In a valley full of charming, historic homes — many of them featuring a hodgepodge patchwork of add-ons here and upgrades there — the Young-Noyes House, where the University of Charleston presidents and their families have resided since 1951, is at the far upper end of both charming and historic.
Which put it at the far upper end of challenging when it came time to renovate the 15-room home, built in 1922, for the first incoming president the campus has welcomed in nearly 30 years.
“The board’s vision was that we would preserve this historic structure and, frankly, set it up for the next 50 years,” said Pat Graney, chairman of the UC Board of Trustees, which he said raised the funds and paid for the extensive renovations with private money.
Much of the work that needed to be done was practical, not pretty: new electrical wiring, new plumbing, a new roof and a 21st Century Wi-Fi system. And there were structural changes needed as well.
“The whole idea of a stairwell that you couldn’t bring furniture up 100 years ago wasn’t a big deal. But today that’s a pretty big deal. We have bigger beds, we have bigger chairs,” Graney said.
“We had a very small kitchen that did not work well for entertaining. We were able to move a couple of walls that preserved the integrity and structure of the historic nature of the house, but allowed us to have better sight lines and the larger kitchen.”
The Colonial Revival-style home was built by a prominent local architect, L.T. Bengston, for Mr. and Mrs. Roger Atkinson Young. The couple entertained friends and held such “lively” dances on the first floor that a chandelier came crashing down during a particularly “boisterous” gathering in the late 1920s, according to a house history written by Dr. Janet Welch, wife of former UC president Dr. Ed Welch, which was submitted with the nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.
Ultimately, they were forced to move to a much smaller home a decade or so later, after the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed. Morris Harvey College, which is now UC, bought the place about 20 years later and it was added to the historic registry in 1991.
That designation meant any improvements to the home had to be done in a way that maintained the integrity of the work, which kept the character and certain historic elements intact.
“There were some very specific guidelines that needed to be followed,” Graney said.
The “wow” factor — and there’s a lot of it — had to be achieved without making the old home look brand new or radically different.
“So much of what’s here is new, you know. The fixtures are new in all the bathrooms, all the lighting is new, the fans are new, so everything’s working very well, even though it’s getting close to a 100-year-old house,” said Dr. Marty Roth, who took over as president of the university when Welch retired last year.
“When you walk on the floors, you don’t hear a lot of creaks. When you go to open a door, it’s not stuck or won’t close all the way,” he added.
The work began in July 2018. Marty Roth and his wife, Lynn Roth, moved from a rental home to their new space in March. In the meantime, walls came down. A new stairwell went up.
The formal living and dining rooms flip-flopped to provide a much larger space for dinners. An interior doorway created an ease of flow that made the whole space more accessible to crowds.
“And they had a government shutdown in the middle of all that, too,” Lynn Roth said. The National Register of Historic Places, which approves work on historic properties, falls under the United States Department of the Interior National Park Service, which was largely closed during the shutdown that ran from just before Christmas through late January.
The home is important for its prominent placement in the community, its proximity to the university, its ability to help attract a new president — but also for its role in securing donors and partners who can help move the institution forward.
“It’s special to be invited to a president’s home,” Marty Roth said. “It’s a place where you typically don’t have an opportunity to visit. And then, you know when you go to the home, you’re going to be hosted by the president and the president’s wife, and other guests may be there as well. So you’re kind of expecting a more kind of personal, intimate opportunity to interact.”
At the end of the day, people want to do business with people they like and trust.
“You think about, ‘Why does somebody decide to support a great college or university like us?’ It’s because they believe in our mission,” Marty Roth said. “They believe in the great transformational work that we’re doing for our students. They want to be part of something that excites them. They also want to have confidence that we’re going to be good stewards of their gifts. So I think that you’re able to convey a lot more of those kind of intrinsic values by bringing somebody into your home as opposed to having them at the office or perhaps a facility on campus.”
Graney said he couldn’t give a price point for the renovations, in part because they weren’t finished.
“I can give you this much, though. We’re under budget and well within the range that we hoped for and much less than a complete rebuild,” he said, adding the rebuild was something the board hadn’t wanted to do, given the home’s historical significance.
He was quick to credit Scott Means at Means Stone for the masonry work, Mark Grigsby and Mary Cook at Pray Construction Company, Aric Margolis Architecture, Gary Boyd at UC and a host of others for the expertise involved in bringing the home into a more modern era than the one it was built for.
The area both Marty and Lynn Roth say is their favorite is the outside, which faces the river. It features a two-story portico with massive white columns and, to the side, a landscaped seating area with a fire pit and stone pizza oven that “kids, adults, everybody loves,” Lynn Roth said.
She and her husband enjoy entertaining and now have a home that reflects that, both inside and out.
“You look at what are some of the best assets of the home,” Marty Roth said.
“It’s the location, the lawn, the view of the capitol right along the river. And what better way to take advantage of that than by having an outdoor entertaining area?”