Coming home

Descendant had his eye on property for years

Sep 23, 2000

Bill Chapman, his wife, Gay, and son, William, are descendants of the original owners of Enon Hall. The family, including dog Lucy, camps at the house each weekend while working to restore the historic property.
(Cindy Blanchard)

Without setting foot inside the 250-year-old house, Bill Chapman decided to buy it.

When he and his wife, Gay, finally walked through the two-story structure last year, he knew he had made the right choice.

"I was afraid this house would go up at auction and someone would buy it and tear it down," Chapman said. "I thought someone would . . . build a contemporary or something. That would have been awful."

Enon Hall, which dates to around 1740, sits on 31/2 acres on Antipoison Creek in White Stone. William Hathaway III, Chapman's great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, was the original homeowner, but the property can be traced back even further - to 1666, when William Hathaway I was deeded land in Lancaster County. The original Enon Hall was a working farm with 400 acres.

The Hathaway family owned the home until 1940. Since then, four or five different families have lived there. But one Hathaway descendant has kept a close watch on the property for years, figuring how to get it back in the family.

"I was really into history as a kid," Chapman said.

When he was 7, his grandparents bought a history book about Enon Hall. When he saw the picture of the house, he knew then that he would one day live there.

"The fact that something went that far back in my family fascinated me," he said.

When he was old enough to drive, he paid a visit to Enon Hall, amazed at how overgrown the property had become. Still determined to one day own the old house, he made contact with the owners four years ago. Knowing that the couple who lived there was getting older and could no longer keep up with the property, he offered to buy the house - inside unseen.

The couple agreed, selling their property while retaining a life estate, meaning they could remain until they died. The husband died in January, and his wife entered a nursing home. The Chapmans took possession Memorial Day weekend.

Since then, they've spent nearly every weekend at Enon Hall. Husband and wife, along with their 6-year-old son, William, and dog, Lucy, make the 90-minute drive from their Bon Air home and sleep on air mattresses on the screened-in porch. They rise to face the work ahead.

They've already rebuilt the dock, cleared the land of fallen trees, removed the asbestos shingles, torn down two collapsing additions on the back of the house, begun cleaning out the outbuildings and removed vines, overgrown bushes and fallen trees from the backyard cemetery. About 12 marked graves date to the 1850s.

"Anytime you buy an old home, you know there is going to be a lot of work involved," said Gay Chapman. "We saw the outside. And judging from that, we were expecting the worst inside, too."

They've been cleaning for months, scrubbing what she calls "years of crud" from floors, walls and closets. They hold their breath as they wipe up mice droppings and vegetable splatter left after stored cans exploded.

But the Chapmans are hardly deterred. As they scrape old paint from the ceilings, they dream of the completed project.

"Some people say the house should have been torn down," Bill Chapman said. "Others say our weekends are supposed to be for relaxing. But pulling weeds and tearing down additions is the best therapy I know."

At the end of the weekend, they pack up their car and head home. On Monday, Chapman returns to his job as president of Thurston Chapman & Associates, a Richmond advertising agency.

"If we were living here and trying to do the work, now that would be stressful," Gay Chapman said. "But when we are done, we can close the door and leave it behind."

The Chapmans invited an architectural historian to stop by to make sure they preserve the home as they work. Future projects include rebuilding the foundation and the back porch, replacing the siding, painting, inspecting the five fireplaces, rebuilding the cemetery wall and, of course, cleaning. They plan to do about 70 percent of the work themselves.

When finished, the home will serve as a weekend retreat and later a retirement home.

"I can really picture having Thanksgiving here and the family get-togethers," Gay Chapman said. "It's really such a great place. It's a great place for kids.

"A big part of my childhood was spent on my grandparents' farm in Georgia. We had so much fun. That's what I want for William."

Their son already has learned the fine art of crabbing (turkey necks work better than chicken), boating and kayaking. And he can tell you all about the home's history. Now that his father has set up a Web site (, anyone can research its past. The site comes complete with photos of restoration work, a daily diary of projects and a family tree.

Chapman set up the site in July 1999 as a way to share photographs with restoration experts. He soon added information about descendants. Now, people e-mail him with their own lineage and tips for renovating Enon Hall. And he's found long-lost cousins through the Web site.

"I bring my laptop with me and update the site every night," Chapman said. "It's been a lot of fun."

Since beginning his research on Enon Hall, Chapman has discovered that the home has undergone several facelifts. The original structure was a Dutch colonial, with two rooms upstairs and two rooms down. It was expanded in the 1850s, when a dining room was added. In the 1880s, a second story was added above the dining room. This room, which had its own entrance area, was used as a schoolroom and a law office. In the 1950s, another addition, this time a bedroom, was completed. A screened-in porch was added around 1950.

Although much has been updated, a few original features remain, including the hardwood floors, mantels, the staircase, doors and trim. And while cleaning, the couple found several old objects, like a birdcage and the book, "Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz," dating to 1908.

Two outbuildings, a kitchen and a smokehouse, date to the 18th century. Another, a chicken coop, was built around 1940.

Discovering the home's history and working to preserve it have helped the Chapmans make their own memories and strengthen their bond.

"It's really good family unity," Gay Chapman said. "Sometimes, we are doing different projects so we don't see each other all day, but other times we are working side by side."

At the end of the day, they sit together and marvel at a job well done. While the Chapmans say they aren't sure how much the renovation work will cost, they agree that no price is too steep.

"It's really an emotional thing rather than a tangible thing," Chapman said. "I can't imagine not knowing where you come from. Seeing where your family comes from, well, it's like coming home."

Contact Janet Caggiano at (804) 649-6157 or


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