Top: The Nathaniel Roan House in Yanceyville NC. The right side of the house, the taller roof line, was built for Dr. Roan (Yanceyville’s physician at the time) in the brick Greek Revival Style in 1838. The house was expanded in 1879, hence the left wing of the house at a lower roof height, and the front, a grander focal point than a single door in the earlier structure. The front was designed at the time in the Gothic Revival Cottage Style, popularized by the cottage and landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing. A very popular design style in New England after the Civil War, evidence of the style is very rare in North Carolina. The house still sticks out among the mostly Greek Revival, Federal and Italiante style historic homes of Caswell County. Much of the sawnwork bargeboard (fancy trim in the gingerbread house style) is missing today.
The plantings forming the entrance walk up to the house are boxwoods. Boxwoods are found at most historic homes in North Carolina, a popular landscape planting since the 18th century. The plant is slow growing, and can withstand the strongest abuse and neglect a homeowner can dish out. Many boxwood gardens are found overgrown or unkempt, but these boxwoods are the tallest I have ever encountered. Boxwoods grow on average 3/4 of an inch per year. These at the Nathaniel Roan house are 8 to 10 feet tall, matching the roofline of the house. I marvel at their size, age, and the fact that whomever has owned the house over the last 150 years has been so steadfast in their blind-eye when faced with pruning shears on trips to the hardware store.
Setting aside food, my favorite smell on earth is the abrupt, woody smell of boxwood bushes. I grew up in a small town chock-full of them. Boxwoods were the olfactory soundtrack of my childhood. I could smell boxwoods at church, when we played in the cemetery and in yards of neighbors. When I walked to school, or the store, they were there.
Bottom: Clarendon Hall, the two story brick mansion house built for Thomas Johnston (a planter, merchant and bank president) by Josiah Rucks in 1842. The entrance porch with urn-topped balustrade, has been found in the pattern book “Practical House Carpenter” written by Asher Benjamin in 1830.
This house, like Dongola, is right on Main Street. You walk past the courthouse, down past a block of small store-front buildings (theater, accounting office, barber shop) and then the next space is a driveway, and this scene before you.
The house had fallen into disrepair, and was being used as a storage space by a former landowner for many years. The house is now restored, lived in, and loved. There is a small boxwood entrance at the porch, but the quarter-mile pathway leading up to the house here is framed by leyland cypress. Leyland cypress is an almost unscented plant that is the darling of the landscape design world of the last 50 years. They grow fast, and tall, making a great privacy hedge for those whom want to block out the world around them. Thus, leyland cypress in black plastic containers choke the aisles of Lowes and Home Depots nationwide.
Here, the leyland cypress works, creating a dramatic entryway leading up to what is debatedly the most graceful house in town. When I first stumbled upon this house in 1996, the leyland cypress was just a foot taller than I am. Now, the conifers are three and four stories tall.
The current owners of the home must wonder, as I have stood at the head of their driveway (the point where the photograph was made) many times, with an immediate look of admiration and envy.