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A Showplace Once Again – Doctor Gives New Life to A Proud Old House

12/01/2007 12:41PM ● Published by Anonymous

The house on Haymount hill glows at night.

And below, all of downtown Fayetteville is spread out before it. More than 160 years ago, the E.J. Hale family could stand on the balcony of their house perched on the hill and look down Hay Street to the Market House. That balcony still offers one of the best views around, and a visitor these days can’t help but wonder if the Hale family stood in the very spot and watched Sherman march on their great city. The house withstood Sherman’s army, but it almost did not survive the 20th century.

Dr. Michael Bryant found a much different house at the corner of Hay and Hale streets in 1991. In fact, he almost didn’t find it at all. The handsome but well-worn house was vacant and overgrown with bushes and trees, and it was sheer curiosity that led him down a dirt driveway. That’s when he saw the historic Hale house.

If the house had changed for the worse over the decades, so had downtown Fayetteville. Bars and lounges occupied prime real estate on Hay Street. The newspaper that Hale founded had moved away. Many stores found greener pastures at the mall on the other side of town. Few people shopped in downtown Fayetteville, and even fewer called it a place to live.

But Bryant had a feeling things were about to change, so he called the number on the for-sale sign. The realtor was so anxious to sell that he dropped everything when Bryant called. Bryant paid a little under $100,000, a steal for a home so large but a huge sum for a dilapidated house on the edge of downtown Fayetteville.

Rumors ran rampant. People said Bryant, a general surgeon, planned to operate his medical practice at the house. They said he planned to cut it up into apartments or bulldoze it. No one imagined he wanted to live there.

“People said I was crazy,” he recalled recently. And then he laughed. “People still think I’m crazy.”

It wasn’t just the house – almost all of Hale Street had gone downhill. But Bryant began a painstaking renovation that started in 1993 and ended four years later in 1997. And then something happened that same year: the Huske Hardware House Restaurant opened. Many give it credit for starting a revolution downtown. New stores and restaurants followed and people rediscovered old ones that had been there the whole time. The shiny Airborne & Special Operations Museum opened. And now, 10 years later, upscale condominiums are on the rise.

It may not be exactly what Hale would recognize but perhaps it’s close. Edward Jones Hale was founding editor of the Fayetteville Observer, and his family would own and operate the newspaper for 77 years from 1824 to 1920, with an 18-year hiatus after the Civil War. Hale built the house in 1847. His son, Edward Joseph Hale, worked briefly for his father before enlisting in the Confederate Army. The younger Hale remained in service ttfireplaces are functional, a testament to the scale of the project. Bryant knew the house needed an overhaul – new walls, new plumbing, new wiring – but he wanted to keep the old, too. And he did. Every original room is still used for its intended purpose including the dining room, drawing room and bedrooms. The original hardwood floors were taken up one by one and put back down again. The original trim pieces were numbered, sanded, repainted and put back up where they had always been. The banister even retains the smallest of original touches, a star once used to signify that a house had been bought and paid for.

Bryant wanted to keep the house as close to the original as possible, but his family needed some extra room. And there were some things a designer in the 1800s never planned on, including an indoor kitchen. So Bryant hired a local builder, Gray Bell, to restore the house and add on a wing. The result is seamless. The only obvious clue of the addition is the exposed brick wall in the family room. Many guests have asked Bryant why he did not cover it, but the weathered bricks tell a story.

“I like older things,” he said. “It gives the house character.”

Bryant not only bought and restored the house at the corner of Hay and Hale, he bought the house next door, too. And though he had help with the larger house, he did all of the restoration work next door by himself. It now serves as an office, home gym, playroom and guest house. Out back, there is a pool and an outdoor fireplace.

The Bryant family now has plenty of room for four children though the oldest two daughters are in college. Their youngest daughter has a bedroom filled with stuffed animals and a place to paint and play the violin. Their son’s room is decorated in a sports theme. Across the hall, the master bedroom is complete with a whirlpool tub in front of the refurbished fireplace.

And it’s a short walk to the balcony with its incredible view, the one that draws in visitors and old friends, too.

On a recent morning, Bryant’s mother-in-law, Eleanor Hairr, was visiting. Bryant is originally from Louisville, but when work brought him to Fayetteville he met and married a Stedman girl. Dawn Bryant works as a nurse anesthetist. With both of them busy, Hairr helps out. And it’s a nice bonus to visit a place that reminds her of growing up in Fayetteville.

“When I look down Hay Street, all these memories come flooding back,” she said.

And people driving up Hay Street, up Haymount hill, may glance at the house and catch the light spilling from the old tall windows. They might just catch a glimpse of a Christmas tree – the Bryants put up five.

And here’s betting that they’re all aglow.

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