Edenton home to state’s oldest house

By Rebecca Bunch

Staff Writer

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Edenton can now add being the home of the oldest house in North Carolina to its list of historical assets.

The news was officially confirmed by dendrochronologist Michael Worthington of Baltimore-based Oxford-Tree Ring Laboratory to a small group of onlookers at noon on Friday.

Steve Lane, who along with his wife, currently owns the property — a one and a half story house at 304 East Queen Street — said they were amazed to learn that the house dates back to 1718.

Worthington was on the front porch of the home Friday flanked by Steve Lane and former owner Ruby Vopelak to announce the results.

“This is one of the most exciting moments in my career,” Worthington commented after the announcement. He said that dendrochronology — using tree ring dating — during the past two decades has become a highly accurate tool for dating historic buildings.

Also present for the announcement was Reid Thomas, a restoration specialist with the eastern division of the State Historic Preservation Office.

“I think this is just fabulous news, especially coming during the town’s (Edenton) 300th anniversary year,” said Bob Quinn, chairman of the planning committee for the celebration who was present at the announcement.

Worthington said that at first glance the house appears to have been built around 1900 since it has a tin roof and asbestos siding, but that is not the case. Closer inspection, however, revealed that the home contains features such as beaded weatherboarding that tie the house instead to the 18th century, he said.

Worthington added that it also appears there may have originally been two staircases within the house. He termed the house “a very unique structure” among homes in North Carolina.

Thomas noted that the dwelling might not currently be in its original location. He said that an inspection of the well-known 1769 Sauthier Map of Edenton does not show a building in the area that appears to be the current location of the house.

Lane said that he and his wife bought the property from Vopelak with the intention of restoring and then renting the house. Lane hired a local carpenter, Wayne Griffin, to handle the necessary work. It was initially Griffin who noticed some clues such as pegs used in the home’s construction that made him think the house might be older than originally thought, Lane said.

Once Griffin shared his opinion with the owners, work on the house came to a stop, Steve Lane said. Lane said that a respected local cabinetmaker, Don Jordan, got involved, as did preservationist Sambo Dixon, an Edenton attorney.

Thomas praised the Lanes for supporting the work done so far and their commitment to the work that remains to be done in the future.

“Without the Lanes’ interest, patience and financial commitment to this project, this house would likely have been lost,” Thomas said.

Steve Lane said that he is uncertain at this point what the future holds for the house. A first priority, he said, would be “to do everything possible to stabilize and take care of the house.”

Vopelak said she had owned the house for 18 years prior to its sale. Her mother called it home for 22 years before that, Vopelak said.

During the brief ceremony announcing the news, Vopelak and her two daughters listened in apparent surprise.

Vopelak’s daughter Mary Waff said the news came as a complete surprise to the family.

“I’m amazed,” Waff said. “I never thought this would turn out to be the oldest house in the state.”