shortly thereafter, and other updates during their 36-year tenure were few and far between. Needless to say, the property needed some attention when current owners Harold and Judy Wetherbee first crossed the threshold. Harold, a private Christian counselor, said “almost every square inch” of the flooring was covered in powder-blue carpet, and ivy had overgrown the 3.3 acres that stretch behind the house.

But that’s not what the Wetherbees noticed when they drove up North Crest Road. They were drawn, instead, to the charming, aged-gray cedar shakes and the well-groomed front lawn lined with stately boxwoods. “We actually were on our way to look at another house on the ridge when we saw a For Sale sign in the yard,” says Judy, owner of Trafalgar Enterprises, Inc. “This was one of my favorite houses—we just had to turn around.” The Wetherbees put in an offer and closed on the home in November 2006.

Guests at the Wetherbee home are welcomed in through a colonial-style arched entryway. Three wood steps lead up to a warmly lit foyer, where a round, antique wooden table sits beneath a chandelier. Hardwood floors run throughout most of the home—the couple wasted no time in stripping the blue carpet, Judy explains. In accordance with the New England style, the ceilings are lower than those found in traditional Southern homes built during that era, giving each room a cottage-like coziness.

The foyer opens up into three different rooms. To the left is the formal dining room, with original sconces and built-in, glass-front corner china cabinets. A bank of windows on the western end of the room offers a clear view of the valley. A large mahogany table graces the center of the room, and a brilliant rug of deep reds and blues covers the hardwood floor.

To the left is a mahogany buffet, made decades ago by a Hungarian master craftsman. Also of historical note is an oil on canvas that adorns the wall above the buffet. It’s a portrait of Harold’s fourthgreat uncle, John Wayles Eppes—Thomas Jefferson’s great-grandson.

The dining room connects to the kitchen, a streamlined space with heavy timbered ceiling beams. Though the feel is traditional, the appliances are modern and professional-grade. The kitchen’s solid wood cabinetry is painted an appropriate colonial blue, and it boasts an extended solid wood pullout and hinged storage.

The dining room also connects to a quaint game room, furnished with Chapman lamps, built-in shelves, and the crowning feature of the room—a mahogany game table. Nearby, a china cabinet displays books that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson’s descendents, passed to Harold through the years—Thomas Jefferson is Harold’s fifth great-grandfather. The cabinet also has pipes similar to those smoked by his paternal grandfather, Francis Putney Wetherbee.

The game room, originally a porch, leads to the great room that was added by the Adams family. A casement of windows offers a panorama of the gardens below and the ridge beyond. “In the winter, when the leaves have fallen, the eastern view is just fantastic,” Judy says. Wooden beams line the ceiling, and a staircase to the right of the room connects to the garage.

A door above the stairs opens to a rear grilling porch and steps descend to the acreage behind the home. Here, Harold turned an old dog run beneath the porch into a narrow pathway that saunters across the length of the backyard, bordered by fragrant jasmine, gardenias and tea olives. After clearing the ivy that blanketed the backyard, he found that the land was tiered, a suggestion that the original owners grew grapes.

But that wasn’t the only discovery he made. “We were pulling up ivy in the corner of the yard and started seeing some blue specks,” Harold says. “We never thought we were going to be like the Beverly Hillbillies with a cement pond.” Installed by the original owners, a small pool had gone unnoticed for years. Harold explains it has yet to be fully restored, but would have been considered “high cotton” during the Great Depression.

The Wetherbees’ home is situated at a direct east-west angle, so every room has a pass-through for wind. This is particularly evident on the screened-in sunporch, which faces the side yard. Paired with newly installed ceiling fans and comfortable aged wicker chairs, it’s almost never too hot to enjoy the space. “It’s a great vantage point. We love to sit out here and watch the storms coming in,” Judy says. Recently, the Wetherbees replaced the porch’s screens and lights and repainted the heart pine floor.

The sunporch is attached to the formal living room, which Judy now uses as an office. A large rug in rich, warm colors covers the floor, eliminating the all-toocommon sense of stuffiness that living rooms impose. A George III mahogany secretary bookcase once owned by Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson garners attention in the corner. Like many of the furnishings owned by the Wetherbees, the secretary came from the home of Harold’s paternal grandmother, which was designed by family friend Edward Vason Jones. A Neoclassical architect, Jones led the White House’s restoration of the State Rooms in the 1960s and 1970s, including the Green Room and Jefferson Room.

The living room returns to the foyer, which has a winding, elegant staircase lined with casement windows that offer an expansive view of the city. At the top of the stairs to the right is the master suite, which has a majestic four-poster bed. Nearby, a fireplace and sitting area features a pair of early 1900s Chinese Chippendale fretwork armchairs.

What used to be a porch off the bedroom is now the pride and joy of the Wetherbees’ home: a brand new luxury spa bath that the couple added in 2011. With ultra-modern features, the room still manages to capture a traditional look by following the lines and angles of the home and preserving the exposed stone from the back side of the fireplace in the master bedroom. Heated travertine floors are artfully decorated with small black tiles, and a walk-in travertine steam shower features multiple shower heads and body sprays. Distressed black cabinetry lines a granite- covered double vanity. Against the opposite wall, a window seat situated beneath casement windows is topped with white down pillows.

Down an upstairs hallway with built-in cedar-lined drawers and cabinets for linen storage are three spacious guest bedrooms. One of the rooms, a large suite reconfigured and expanded in 2007, connects to a full bath with subway-style tile. Just across from the suite, a second bedroom shares a full “Jack and Jill” bath with the remaining bedroom at the end of the hall. Encapsulated with windows and flooded in natural light, this third guest room has the best view of the Tennessee River in the entire house. The Wetherbees painted the room a red Georgian brick color and decorated the wall with a map depicting the plantations of Southwest Georgia—Harold’s family has had pecan groves in Albany for five generations.

At the end of the hallway, a servant’s staircase made of heart pine descends into the kitchen. Around the corner, another flight of stairs leads down into a long, unfinished basement that once functioned as the servant’s quarters. Aside from a working toilet, most of the amenities have been stripped, and the area is now designated for storage and workspace. At the far end is an empty root cellar, which Harold has considered transforming into a wine cellar. It’s just another testament of his desire to give every space—inside or out—a purpose.

Like the ridge on which it sits, the Wetherbees’ home is brimming with history—a monument in itself to decades past. Behind every wall, every painting, every piece of furniture, there seems to be a story. But the house is more than a beautiful museum on a bluff; it possesses a graciousness and warmth that make it feel alive. “It truly has a great spirit,” Harold says. “We’ve had a wonderful season in this home.”