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Farmhouse Now | By Jason Brady


GRAY’S CREEK – For Jon and Caroline Parsons , their home is a labor of love, a love so intense that they’ve devoted the past decade of their busy lives transforming a historic house into a comfortable and welcoming home. This stately two-story has been in Caroline’s family since her great-grandfather, Sheriff Neill McQueen, bought it and surrounding property shortlyafter the Civil War more than 150 years ago. It sits just off N.C. 87 in the Gray’s Creek community, hidden by a stand of pecans, oaks and maples, through which a winding dirt driveway provides access to this Southern respite. Out back, the Parsons recently planted 15 acres of long-leaf pine trees. Add on six acres of fallow farm land, and it’s quite a backyard. And quite a history. Not far from the house sits an even older building that may have once been used to store goods and supplies that came up from Wilmington. The property even included, long ago, a one-room schoolhouse, and the story goes that Caroline’s greatgrandmother, a school teacher named Flora Caroline MacArthur McQueen, hid and nursed a wounded Henry Berry Lowery, the legendary Lumbee guerilla fighter considered the Robin Hood of the Lumbee tribe during the turbulent times of Reconstruction. Those were the glory days. Her family continued to farm there until the 1970s, but the homestead got a new lease with Jon and Caroline. While the house now has all the amenities of a modern dwelling, it took a considerable amount of remodeling to get the home on its way to 21st century livability. “We took 10 years to do it,” Caroline said. “We would work on it for a while, then sit for a while and then work on it for a while. Life is a balancing act.” The balance includes a busy work schedule at their respective non-profit jobs and a passion for bluegrass, folk and acoustic music, which includes performing with a band and writing and publishing their own music. Jon, a southern California native and mechanical engineer by trade, is director of Sustainable Sandhills, a non-profit group committed to raising awareness of environmental issues through programs ranging from recycling to eco-tourism. Caroline is development director for the Sandhills Area Land Trust, a non-profit organization that works with private landowners to negotiate voluntary conservation agreements on private property. They met in Colorado in 1986. He was a research engineer at the Solar Energy Research Institute. She wasa whitewater rafting guide and song writer. They moved to North Carolina and back to Caroline’s family roots in 1990. Jon began building a small music studio in the backyard, and at the last minute, he decided to add living amenities so that the couple could live there while undertaking the remodeling job. Eventually, they moved into the big house, a sprawling place with six original fireplaces and the modern addition of a spacious kitchen and den. The house is open and inviting, a blend of old and new. The Parsons did much of the remodeling themselves, taking on projects that they could do or thought they could do. Since funds were limited, Caroline said they chose carefully where they would go “all out.” The kitchen cabinets, for example, were crafted by a father-and-son carpentry team in New Hampshire. Along with modern conveniences, the house also has an array of “green” features, which were important to the couple, both of whom are avid environmentalists. That doesn’t mean that you will find solar panels bolted to the roof or other gadgetry. Instead, the Parsons worked to keep the home’s historic integrity intact, which also happened to be an environmentally-friendly design decision. Existing shade trees, for example, already provided relief in the heat of summer and access to the sun during the winter months, when the trees shed their leaves. The Parsons upgraded the insulation, replaced the original windows with more energy-efficient models and sealed every draft-emitting crevice to ensure an airtight living environment. Recently, a Foamworx crew from Raleigh sprayed Icynene insulation in the basement. Foamworx bills itself as a company that creates healthier, quieter homes. The expanding spray sealed the underside of the first floor’s heart-of-pine plank flooring that, at times, gapped and caused winter temperatures to drop dramatically inside the house. “Good windows, great design. That’s probably its greenest feature,” Jon said. The Parsons also installed ground source heat pumps. Plastic water pipes buried beneath the ground ensure a constant source of thermal energy to cool in the summer and heat in the winter. While running the air conditioner in the summer, pumps are removing hot air in the house and using it to heat water for bathing. When the Parsons began the project, they hired someone to bury the pipes. However, the contractor found another job and the Parsons were left with the chore. So, they rented a ditch witch and spent evenings after work burying pipe. “Every bit of this remodel is a story by itself,” Jon said. But the result of the hard work is a heating bill that hasn’t exceeded $136. It doesn’t hurt that Jon is a mechanical engineer. But it’s also been a learning experience. “For us, we learned a lot by doing,” Jon said. Sanding and refinishing the original floor with its vertical grain boards and square-cut nails took three times as long as it should have. While Jon sanded, Caroline came behind him and vacuumed. When he sanded again, Caroline was right there doing her part. “I’ve always been a daddy’s girl and I enjoy doing that type of work,” Caroline said. For her, the house is more than her home; it embodies some of the greatest memories of her childhood. “When I turn into the driveway, it’s like going back in time,” she says. Her fondest memories include the 12-foot ceiling-high Christmas trees, the time her brother got his first trumpet and his early attempts at playing among the grove of trees in the front yard. Then there are the comforting memories of getting out of the tub into clean pajamas and sitting on the back porch with the adults. “I’d be in somebody’s lap, being rocked to sleep. When I hear crickets in the backyard today, it takes me back to those days,” she said. “We did the remodel because we loved the house,” Jon said, “and we knew we didn’t want to leave.” CV