A! Magazine for the Arts

One of the restored bedrooms with original fireplace and brick hearth.

One of the restored bedrooms with original fireplace and brick hearth.

Black Dog Inn is restored and open for business

February 23, 2021

Choosing the name of their restored home, Black Dog Inn, a federal style home, was the easiest part of an extensive 18-month restoration process.

“Normally, a historic building would be named for the original owner, in this case Austin Bronaugh. We felt Austin Bronaugh was a little difficult to have people remember and spell. Instead, we chose to honor Hadley, our Havanese pup, who is actually the Black Dog of Black Dog Inn,” Rick Humphreys, homeowner, says.

The Austin L. Bronaugh House was built in 1834 and sold to Bronaugh, an Abingdon merchant. Bronaugh lived there untilthe lot and house were acquired by the Johnston family whose son, Thomas, was a well-known local portrait painter and cartographer. The property was acquired in 1918 by Lonnie Jordan and his sister, Sally Jordan. Mrs. Margaret McConnell later purchased the property and conveyed it to her nephew, Bob McConnell, and his wife Ann. Humphreys acquired it in 2013.

Black Dog Inn is located on Park Street in the heart of Abingdon, Virginia’s, historic district. When Humphreys and his wife, Susan, purchased the house it was dilapidated. Many people would have looked at the state of the home and decided it couldn’t be saved. Humphreys decided that he was just “crazy” enough to take it on. One of the first steps was finding the funds to do so.

Being in the historic district was a help in getting funding for the restoration.

“The Bronaugh house being in the historic district played an integral role in the house restoration, because of the Federal and State Tax Credit Program administered by the Department of Historic Resources of Virginia and the Department of Interior from the federal side.

“Buildings that are contributing structures in an established historic district can qualify for these tax credits. The state tax credit is for any contributing structure — either residential or business. The federal tax credit is in addition to the state and can be obtained only if the building will be used for five years after completion primarilyas a business.

“Blueprints are submitted to the DHR describing both exterior and interior plans. Along with the blueprints, an application must be completed. This application describes the importance of the building along with a set of images of the building and description of each room and the needed work.

“Applicants must strictly follow the department of interior guidelines for the restoration of historic homes which are enforced by the DHR of Virginia. Our Southwestern Virginia DHR representative was very helpful in walking us through the steps to qualify,” Humphreys says. Occasionally, the DHR conducts classes to explain how to submit the application and how to qualify for the credits.

The tax credits coupled with “very gracious bankers from First Bank and Trust who shared our vision,” enabled Humphreys to restore the house. “Also, make sure that if you are married, you have a spouse who loves restoration and is willing to put in both time and money,” he says.

In addition to funding, a restoration requires a love of history, architecture and patience.

“My love of history and old homes started at my grandmother’s, Delta Hagy Shupe, knee. Grandmother told stories about our family and the beginning of Abingdon, as well as other people who lived in early Abingdon. As she would tell me about these people, she would also tell me where they lived. In many cases the house was still standing. Going by afterwards and seeing the house gave it a life.

“The life of the house as well as the architecture and the features contained in each of these houses made me fall more in love with them.

“One of the most interesting parts of restoration is that you just can’t run out to the local hardware store or lumberyard and pick up what you need. It takes planning prior to starting in order to lineup all of your needed resources, both material and tradespeople.

“In finding these resources one can find the most interesting people who share your passion for restoration.

“From blacksmiths who forge thumb latch openers for doors, to people who match mill work exactly. People who sell old, bubbly glass to the people who restore the glass back into the windows (glaziers).

“One needs to flesh out who sells the component parts you will need and check out those parts to make sure they are of the period of the building you are restoring. But most of all, find dedicated hard-working men who assembled/reassembled all of the pieces. The leader of our group of restorers is master builder/restoration expert local Allen Bott. Bott is a demanding and exacting builder who figures out the most complicated of dilemmas.

“As you can see in the before pictures, the work was extremely demanding and very encompassing in its scope. The millwork was all measured and hand done to match original millwork using Department of Interior standards. Where part of the millwork might have been damaged or gone, only the damaged or missing part was put back and blended in to match the original.

“Luckily, we have a wonderful local millwork, Abingdon Millworks, owned by Gary Fuller and Doug Patterson, who provided most of the needed millwork. Everything from baseboards, toe molding, pickets for stairs and clapboards for the exterior were needed.

“We also added an addition in order to put our heat and air and other modern conveniences in. The entire addition was given the matched new millwork as well as mortise and tendon doors and heart of pine flooring.

“When we purchased the house all of the lath and plaster had been removed. Instead of putting back the lathe for the plaster to adhere to, we were allowed to use blue board which accepts the three type coats of plaster needed to complete the walls and ceiling. JP Amos Company out of Roanoke did all the plaster work.

“In completing the work on the exterior, we were lucky in that we found original bead-board siding. There was not very much left, but there was enough to where we could replicate it and replace the entire exterior with original looking bead-board siding.

“The porch is not original to the house. The original porch had a much smaller profile.

Because there was no existing picture of the oldest porch, we had to put back the existing porch, the one we knew what it looked like so as not to guess or hypothesize about the original.

“Instead of turned pickets, we were required to put square pickets with precise square dimensions on the porch, because they were missing, and we did not know what the originals looked like.

“Almost all the woodwork on the exterior is new and meticulously replicated from original woodwork found on site.

“When the exterior limestone foundation was re-pointed, we sent off for original mortar mix and had it matched. The mortar you see now in the joints between the limestone is identical to what was originally there.

“Window sashes were rebuilt where it was possible and reproduced when it was not. All the glass is new wavy glass with the bubbles seen in old glass, because all of the glass was produced using old glass making techniques. The glass came from New Jersey, 290 pieces of glass were replaced.

“The damage to all the exterior woodwork made it so fragile it was impossible to use.

The interior woodwork was in much better shape, and we were able to utilize over 90 percent of the original woodwork, including flooring, fireplace mantles, staircases, stair treads, pickets, doors, window trim and built-in items,” Humphreys says.

The rewards of restoring Black Dog Inn outweighed the challenges, and inspired Humphreys to restore other historic buildings.

“Why save a historic house?

To quote Amanda Gorman, inauguration poet, ‘While we have our eye on the future, history has its eye on us.’

“This is why we are caretakers of traditions ... of those events which ground us, bolster us and give us a leg up to find our own purpose and place. These are the sentiments that make me love history and in turn old houses.

“When we lose either an honored tradition ( as Covid did to many of us this year of 2020) or an old historic house/home, when it is destroyed we lose one of our histories. The history which we lean on as we march into an uncertain future and a touchstone that reminds us it will be okay. I need, we need, those touchstones, to save a tangible piece of our beloved past. This is my plea to save old houses.

“As of today, my wife, Susan, and I have restored or helped restore seven houses/buildings. Susan has actually been involved in owning at least three additional houses/buildings, so 10 for her,” he says.

Black Dog Inn has three bedrooms (two with fireplaces) with private baths and spacious porches. Reservations can be made by calling 276-628-4153.

For general information about Virginia tax credits, visit www.dhr.virginia.gov. If you have specific questions, email Christopher Novelli at chris.novelli@dhr.virginia.gov or call 804-482-6097.

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