By: James Johnson
When Methodist University’s Associate Dean of Students, Todd Harris and his wife Paulette, moved to Fayetteville in 2013, the decision was considered a compromise, as it was close to Harris’ hometown of Raleigh, while also being close to their former home of Washington D.C. Neither of them were aware when deciding to sell their home in D.C., that they would be trading one historic White House for another.
The Dr. William C. Verdery House, at 1428 Raeford Road, may not have been home to any former presidents or played host to visiting ambassadors or prime ministers, but for Fayetteville, the two-story Colonial Revival-style white house is an important part of the community’s history.
Built in 1936, by the aforementioned Dr. William C. Verdery, the residence has been a staple of the area for decades and was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 2007.
The home was designed by architect William C. Holleyman Jr., who used a careful blending of Colonial and classical architectural elements to create a unique and beautiful design unlike any other residence in the town.
Verdery, was born in 1893, in Harlem, Georgia. He would go on to study medicine at The University of Georgia and the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta. Like so many who would come after him, Verdery would come to Fayetteville thanks to his service with the U.S. Army. He was tasked with creating a health department for the city and county. Verdery was honorably discharged from service in 1920, the same year he would marry resident Marie Judge.
Later in life, Verdery joined the staff of Fayetteville’s Pittman Hospital, where he specialized in obstetrics and pediatrics.
Before his retirement, Verdery helped deliver an estimated 10,000 babies. However, he and his wife, would only have one child, their daughter Stuart Verdery Kerr. She would later inherit the Dr. William C. Verdery House after her parents passing. Stuart cared for her four children in the house and at some point built an extension onto the house so as to give her children more room as they became teenagers.
After Kerr’s death, at the age of 85, in 2011, the home went unlived in for several years, with her four children having started their own lives in other communities. That all changed last year.
Upon making the move to Fayetteville, Todd and Paulette were still uncertain about where they wanted to live or if they had even made the right decision in moving here, so instead of immediately buying a house, the couple decided to rent a home for 16 months. In this time, the duo began looking at houses around the area that might be a good place to raise their two boys.
“We plan to stick here for a while. We have uprooted our kids too many times. It is a good community,” said Todd. “We needed to commit to a home.”
Commitment didn’t come easy. According to Todd, the couple managed to look at somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 different homes in three years, with none of the houses standing out. Finally, the couple decided that they would just have to build their own home and in the summer of 2013, they met with contractor Bud Tisdale. After the meeting, the couple’s realtor Donna Clayton Lloyd (who Harris describes as having the patience of a saint) told them that she had a surprise for them.
“She drove us up to this house and she brought us in,” Todd said. “There weren’t many lights. Two sconces and a chandelier. We could tell the house needed some work, but it just spoke to us.”
Paulette, having grown up around similarly historic homes in Washington D.C., was immediately taken by the house.
“I just love an older home,” she gushed. “Right away I could see the potential of removing the wallpaper and painting the walls, putting our own personal touches around the house, that would fit our family.”
An entire year passed, with the couple still looking at other houses, but shortly after selling their home in Washington, D.C., Todd said they had another sit down meeting with Lloyd inside one of the last houses they had looked at.
“We told her that the only house we have really been excited about was ‘The White House on Raeford Road.’ When you look at as many houses as we had, you start coming up with names for the houses and ‘The White House on Raeford Road’ seemed like a good name for it,” Todd said. “But we wanted a price that would make it work because we knew we would have to renovate it.”
On July 24, 2015, the Harris family officially closed on the house. On July 27, the renovations officially began, with the help of Bud Tisdale’s son, David Tisdale.
As predicted, the renovations have not been cheap. Due to the house being on the National Registry, most of any changes done to the house had to be on the inside of the home.
“Renovations are happening here five days a week and there have been a few
surprises, which slowed us down a little,” Todd said. “A house of this age, it had a lot of galvanized steel in it and they had to take that out because a lot of it was rusted. There was a point a few weeks ago where there were holes everywhere because we had to replace a lot of the wiring. We knew we wanted to open up the kitchen as much as possible.”
Other changes included removing a toilet and sink from a bathroom the size of a closet and installing them inside of a closet the size of a bathroom. So far, Todd says that the renovations have been costly and he expects to pay more before the year is over.
Shortly after purchasing the house, Todd reached out to the children of the house’s former owner, retired Rev. William Verdery Kerr, Duncan John Kerr, Stuart Kerr Wiet and Elizabeth Kerr Agnew. Todd said that he felt that knowing that their childhood home was in good hands might be comforting.
“They have been delighted with the news and have been asking for pictures,” Todd said. “I would really like for them to visit. I’d be interested in having them all over. I think they are happy that the home is loved.”
According to Paulette, the house being a historic location has not resulted in feeling as if one is living in a museum. She says that their children have already begun to see the house as a home.
“The boys love it,” Paulette said. “The backyard is a nice and flat, they are able to play and I don't think they care about the historical factor of the house. They like living in Haymount, being close to some of their friends and it is a big enough property that they can always find something to do. We had Todd's family down and we had the first big dinner in the house. It already feels like a home.”
In a week, Todd said that the two will have to move into their new home officially, even though the plumbing has yet to be switched on. Todd isn’t worried. Instead he is already making plans for ways to use the house to hold charity events for the community.
“The house lends itself to hosting events, and if we can host an event that maybe helps other people who are less fortunate, I would rather do that. The thing is, you don’t really own anything in life,” said Todd. “You might have the resources to borrow it for a while, but this house will be still sitting here when I’m in the nursing home. It will be a great memory for me and a great place where me and my wife can learn and laugh together and grow as a family, but it’ll be just that. Hopefully we can give back to the community while we’re here and create some great memories for other people as well.”