Trends. We find ourselves falling in and out of love with them but one trend that seems to only be gaining momentum is the love for old houses. Many of these sought-after houses can be located along the east coast as the earliest settlers arrived there and established communities as early as 1668. In the most northeastern part of North Carolina, in the early 1800’s, a fishing village came to fruition and when the county was established it was named Currituck after the Currituck Sound which is an inlet to the area.
With Currituck’s northern Outer Banks beaches spanning 20 miles, its most certainly an attractive location for home buyers looking for both history and gorgeous scenery like Johnny and Christina Cison. They both share a passion for old houses and are among the forces of those trying to save an old home. “Once an old home is torn down, that history and craftsmanship is lost forever. It’s everybody’s history, the story of all our ancestors. I love feeling the connection to and honoring the past, while leaving a legacy for the future.” Christina shared.
While COVID-19 cases began to grow within the borders of the United States in the earlier part of 2020, Johnny and Christina Cison were in the middle of chasing their dream of old home ownership. The Cison’s owned what many family’s often look for, a newer bigger house, but instead of seeking out an even larger home for themselves and their young daughter, Christina and Johnny were looking to downsize. The couple were tired of spending their money on a big house and had committed to eliminating all the things they had accumulated. They not only sold their furniture, but Christina went through every single shelf, drawer, cabinet, closet, and room eliminating what she felt was only holding her back from the freedom she was looking for.
As the Cison’s packed up their home and listed it for sale, Christina and Johnny relentlessly searched for an old house to call home. They explored properties listed as land for sale and at times a home would be on the property that was seen as having no value due to its poor condition. They even pursued an endangered old house but unfortunately it led them to another dead end. In the meantime, they witnessed old homes being demolished. Christina even went to the extent of begging owners to allow them to salvage or buy the homes they did not want but even then, they were met with a firm “no.”
The hunt for their home was on going and while still searching the Cison’s sold their home, moved their belongings into storage units and settled into a rental along the ocean ready to regroup. One week after settling in, their luck changed. Christina received an email regarding a listing she had saved years ago on Zillow, a circa 1880’s home complete with most of its original features including wood floors, light fixtures, doors, hardware, and wavy glass windows. The property even included a 1930’s gas station and general store that was once a major stopping point for locals and travelers headed to the Outer Banks. (learn more about the gas station’s history here.)
“Less than two hours after it listed, before even completed or gone live with the second part of the listing, we had an appointment in the morning to tour. We knew before we even stepped foot on the property it was ours.” Christina recalled. What Christina didn’t expect was next to be discovered when stepping into the 1880’s house.
Johnny and Christina knew before even touring, this would be the house they would call home. Their relators even arrived with their offer prepared so it could be submitted immediately. When stepping into the home and passing through to the second room, Christina spotted a photograph framed of her childhood piano teacher who just so happened to be a close friend to the owner. Later that night, Christina received a message from the woman who they sold their couch to asking if they were the couple who toured the house and wouldn’t you know it, it was her aunt’s home. Forced to wait for two days while others toured the home, Christina wrote a letter to the owner in an attempt of expressing their genuine love and dedication for the home and its history hoping it would be enough to tip the scales in their favor, and it did.
State shutdowns began due to the pandemic, impacting the Cison’s closing that eventually happened March of 2020. The Cison’s and their daughter only moved in about 10% of their belongings due to the work that needed immediately completed. “In an ideal world, we’d be able to afford a small modular home on our back lot to live in while we work on this home,” Christina explained, but for them the best option was to move in and begin living the dream they had worked so hard to obtain.
First on Johnny and Christina’s to-do-list was treating the powder post beetles that eat wood, sealing the crawlspace and installing a dehumidifier system for elevated penicillium/aspergillus mold spores, and fixing several snapped beams under which left the floors unsupported and unstable. Next, the couple needed to clean all surfaces with lead dust cleaner while running HEPA vacuum and an air scrubber and sealing off high friction lead paint areas in effort to not contaminate the house until they could remedy those areas. If that was not enough, the HVAC system was over 20 years old and out of order and the hot water heater, from 1982, was on its way out. Christina and Johnny added a couple more things to their list when finding a leaky toilet nearly fell through the crawlspace along with the rotted floor beams underneath. Puddles soon joined them in their kitchen every time it rained and while Christina has measured the temperature in their kitchen at 113 degrees during those warmer North Carolina months, even the rain was certainly not a welcomed guest to their table.
While most home buyers expect to move into a home ready to be furnished, others are willing to live among the beautiful mess of renovation because they have a vision and often a deep appreciation for the history of the home. When asking Johnny why he loves living in an old home, he explained, “I love living amongst its history, and knowing that all the work we’re putting into it to restore it will preserve that. I love how unique all its parts are. Nothing is uniform, from the window and door sizes all the way down to the joists and studs, which is a pleasant reminder that they were all put together for this home and not churned out in some assembly line. The stairs don’t have a standard rise and run, so just something as simple as walking up and down the stairs each day reminds me that I get to live in an old home!”
Over the past year, Christina referred to her small collection of local history books and was successful in her findings. She learned that the famed local doctor, Dr. Wright, was born in their living room (Click here to read more) and discovered the Scott family built their home. Using the Find a Grave website, she was able to find and contact the descendants of the Scott family and shares the following, “It is such an amazing feeling to have that connection to the original family. My mom, daughter, and I also found the small family cemetery the first lady of our house is buried in. She passed away at age 28, leaving behind 3 small daughters. It was important to me, as the current lady of the house, to visit and feel that presence. I love knowing that our family is just one piece of our home’s long history and hope make previous families proud in our stewardship.”
The Cison’s have not found a direct link to historical ties but have learned a home just down the road hosted Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937. While a home may or may not have hosted a special guest such as FDR, Christina likes to think outside of the box. “It’s cool to imagine our house was standing in 1903 during the Wright Brother’s first flight. I imagine them arriving from Ohio, driving south past the front of our house. Also, it’s crazy to think our home has now kept families safe during two pandemics.” Christina shared.
Just over 140 years of providing refuge to families through hurricanes, tornados and even a full move back away from the road, Christina finds the lesson of “patience, persistence, a connection to a simpler, slower way of life, and appreciation for the little things and modern amenities” to absolutely be worth the inconveniences they may be facing and living through now.
There is plenty more to see of Johnny and Christina’s home. They are currently tackling fire blocking and insulation in the living room, restoring a bathroom, addressing structural repairs, and they hope to move onto the kitchen which has been gutted for a year and cleverly set up with cupboards from the barn, free shelves, sink, and a salvaged dishwasher. Don’t miss out on what these amazing caretakers are doing! Be a part of their journey by joining their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ourcornerofcurrituck or find them on Instagram @ourcornerofcurrituck.
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