A Plan for Reconstruction

Oldest Known Photo of Vance House

This photograph of the former Vance house is believed to be the oldest in existence (c. 1900s). 

Zebulon Vance, former governor and United States Senator for North Carolina, was born in 1830 in the structure thought to have been built by his grandfather, David Vance Sr., in the 1790s. Over a century later, site planners, including Bob Conway and Sam Tarlton, wanted to honor Zebulon Vance by preserving his birthplace. The Vance house, however, was in a state of considerable disrepair, and had been for some time. How could the site planners ensure structural security and safety for the future?

Old Vance House Additions

Image documenting the state of the former Vance house in the 1950s. 

Like many dwellings, the former Vance house was altered over time to fit the needs of its residents: the generations of Vances, the later generations of Hemphills, and finally the tenants of J. L. Wheeler. An addition was built to the back of the house (pictured), the second story was knocked down to a loft, the chimney shortened, and the original logs were covered with weatherboarding, among other changes. The site planners were more interested in presenting the house as it might have been when Zebulon Vance was born there. Was it possible to reverse the many structural changes? 

Saddlebag Plan

The former Vance house was constructed in a saddlebag style (an example shown here) which is characterized by rooms built on either side of a central fireplace.   

The site planners decided that deconstructing most of the Vance house and creating a new structure entirely was the best solution to the challenges that they faced. In this way, they could present a style of architecture similar to the look of the Vance house when Zebulon was born. They could also design a log structure that would better withstand the elements and function as a public educational site, rather than as a dwelling place. The site planners enlisted the guidance of William Dodge Jr., architect from Asheville, to reconstruct the Vance house on the site of the original foundation. For this new project, they preserved the saddlebag floor plan, many of the old building techniques, the original fireplace, and sections of the flooring from the former Vance house.

A Plan for Reconstruction