Ken Corn started digging the footings for his south Asheville home on Election Day, Nov. 4, 1952, the day Dwight D. Eisenhower won the presidency.
The white frame house on a hill was Corn's pride and joy.
But the front yard is now largely gone, taken by the N.C. Department of Transportation as part of a project to widen Long Shoals Road.
The busy highway will soon be just a few feet from Corn's front door.
“DOT only demolished the property up to the front steps,” said Mary Corn, Ken Corn's daughter-in-law. “Now an 86-year-old World War II veteran lives there dealing with the trauma of property destruction.”
The Asheville Citizen-Times reported that all that's left of Corn's front yard is a sidewalk running parallel to the front of the house, bordered by a sliver of grass less than a foot wide. Beyond that sliver is a sheer drop to the red earth of the construction project far below.
“Since this started, I can physically see the difference in Daddy,” said Mike Corn, Ken's son and Mary's husband. “He's weaker – you can see it. Eight months ago he didn't have to use a cane … and now he can't do without it. It's really been hard on him.”
The front yard's sheer drop will eventually become a more gradual grade, with a guardrail separating Corn's property from the highway.
But for now there is barely room for Corn, 86, to put down the tip of his cane.
Corn is one of 24 property owners affected by the “build and design” project, according to Robert Haskett Jr. of the N.C. DOT.
The work will create a divided four-lane highway with wider outside lanes to accommodate bicycle traffic.
When a project begins, N.C. DOT agents meet with property owners to explain how their property will be affected, said Rick Tipton, an N.C. DOT construction engineer.
Using independent appraisers, property owners are compensated with the fair market value of the land the N.C. DOT acquires and for any damage to remaining property, Tipton said.
If a negotiated settlement is not reached, the state exercises eminent domain and files papers to condemn and acquire the property, he said.
Corn moved his family into the house he built in 1953 and over the years planted dozens of flowering bushes, native trees and other plants. Most of those are now gone.
Members of the Corn family said they understand growth must happen, and people sometimes pay the price for progress. But they aren't convinced the price being offered is enough.
Mike Corn said the state offered one amount to settle, then upped the offer. The family refused both.
“Daddy built this house in the early '50s, and it's got all this beautiful paneling and all, but the resale value now. … who's going to want to live in a house hanging out over a roadway?” Corn said.