The Crabtree Jones House in Raleigh, perhaps Raleigh's oldest house still in residential use, is a remarkable Federal-style house dating from around 1795.
The property was obtained by Francis Jones of Edgecombe County through a land grant from the Earl of Granville about 1740. His grandson Nathaniel (1758-1828) is thought to have built the house near Crabtree Creek on a knoll containing a great deal of granite. He was active in Wake County politics and served in the North Carolina General Assembly. He was known as "Crabtree Jones" to differentiate him from another man in the region also named Nathaniel Jones. His son Kimbrough (1783-1866) was also active in Wake County politics and served in the General Assembly. Married three times, he had eleven children, two of whom died as children in a buggy accident. During the Civil War, Col. Harry Burgwyn trained troops on the grounds of the plantation. Kimbrough, Jr., (1841-1915) married a woman thirty years younger than him, and he was the last Jones buried in the cemetery. The house continued to be occupied by members of the Jones family until 1973, when the property was sold for development.
This handsome early Federal plantation house is tri-partite in form, consisting of a two-story main block, five bays wide, flanked by original one-story wings. The house appears to have been enlarged twice to the rear with two-story extensions - one shortly after the original construction and the other in the mid-19th century. The original house and first addition are covered with molded weatherboards, and the door and window frames are molded, as are the sills. The central entrance consists of a single door with six raised panels, beneath a four-light transom. The windows contain nine-over-nine sash. The front and rear of the main block features a handsome molded cornice adorned with undercut modillions, and pattern boards occur at the ends. At either end of the main block is a substantial Flemish-bond chimney with a molded cap.
Evidence indicates that the house originally had no porch. Pilasters flanking the central entrance may be vestiges of the first porch, probably dating from around 1830, the same time as the rear addition. Documentary photos show an ornate sawnwork porch, probably built after the Civil War, when the house was badly damaged.
The interior follows a hall-and-parlor plan and features fine detailing. Inside one finds a flat-paneled wainscot with rounded Georgian-style moldings; the simple molded chair rail also serves as window sills. The doors, which have the same type of moldings, have robust raised panels and are hung with HL hinges. The baseboard in the main room retains extremely well-executed marbleizing.
Mantels in the two main first-floor rooms are large and of three-part Federal design, with a variety of applied moldings. The frieze of the mantel in the main room features well-preserved paintings, perhaps from the mid-19th century: the center tablet depicts a symmetrical arrangement of cornucopias and fruit and grain, while the flanking panels feature detailed landscape scenes. The original main block contains four other mantels, each different.
The stair is a bit of a mystery. No clear evidence has been found about the location of an earlier stair in the main block, but the stair hall itself appears to be a very early addition to the original block. The stair hall in the extension has sheathed walls and a low sheathed ceiling.
The substantial mid-19th century addition features typical Greek Revival-style details with its doors, mantels and other trim. A small addition appears to have been built in the 20th century to the north side of the house to accommodate bathrooms. That addition could be expanded to provide additional space for modern needs.
For many years, preservationists have known that the day would come when the Crabtree Jones House would require action. Correspondence from the Raleigh Historic Sites Commission reflected deep concerns back in 1968 because the property was zoned for commercial development. Signs on the property actively advertised its availability. In 1969 the house was locally designated on a one-acre undivided parcel. The house was placed on the National Register in 1973, making it one of the state's earliest listings.
Early preservation books from the 1970s noted the house's tenuous status. A 1976 book noted that the vacant house had been recently vandalized, and a young architecture student was occupying the house to prevent further damage. That architect and his wife have continued to be the guardian angels of the house. Dating back to the Bicentennial, the Junior League of Raleigh, the North Carolina Community Foundation, and Preservation NC each tried to acquire the property on site for nonprofit use, but nothing ever worked out.
The Crabtree Jones House found itself situated in the midst of highway development. Once an old stage road, Wake Forest Road is now a six-lane commercial strip, and the house stood less than one fifth of a mile from an exit ramp for Interstate 440. Within 100 feet of the Jones property are motels, shopping centers, fitness center, bank data processing facility, and single-family residences.
In March 2012 the inevitable finally happened. An application was filed for the demolition of the Crabtree Jones House. The 14.65 acres of land around the house was placed under contract to be developed into 243 apartment units. With support from an anonymous donor PNC acquired an option on an adjacent parcel, and the developer has generously agreed to fund the cost of moving the house to the new site and preparing it for resale. The move took place in early February 2014. The house was moved in one piece, as you can see from the time-lapse video below.
The new site for the house is about 700 feet from its original site. Crabtree Heights is a small, thriving neighborhood with a very convenient location and high WalkScore. The subdivision, developed in the 1950s and 1960s, features brick Ranch houses with large yards on four gently curving streets. The area, like the Crabtree Jones House site, is much higher in elevation than the both Wake Forest Road and Six Forks Road. The subdivision land was part of the Crabtree Jones Plantation. The Jones family cemetery is a half-block away on an undeveloped parcel on Hillmer Drive, which dead ends at the woods surrounding the Crabtree Jones House. The last house parcel before the dead end, 3108 Hillmer Drive, is the new site.
The new parcel is 0.46 acre in size, but it will seem larger because the woods flanking the north and east of the house will permanently remain as natural buffers, 100' wide to the north and 75' wide to the east. Thus, the parcel will be permanently screened from Wake Forest Road and its commercial development, as well as from the new development to the north, with 0.7 acre of adjacent buffer. Like the original Crabtree Jones House location, the parcel is at an elevation substantially higher than Wake Forest Road and higher also than neighboring houses in the development. Its location at the deadend will minimize the sense of being in a twentieth-century subdivision.
The house will retain its National Register status on its new site as well as its designation as a Raleigh Historic Landmark. The former makes the house eligible for North Carolina's tax credits, and the latter reduces property taxes by 50%. PNC is looking for a purchaser to buy, restore and live in this remarkable house, keeping it in its original residential use.It's ready to move into the 21st century, as the Crabtree Jones House has its own twitter account - follow the house at: @CrabtreeJonesHs!
Click here to read an excellent article on the dendrochronology done at the Crabtree Jones House in February to more accurately determine its date!
See photos of the move (and preparation for the move), courtesy of the Capital City Camera Club, below.