Paula Smith knew just what she wanted in her home: Old woodwork, historic charm. But her real estate agent took her to nondescript ranch homes with carpet and paneling.
Smith and her husband, Jim Connell, both ceramic artists, finally found what they were looking for on Rock Hill's Main Street: A 1920s home that has evolved into a work of art.
"I love old historic neighborhoods," said Smith, 47, who teaches ceramics at Gaston College in Dallas, N.C. "I was looking for a home that spoke to me, and these were the things I wanted."
The Smith-Connell home, decked in brightly painted walls, faux finishes and eclectic art collections, is one of three historic homes and one home-turned-law office that will be on tour this weekend, during the East Town Neighborhood Historic Homes Tour.
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East Town residents hope to tie into the redevelopment that's happening downtown by improving visibility and inspiring more people to fix up the neighborhood's stately old homes.
The neighborhood, a mix of residential and commercial, with several hundred homes, runs from East Black to East White streets and Elizabeth Lane to Albright Road. Main Street runs through the center of the area, which includes the East Main, North Confederate and Reid Street Historic District.
The area has been plagued in the past by rental properties and apartment buildings that haven't been well maintained and eyesores like the former Red Coach Inn, which earned a reputation as a haven for drugs and prostitutes.
But residents say its character is slowly changing.
The former Red Coach Inn site on East Main Street, which was bought by the city's Economic Development Corp. after a bank foreclosure, is slated to be developed as 16 upscale townhouses, with prices of up to $215,000.
Residents say another positive sign is the restoration of the formerly dilapidated White Home, the city's oldest residence, by Historic Rock Hill.
And one by one, many of the homes are being rescued by homeowners who want to save them, like Rock Hill firefighter Nate Robinson, who restored a 1903 home at 343 E. White St.
John Misskelley, president of the neighborhood association, moved into the area a decade ago, when he bought his 1880s home on North Confederate Avenue.
"With all the improvements that have been going on in the business sector, we need to market ourselves better," Misskelley said. "Let people know this is a viable, thriving neighborhood within walking distance of downtown."
His two-bedroom house features a large central hall with rooms opening into it, original heart pine floors and wood mantles, 12-foot ceilings and historic heart pine double front doors. The rear includes the housekeeper's living quarters.
He has tried to maintain the historic character inside as well as outside. "There's not that many houses from this era left in Rock Hill," he said.
Misskelley said he never considered living anywhere else.
"I like old homes," said Misskelley, 48, a downtown property manager. "I like the ways of the past. I like the way they build things so well. This house is a testament to that."
Smith, who moved to her home in 1987, agreed. She and her husband Jim Connell, a Winthrop ceramics professor, have raised their daughter Emily, 17, in the neighborhood.
"My hope is that this neighborhood is going to attract some upwardly mobile families that are interested in old places and are going to fix them up," Smith said.
Misskelley said proceeds from the home tour will be used by the homeowners association to improve the neighborhood. One of its projects, he said, will be to put up signs that identify the neighborhood and improve its visibility.
"We want people to know they're coming into a historic district," he said. "We want to show the community and the people moving in here that we have a nice safe neighborhood. Come see us."
Home tour information on page 2D
What: East Town Neighborhood 2007 Historic Home Tour.
When: 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $10 per person, available at Rock Hill's ChristmasVille ticket booth, the holiday marketplace or at the door of each of the homes during the tour. Pre-ticket sales are taking place at the Rock Hill Economic Development Office.
Homes on the tour
• John Misskelley, 131 N. Confederate Ave.: Once the home of D.D. Moore, Rock Hill's first librarian, the house was built in the early 1880s on Main Street, at the present day Elks Club site. It was sold to the Reid family, which wanted to build a larger home on the lot. They sold the house to Mr. and Mrs. James Chauncey Poag, who had the house moved in 1896 to North College Avenue, now known as North Confederate Avenue.
• Joe and Betty Sherrill, 538 E. Main St.: This two-story classic revival house was built around 1905, the home of J. Edward Marshall. The Marshall family sold the home in the 1960s to Jack Hutchison and his wife, who lived there until 1991. The Sherrills bought it in 1993 and spent about 18 months restoring it before they moved in. The Sherrills received a preservation award from Historic Rock Hill.
• Paula Smith and Jim Connell, 355 E. Main St.: This one-story home built in the 1920s was occupied by H.G. Neely until 1936, when LaVerne W. Oates and family moved in. They lived there until 1972. Smith and Connell bought it in 1989. Smith and Connell will sell their ceramic art during the tour in her studio behind the home.
• Dunlap House Investments, 546 E. Main St.: Walter Dunlap built this two-story classic revival home in the early 1900s. He was a Rock Hill attorney. The Brad Jordan Law firm occupies the property as an office.