As the child of a Marine, Alicia Kuhn grew up all over the world. But it’s her home in Caldwell that makes her feel part of a very special community.
When the floods ravaged through Southern West Virginia in June 2016, Kuhn watched from the second floor as water rose in her nearly 200-year-old house, known as “Elmhurst.”
Despite the damage and many repairs the home would require, Kuhn said she never reconsidered her choice to live there.
“The house has seen floods before, and it’s still standing, so why not be like the house and just stay?” Kuhn said.
The water receded by 10 a.m. the next day, and within the first week, more than 30 people had shown up to help her clean out the home, many of whom were complete strangers.
“People I didn’t know were scrubbing floors and scrubbing walls, and it was very humbling,” Kuhn said. “It totally explained why I chose West Virginia as a place to live.”
Though she hasn’t completely finished redecorating since the flood, Kuhn will share her home with those who stop by along the 2017 Greenbrier Historical Society’s Home and Garden Tour, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 10.
Kuhn and her contractor, Rockey Carr, had just completed renovation on the first floor before it flooded. The floors, walls and cabinets were ruined, and she lost all of her upholstered furniture.
“We’ve spend the past eight months getting it back into shape the way it was before, redoing everything, tearing everything back out, putting it all back,” Carr said. “She put too much into it to just abandon it.”
The home previously flooded in 1996 and sits on a flood plain.
Carr said the water rose about 3 feet in the home and left a thick layer of mud. But the structure remained sound, and, considering its age, the home is in exceptional condition. The house has seven bedrooms, a bathroom in each and 11 chimneys.
“You can walk inside, and its not rickety, it doesn’t squeak. And the other big thing is that it is all open, with really big windows, really big rooms,” Kuhn said. “It wasn’t your typical older home that has smaller ceilings and smaller walls and is dark. It was just a big, open, beautiful place.”
Kuhn said it was easy to fall in love with the home, partly for its historical context. Elmhurst sits only 6 miles from the Greenbrier Resort and was known in its earliest days as a stagecoach stop for travelers staying at the hotel. Lavish parties were held on the lawn for those visiting the area, including one in which U.S. President Martin Van Buren attended as an honored guest with his secretary of war.
The Caldwell family acquired the property in 1851, and with the exception of one hiccup, the home remained in the family until 1953.
Following the Battle of Lewisburg in 1862, retreating Confederates burned the bridge near the home to slow the enemy and built barricades in the field near the house. Federal troops burned the barn and gristmill, but the home was spared once troops learned Isabel Caldwell was ill and unable to flee.
The home has been registered on the National Registry of Historic Places since 1975.
The history and reputation of the home make Kuhn feel a deeper connection to West Virginia, she said. She currently works as a consultant, and the job allows her to live wherever she chooses. But she chose West Virginia for its natural beauty and many outdoor activities.
She’s found a way to display a taste of the Mountain State in every room.
“If I did buy antiques and furniture, I bought them from Lewisburg or the surrounding area,” she said. “If you have amazing artists that are doing amazing stuff, why not support them where you can?”
While the kitchen is outfitted in Fiestaware, one of the bedrooms features Blenko Glass lamps, and most of the bedroom furniture is made by Gat Creek, in Berkeley Springs.
She said she believes the home is just as important to the community as it is to her.
“It’s amazing how many people stop by on a weekly basis to tell me some story about the house,” she said. “It’s been three years since I’ve been doing this, so I think people want to see what it looks like on the inside.”
At Elmhurst, visitors will also have the opportunity to speak to author Cortney Soling Smith about her novel, “LIES: Based on True Stories,” about Elmhurst and its occupants during the Civil War.
Those on the tour will also visit two other private residences and the President’s Cottage Museum on the Greenbrier Resort property.
Originally meant to be a boarding school for girls when built in 1882, the Cohen house is one of two private residences along the tour. The Brody House was once the Daywood Art Gallery and continues to showcase works from around the world, along with its beautiful gardens.
The Greenbrier has been host to 26 U.S. presidents, and its most memorable moments from their stays are on display in the President’s Cottage Museum, a historic two-story building overlooking the Springhouse.
Margaret Hambrick, president of the Greenbrier Historical Society said the home tour is a good way to display how far Greenbrier County has come since the flood.
“I think it’s a wonderful shot in the arm to say we still have all this stuff to do, but look at what we’ve done and what we can host,” Hambrick said.
The weekend of the tour will also include a gala from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the home of Angus Peyton and afternoon tea at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, where local actress Neely Seams will present a monologue about the life of Katherine Coleman Johnson, a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner and White Sulphur Springs native.
Johnson is the subject of a recent book, “Hidden Figures” by Margot Shetterly, and hit movie of the same name.
Written by local author, Pam Berry, the original monologue emphasizes Johnson’s childhood in White Sulphur Springs and may only be performed twice.
Tickets for the gala and afternoon tea must be purchased before Friday, however, tickets for the home tour may be purchased up to and on the day of the event.
For tickets or more information, contact the Greenbrier Historical Society, 814 W. Washington St., Lewisburg, WV 24901, call 304-645-3398 or email email@example.com.