Celebrating Ayr Mount: Trust preserves ca. 1815 estate

CorrespondentOctober 25, 2013 

— Jazz standards floated across the rolling meadows of Ayr Mount on Wednesday as more than 200 historic-home lovers celebrated the 20th anniversary of the foundation whose goal is to ensure the estate will remain part of the community for generations.

Established in 1993 by Wall Street financier Richard Hampton Jenrette, the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust acquired Ayr Mount from him that same year. The Raleigh native had bought the circa-1815, Federal-style plantation home in 1984 from the widow of the last living descendant of the Kirkland family.

“I bought the house thinking I might retire from Wall Street and teach,” Jenrette said. “It was a nice distance between my alma mater, UNC, and Duke University where I served on the Duke Endowment at the time. However, I got called back into more active duty – 55 is too young to retire – so living full-time at Ayr Mount wasn’t meant to be for me.”

The simple brick house stands on 265 acres (half the size of the Kirkland’s original plantation) at 376 Saint Marys Road. The love and resources Jenrette poured into restoring and opening it to the public earned him an official accolade from Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens, who presented a key to the town made by local jeweler Dallas Pridgen.

Jenrette said the thanks should go to Bill and Schatzie Crowther, “who are really the heart and soul of this home now.”

The Crowthers live in a home near Ayr Mount and have worked for many years with local artisans and statewide organizations to restore and maintain it.

Bypass defeated

The trust hired Preservation North Carolina to manage Ayr Mount from 1993 until 2011. Myrick Howard, president of Preservation North Carolina, called Ayr Mount “a wonderful gift to North Carolina” and said the agency was “thankful that our part in managing it saved it from the Hillsborough Bypass.”

The bypass was proposed in 1969 as a way to reduce traffic on Churton Street in Hillsborough’s historic downtown. It would have put four lanes of traffic across the Eno River near St. Marys Road and through Ayr Mount, as well as disturbed the site of the Occoneechee Speedway, the only track left from NASCAR’s 1949 inaugural season. Opposition from local leaders and the community killed it.

Jenrette also praised Todd Dickinson and Chip Callaway for the work their companies did to restore Ayr Mount after Jenrette bought it.

“It was nice to work on something that was almost 200 years old and know that it will last another 200 years,” Dickinson said. “Thanks to the preservation trust that Mr. Jenrette created, Ayr Mount will be locked in for our children and their children.”

“The biggest challenge for me was to create vistas from the house to the Eno River as they would have been when the Kirklands lived here,” said Callaway. “And that was hard when the predominant view when I started was barb wire fence and poison ivy.”

Callaway also talked about restoring the family cemetery on the property and the archeological digs that uncovered an old wagon train road, the foundation of an old stone circular barn, a plantation road and 12 to 15 dependencies – traces of old corn cribs, privies and trash pits where shards of broken pottery and other items allowed a look at how the Kirkland family decorated their home.

For others to enjoy

As a former sports writer for the Raleigh Times and News & Observer, Jenrette, now 84, loves a good story. He has a lilt in his voice when he talks of the houses in which he has lived and become custodian of over the past 40 years.

Living in his homes has made him appreciate how previous owners lived, especially as some of the original furniture and family portraits are returned and restored. Still, he sees himself more as a custodian than an owner and says he wants to make sure others enjoy the homes, not just to tour, but to enjoy a concert, picnic or wedding or walk through gardens and along trails.

Amy Gorley and her husband, John Bemis, have enjoyed Ayr Mount for many years and now bring their daughter, Rose, along with them.

“We come here often and have walked Poet’s Walk for the past 15 years,” Gorley said.

“The house at Ayr Mount will be 200 years old in 2015 and we want to have several events commemorating the milestone,” Jenrette said. “There will be Scottish bagpipes as would have been played when the Kirklands lived here and maybe some other concerts. We want people to enjoy this home.”

Keeney: shkeeney@yahoo.com or 919-932-0879.

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