When thinking about retirement, many folks have the “some day” approach, knowing that “some day” they’ll move – maybe to a warmer climate, closer to family, into a smaller space, all of the above. Philo and Ellen Hall entertained those thoughts from their large Queen Anne historic home in Vermont. For more than two decades, they raised their family and worked – he as a hospital administrator and she as director of a university library.
Their three adult kids settled in Blacksburg and Washington, D.C. They enjoy visiting them, along with four grandchildren, but they were not enamored with the 14-hour drive. On a 2012 trip to Blacksburg, the Halls contacted real estate agent Tim Hudson just to look. “He was wonderful,” Ellen recalls. “He drove us all over, talked about the history and answered all our questions.” Near the end of the day, he took them through the Miller-Southside neighborhood in downtown Blacksburg, and they liked it best of all.
“We didn’t look at any houses,” Philo continues, “and Tim said these seldom come on the market, being sold often from friend to friend.” But, a couple weeks later, Tim called. He figured that they might not want to make the long drive again to look at a house, but it was right where they wanted to be. However, the Halls were in D.C. for their son’s law school graduation, so they rolled into town the next morning and had a contract by the end of the day.
“Our son, Nathan [Hall], and his wife Monena were contemplating moving from their rental into a home of their own, and we were far from ready to relocate,” Ellen explains. “They moved into our house here while we planned the move.” The upside of the arrangement was that the Halls measured all the rooms, then measured all their furniture and created templates in which to position each piece. Whatever not being moved was donated to and picked up by a local Methodist church for its annual yard sale.
Their enchanting home was designed by Clinton Harriman Cowgill, founder of architecture studies at Virginia Tech. He served as head of the Department of Architectural Engineering from 1928 to 1956. It has evolved into today’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies. While he designed several Georgian and Federal style houses, this was his personal residence, built in 1936.
In the book A Special Place for 200 Years: a History of Blacksburg, Virginia, Daniel Pezzoni, one of the authors, wrote of it that Cowgill’s own house was “inspired by the more informal massing and snug proportions of the English cottage genre.”
It is cozy with charm to spare. The living room is a step down from the front door entry way with an efficient gas fireplace and outside door to the screened porch. The dining room features corner cabinets, a graceful floral wall covering, lace curtains and Philo’s family cuckoo clock, ticking away and cuckoo-ing on the hour. “It has been in my family since 1907, and we discovered from a clockmaker in Staunton that it was built in 1880 in Germany,” he explains.
This kitchen is perfectly functional and super efficient with granite countertops, beautiful wood cabinets and stainless steel appliances. Its smallness puts everything within easy reach, and meal times in both the dining room and the screened porch are delightful.
A cute home office and master bedroom round out the first floor, while cottage and antique decor reigns in two guest rooms upstairs. Early on, someone discovered that walking out of the 2nd floor hall bath provided a line of sight straight to the sidewalk out front and in reverse. Ellen found a stained glass tree in every season at Larry Mitchell’s booth at Steppin’ Out. She asked him to make a stand for them which was not permanent, so if she ever did have to move again, she could take them. They are the perfect sight diffuser and touch of artistic beauty in the rectangular window halfway up the stairs.
Once here, there were a few pieces of furniture which didn’t fit in. “I took those to Upscale Attic and found perfect accessories and decorative accents there for our new home. What a wonderful shop,” Ellen says.
Gardening is one of Ellen’s passions, and the backyard has no grass with her green thumb mastering the space. From hostas, cone flowers, phlox and ferns to the Japanese maple and heritage river birch tree, she has created a bird and small wildlife refuge. Benches, a koi pond and a covered arbor add to the relaxed outdoor environment, though she is the first one to advise against planting trumpet vines and wisteria for their prolific growth cycles.
From the large Queen Anne Victorian in Vermont to the English cottage-style home in the New River Valley, the Halls’ “some day” came five years ago. Philo is just stepping down from serving as president of the Blacksburg Rotary Club. Ellen is president of the Friends of the Library (Montgomery County). They often attend Moss Arts Center performances, street fairs and community activities, while working in plenty of family and grandchildren time, minus the 14-hour drive.