File photo | Former owner Linda Southard points out the National Register of Historic Places marker on the front of the house.
by Emily-Sarah Lineback
A walk down Memory Lane takes Linda Southard to the corner of Summerfield Road and Oak Ridge Road in Summerfield. What most locals refer to as "the Martin House," she best remembers as her paternal grandparents' home. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the house has been a landmark in Southard's family for almost a century. She recently sold the house and a .62-acre lot to the Town of Summerfield.
"It's fitting for the town because it holds so much of this area's history," Southard, who also chairs Summerfield's Historic Committee, says as she hugs a bundle of documents that outlines details of the property's heritage.
The house is situated on land which dates back to Charles Bruce, after whom the area was once called Bruce's Crossroads. After Bruce died, his son sold 872 acres in 1835 to brothers James and Valentine Allen; James sold his share to Valentine two years later, and it was shortly thereafter that the Greek Revival-style house was built. The oldest known brick structure in Summerfield, it's also documented as one of the county's largest brick houses of the era.
"My grandparents [Andrew Jackson, or "A.J.," and Mattie Ayers] raised 10 children in this house," Southard says as she walks through the rooms, describing what used to occupy the space. The front room during the Ayers' ownership saw incarnations as A.J.'s office (in addition to farming, A.J. was a justice of the peace and notary public); in later years when the second-story stairs were too much of a climb, the room became the couple's bedroom. In more recent decades the house was split into apartments and the front room served as a living room for first-floor renters.
"When it was first built, we think this room was used by travelers as a public dining and resting space - the reason for its separate front door," Southard says. "Peering outside, one can imagine families traversing dusty crossroads back when boarding houses and private inns were rest area choices."
In 1838, Allen sold 448 acres including all structures to Alexander Strong Martin, the out-of-wedlock son of Alexander Martin, North Carolina's first governor. Martin owned the property for 11 years, after which it passed through several owners including Cicero Harris, whose six children inherited it around 1896. Harris' daughter, Dr. Joy Harris Glascock, became the third woman licensed to practice medicine in the state.
"When my grandfather bought the house and 100 acres in 1919, he cut a door from his office into what my grandmother used for her fabric shop," Southard says. "She had all kinds of cloth. Many people bought from her because back then, everybody sewed."
Even with the structure's needed renovations, Southard succeeds in transporting present-day visitors into her mind's eye, where she envisions it as a special place of past and possibility.
Then she pauses at a doorway and touches the surface: "These walls are 18 inches thick with handmade bricks, all of them." Original remaining details - an ornate wooden mantel, never-painted wood doors and old, wavy window glass - are another part of what makes the structure historically meaningful.
And for Southard, this meaning is inextricably sewn into her personal history. She moves through each room, conjuring up different points of the past with sweet ease: an upstairs room that was her Aunt Helen's beauty salon ("that's the sink she used"); a spot in front of the staircase where a table sat ("when my aunt lived here, she always had an arrangement of flowers - real flowers - on it"); the hallway, before her daddy closed it up by adding a closet ("when we'd run through from one end to the other!").
Standing in what once was the dining room, Southard points to the middle and says, "Right there was the table where we'd all eat" in shifts. "The whole extended family would come for holidays - and I have 20-some first cousins! We'd draw names for Thanksgiving...and we'd each have a gift for Christmas."
Structures, too, contain much more than memories; they capture a time slice and part of us. And in returning to them, like a funhouse mirror, we are reminded of who and what we were when we hadn't yet become who we are.
Southard looks out every window of every room upstairs and envisions it all: past, present, future. She recalls former businesses and proprietors long gone from an era when almost all of life was lived on a hyper-local level.
As she works her way to the back porch, Southard sighs. Beyond her, a large rock sits in the yard. "That's where Grandpa would cut the watermelons." She mentions the rock has been moved, but it doesn't lessen the fond memories.
"Our intersection will remain a critical crossroads...and purchasing this house was strategic," says Summerfield Town Manager Scott Whitaker of the purchase agreement the Town of Summerfield entered into last November with Southard; the sale was contingent on the Town preserving the primary structure, excluding add-ons. Whitaker confirms that the primary intent of the purchase was historic preservation, which aligns with the Town's comprehensive plan.
"It's exciting to think about the changes," Southard says as she imagines how the house might be used in the future. "A museum would be wonderful." Then she begins to surmise where a public restroom could be added, or what the downstairs hall would be like if it were completely open again.
"I can't wait to see what's next!" exclaims Southard.