Dr. Jane Pendleton Wootton recalled she was shocked, but also appreciatively overwhelmed by the support of others as she first viewed her ancestral home three years ago on the afternoon of August 23. Cuckoo Place had been severely damaged by the 5.8 magnitude earthquake since the epicenter was less than five miles south.
Both Dr. Jane, as she is known by friends in the community, and her husband Dr. Percy Wootton were in Richmond when a neighbor called to tell her of the catastrophe. A contractor, who had done previous work for the Woottons, the sheriff, friends, their grounds keeper and neighbors had already arrived and were trying to move furniture and valuables to safety since the older four-over-four front section of the house was so unstable they anticipated that it was about to fall in.
“The house looked like it had been bombed and the interior was dreadful,” she said. “The back part, which was added in the 1930s was more stable.”
Since the house is on the Virginia Landmark Registry, a conservator with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources arrived within hours and staff from that agency assisted the Woottons with maintaining the integrity of the house throughout the restoration.
Cuckoo Place has been in her family since 1818, and the site is famous as the starting point of Jack Jouett’s ride to warn Virginia legislators in Charlottesville of the approach of British soldiers during the American Revolution.
“We believe it was built on the foundation of the Cuckoo Tavern,” she said. “It was built by Captain Henry Pendleton and I am the seventh generation to live here. Percy and I bought the house from my parents’ estate while they were living and we have been stewards of the place since 1986.”
The historic house contained numerous portraits of Pendleton ancestors as well as more recent one of the Woottons and their three children. Most remained in place, but were askew so they had to be carefully handled. Antique furniture, including pieces collected by earlier generations and items added by the Woottons in their travels, were cautiously carried out. Drapes were taken down, rugs rolled and broken pieces collected and placed together in boxes. Hundreds of books in the library were packed. All items were sent to the appropriate businesses for cleaning, repair and/or storage.
“So many kind, wonderful people came to help us pack up items to take back to Richmond or place in climate-controlled storage,” she said. “Some friends even took home pieces for safe keeping until storage was arranged.”
The intensive process was aided by hired workmen, since the bedrooms and library on second floor were considered especially dangerous and the attic, with gaping holes, almost impassable. The four chimneys were virtually destroyed, and fallen plaster covered furniture, drapes and rugs. Roof tiles and chimney bricks, after falling through the attic floor, covered some bedspreads. Throughout the house, precious antique pieces and others of sentimental value were tossed on the floor. Some were broken beyond repair, others damaged and, fortunately some remained unscathed. The west wall of the house was virtually gone. Bricks covered the Woottons well-tended flower beds.
“Local friends and some from Richmond came and literally packed up every book, every teaspoon, the bedding, the knickknacks,” she said. “Even while some of them were dealing with their own damage.”
Scaffolding and tarps were quickly erected at both ends of the house, but Dr. Jane was disappointed to learn that the contractor had other commitments that delayed restoration for months.
“All that time, the house lay open to the elements,” she said. “Next, we had to deal with curious people who came and wandered through the place and on the grounds.”
To read the entire story, see the Aug. 21 edition of The Central Virginian.