No telling how many vintage pictures and historic portraits hang on the walls of Vivian Riegelman’s century-old house in downtown Waxhaw. Certainly more than scores. Hundreds, perhaps? “I have no idea,” she says with a laugh. “Lots, though.”And she has to straighten a few of them every time a train rumbles by on the tracks that bisect the town’s core, creating the parallel Main Streets that add to the charm of this small Union County town south of Charlotte.She starts a warm story about her house and its furnishings as she pauses to touch a gilded frame. The place is filled with Victorian furniture and accessories. Many of the pictures are advertising images from the era. She’s a certified appraiser as well as a long-time collector, so her stories are factual as well as fun. (Really fun, as you’ll see in a moment.)What’s more, her late husband was a serious student of Carolinas history and the Civil War. He filled entire walls with books about his favorite subject – and hung pictures of key historical figures. There’s a large, well-known lithograph of a British officer threatening young Andrew Jackson, who would leave the Waxhaw area to become U.S. president.
TAKE A TOURStepping through Vivian Riegelman’s front door is like stepping back into time, which you’ll be able to do when the house is featured on the Holiday Tour of Homes hosted by the Waxhaw Woman’s Club. Her home will be one of seven on this year’s tour on Dec. 4 and Dec. 5. The club hosts the event to raise money for scholarships and historic preservation.Riegelman’s home is at 316 W. North Main Street. That would be the Main Street north of the tracks. The house, known as the Heath-Massey House, was built about 1898 by prosperous businessman A.W. Heath, who operated a store and mill in downtown Waxhaw. After his death in 1906, the house went to his daughter, Maude, and her husband, Charles Massey. A few years later, the house would become the first in Waxhaw to get electricity. Power came from an on-site generator. Massey would serve in the N.C. Senate in 1937.The house remained in the family until the Riegelmans bought it in 1982. From the front door, a long, wide hall runs down the center of the one-story house. From the wallpapered ceiling to the beadboard wainscoting, the place looks frozen in time. It even smells like your great-grandmother’s house. The dark, stained woodwork throughout looks original.The real story, Vivian Riegelman reveals, is even more intriguing.Historic records show that the house was created in stages, just before and after the turn of the last century. Those distinctive X-shaped brick columns and pilasters on the front porch date to about the time the curved section of porch was enclosed to create a sunroom. And the Riegelmans themselves had to move out and rebuild, after an electrical fire in the early 1990s. “We had a major fire here,” Vivian Riegelman says. “We were out of the house for three years, from 1993 to 1996.... The house has been redone.”Many of the details are original, but others aren’t. “We remembered the beadboard,” she says. “Whether we got the ceiling moldings correct, we don’t know.”The ceilings are stunning, and Riegelman starts her narrated tour there.
WALLPAPER WONDEROriginally, the house had beadboard ceilings. Over the years, during bouts of “improvements,” they had been wallpapered over. After the fire, the insurance adjustor offered the Riegelmans a choice: They could choose either beadboard or wallpaper.They decided on Victorian-era reproduction wallpaper. The paper is printed in deep, rich colors of the period. Blues and greens, browns and golds, in strong geometric patterns. Using careful measurements, the art wallpaper company Bradbury & Bradbury produced individual pieces of paper to fit precisely on the ceilings and upper walls.The mitered pattern matches on the ceiling are perfect, and a wide wall border extends 18 inches below the crown molding.As an appraiser, Riegelman is an expert on furniture and collectibles from the 18th, 19th and early 20th century. She is certified by American and international appraisal societies. She has been collecting everything from velvet chairs to hand-blown perfume bottles for a half century. But, she says with another hearty laugh, “I’m really an expert on Snoopy.”Yes, that Snoopy.The cartoon beagle from “Peanuts” peeks from shelves and tabletops. A Snoopy lunch box leans against a low shelf of scholarly volumes about the Civil War.“He just grew on me,” she says. “I collected a few pieces, then everyone started to bring me Snoopy gifts.”
FOUR FIREPLACESThe central hall is wide and bright, with sunlight spilling in from each end. It’s an engaging space, not just a corridor to get from one room to another. Stairs rise from the hall to Riegelman’s office tucked into the attic.A lamp sits atop the stairs’ newel post. A young woman cast in metal clutches two crystal globes that light up with the flick of a switch.To the right of the wide hall are library, dining room and kitchen.To the left are the living room, and then the master bedroom with attached bath and office. That familiar print of young Andrew Jackson standing up to a sword-wielding British officer hangs in the library. It’s labeled, “Brave Boy of the Waxhaws,” and was first published in 1876 by Currier & Ives. Jackson, who would become the seventh U.S. president, was taken prisoner by the British when just a teenager. He balked at shining an officer’s shoes.Jackson was born in “the Waxhaws.” Both states claim him. (Jackson always thought he was born in S.C., according to a recent biography – but he’s not around to enter the debate.)The dining room is anchored by a fireplace, one of four in the house. There were five, but one was closed to accommodate a full wall of bookcases. Riegelman says the oak fireplace surrounds are original. Historic surveys say they might have been added at different times – but that was a century ago, and the golden patina reflects the years.The kitchen cabinets are stained oak and, at first glance, seem a match to dark woodwork throughout. They’re not, though. Victorians didn’t enjoy large kitchens like this one. This modern kitchen with tile countertops was created after the fire, with careful allegiance to the rest of the home.The living room, off the hall to the left of the front door, features a pair of prim settees facing each other. They’re antiques from the Victorian era. The tassels hanging above the window seat in the bay window are a little more recent. Vivian Riegelman made them from silky braided rope and twisted fringe. “I got the idea from a Victorian book, and liked the look.”The master bedroom is the only one in the house. “My friends tell me that I have the biggest one-bedroom house they’ve ever seen,” she says. Walls are pink – and, because ceilings are 12 feet high, the visual impact is arresting. There’s nothing demure about this hue.The original clawfoot tub sits just inside the adjacent bathroom.David Riegelman’s office is off the bedroom, too. His passions are easy to discern. A bookcase rises to the ceiling on the wall where the fireplace used to be. Civil War books are well thumbed. Large pictures of Andrew Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Frederick Douglass, Jefferson Davis and other important historical figures hang on the walls.Tucked into a corner is a rack with his favorite jazz and swing CDs. Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Eddie Condon. David was a serious music buff, too.If you look closely you’ll spot a picture of the late Frank McCourt, author of the memoir “Angela’s Ashes” about growing up in Ireland. McCourt taught at Stuyvesant High School in New York City with Vivian Riegelman’s brother. When David visited the city, Vivian remembers, he and McCourt would hit the pubs to swap stories.McCourt is sporting an enigmatic grin – sort of like Snoopy.
Want to go?Holiday Tour of Homes hosted by Waxhaw Woman’s Club. The tour features both historic and modern homes, and this year’s theme is “Waxhaw, Now & Then.” Saturday, Dec. 4, 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 5, 1-5 p.m.Historic downtown Waxhaw and the nearby Cureton neighborhood. The three downtown sites are within walking distance of each other, as are the four in Cureton. Refreshments will be served at the historic Belk Building, 200 Main St. (N.C. 75), where tour maps will be available. Admission: Tickets are $20; groups of four or more, $15. Available in advance through Treasurer Peggy Dvorak, 704-843-3945 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Make checks available to WWC. Tickets available at the Belk Building during the tour.