An effort to save and restore the historic J. Sidna Allen Home in Fancy Gap is underway.
Incorporated in December of 2011, the J. Sidna Allen Home Foundation, Inc. held its first meeting Aug. 27 at the home, which is considered one of the most historical landmarks in Carroll County. Shelby Puckett, who is temporarily presiding over the group during its infancy stages, called the meeting a walk-through to begin organizing plans. The group is still recruiting new board members, she said. Although several members of the Carroll County Historical Society are a part of the foundation, she said that the project is the idea of owners Bonnie Wood and her brother Stanley Widener, who inherited the home when their father, Bert Widener, passed away in 2011.
Built in 1911, the home is registered as a National Historic Landmark and a Virginia Historic Landmark. The home is a remarkably rich example of Queen Anne architectural style situated on a commanding position in the hills of Fancy Gap.
“Sidna Allen had dreamed of owning the finest home in Carroll County for many years and this house was his personal creation and realization of that dream. But that dream was shattered in 1912 during the infamous Carroll County Courthouse shootout,” the Foundation writes in its business plan to restore the home. “Sidna Allen was a member of the so-called ‘Allen Clan’ that was involved in the Hillsville courthouse massacre in which five people were killed including county officials and Judge Thornton Massie. At the time, Sidna Allen’s brother, Floyd, was on trial for allegedly helping his two nephews escape from police custody. After the first shot (whose stories never have been accurately determined), a barrage of fire and general melee ensued. Sidna Allen, who always maintained his innocence, was sentenced to life imprisonment, along with several others, and two members of the Allen family were executed. Soon after the shooting, Sidna Allen’s home, finished only one year before the shootout, was confiscated by the state.”
The plan lists the business intent for the J. Sidna Allen Home to be open to the public as a museum and community cultural center where visitors can learn about its remarkable architectural features and historical significance.
“It could be an ideal place for tours, community events, concerts, weddings and meetings,” the plan states. “The main business intent is to preserve and protect this national and state historical landmark so that many generations can learn about its importance and significance in Carroll County’s history.”
Hoping to bring the home to its former glory
Wood, Promotions Manager for ABC-affiliate WJLA of Washington, D.C., said the idea to restore the J. Sidna Allen Home was borne out of past conversations she and her brother had with Dallas Garrett, a former director of the Small Business Development Center at the Crossroads Institute in Galax.
“It’s always been on my mind and my brother’s mind what we are going to do with it. But I live in Washington and I’m not quite ready to move back and I don’t have the resources. My brother doesn’t have the resources it’s going to take,” Wood said. “It is going to take a lot of money to get it where it should be, so always in the back of my mind I’ve thought we need to create a foundation.”
She said she and her brother are still grieving about her father’s passing, but got the encouragement to move forward when Garrett sent her a letter telling her a foundation ought to be set up to save the house. That led to a meeting between the family and Garrett, who was instrumental in the renovation of another famous Carroll County landmark, the Hale-Wilkinson-Carter Home in Hillsville.
“He brought out the plan they had used to build the foundation for that and he said, ‘You can do this,’” Wood said. “He just really showed me and my brother what we needed to do to get it started.”
After that meeting, the J. Sidna Allen Home Foundation became incorporated in December of last year. Two months later, papers were submitted seeking to become a 501c3 non-profit tax-exempt organization, and Wood put together a business plan. In March, during the 100th anniversary of the Carroll County Courthouse Tragedy, Puckett called Wood asking if the house could be opened for visitors in town for the centennial ceremonies.
“That’s when I told her about the foundation and what we are trying to do. She said this would be a great way to get the word out, have people come in, have tours and get people excited about it,” Wood said. “I had my business plan there so people could look at it. It was open by donation only, so we have some money now from those tours.”
Since that time, Wood said she and Puckett have been in contact about how to move forward and to identify people in the community interested in the history of the house. While Wood is excited about the possibility of restoring the home, she knows it will not be an easy undertaking.
“It’s going to take a village. My brother and I cannot do it together. The community has to support it, the county has to support it, and that is what we are trying to do,” Wood said. “We want to get it fixed up, not for us to live in, we want it to honor our mom and dad and our grandparents, who bought it in 1945. We want to honor our family by restoring it and having it as a community center or a historic attraction where people can come and learn about the history.”
Wood said the home would stay in the control of her family, but that she and her brother would most likely lease it to the foundation so that it can be kept going for many years after it has been restored.
“For the county and for the history, we basically have to save it,” Wood said.
Wood said she thinks the home still has a strong foundation, but said it will need a lot of work. Nearly 40 years ago in 1974, a nomination form to get the house recognized as a national landmark noted then that the house was in “poor condition.” But interest in the home remains high, Wood said, noting Puckett recently told someone she was going to the meeting Aug. 27, prompting a promise to donate $200.
“People really want to fix this house because of the history. I just know it’s going to happen. It’s a lot of work and a lot of money, but I know we will get it just by the response we have received,” Wood said. “People are just finding out that we are creating this, and I think once the word gets out even more people will want to help. I think it will be a great thing for Carroll County.”
Wood said she believes the J. Sidna Allen Home Foundation will elect officers at its next meeting. She hopes to start a website and a facebook page soon, which will make it easier for her to stay in contact with the project from the nation’s capital. In the meantime anyone interested in the project can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to contact her.
“We’re excited and we hope it can happen,” Wood said.
Puckett believes the project would also be a major boon for tourism in Carroll County.
“Any time we have a meeting it is amazing how many people stop by and want to come here. So it’s not only preserving the history, but the potential of tourists coming to stop and then coming to Hillsville to see other historical places has strong potential,” she said. “That’s the intent of everybody. We want to see the home restored, stabilized and preserved, and down the road if you could get it restored to what it was in 1910, what a wonderful thing. I really hope the people in Carroll County will get behind this effort and feel as strong about saving the home as we do.”