Homes We Love Series: From a carefully restored historic American Foursquare in High Point (you can stay here!), to a farmhouse with family touches in Lumberton to a mountain couple’s warm and rustic home and vacation cabin in Brevard (yep, you can stay here too), these comfortable spots in North Carolina have us eager to kick off our shoes and settle in.
The house on the wooded hill was an ideal respite when, in 1935, a young novelist and literary critic named Hamilton Basso moved in. The hassle and noise — not to mention the expense — of life in New York City had nudged the New Orleans native and his wife back down South, and eventually to Brevard. Writing came easier in the rambling house called Partridge Hill, overlooking the French Broad River valley, where only a distant train whistle could break the spell of isolation.
That is, until Thomas Wolfe came to town. Basso and Wolfe had become fast friends through their mutual editor, Maxwell Perkins. When Wolfe finally returned to the Asheville area to reckon with the place and family he never could quite escape, it was Basso who welcomed him home. In a letter left at the post office, Basso wrote on the outside: “Postmaster: Will you be good enough to hold this until the arrival of the addressee, whose presence will be made known, probably, by an earthquake or some other violent upheaval.”
Charles and Jean Brendle, the owners of Partridge Hill since 1994, have learned enough about both writers to understand what sort of upheaval a Wolfe visit could cause. “He would stay for days to talk about their work, books, other writers,” Jean says. “One time, Wolfe and his family came to visit, and poor Basso’s wife didn’t have anything in the house to serve them but half of a chocolate cake.”
The Brendles have their own tiny earthquakes to keep the nine-acre property lively: 15 grandchildren. And the house, which has been owned by four families since the Bassos, is every bit the warm, gracious farmhouse one imagines it once was. Still, Charles says, “we needed space for overflow.” His son, a civil engineer, sketched a design for a classic cabin, perched on the bluff above Partridge Hill. The whimsical two-bedroom house — called The Partridge Nest — is a getaway, not just for family, but also for anyone hoping to find the same woodland quiet that Wolfe and Basso once filled with their brash ideas and aching stories.
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Artists of all sorts have been drawn to Partridge Hill. A potter who lived there in the 1970s threw her failed vessels into the gully. A weaver and architect owned the house before Charles and Jean; Angora goats roamed the pasture and a loom stood in what is now the Brendles’ bedroom. Jean, who has a background in interior designer, found a perfect muse here — a place to leave her mark, too.
She and Charles first toured the house on a Wednesday at lunchtime; by Friday they’d put in an offer. Literary pedigree was only part of the appeal: The place has oodles of charm, like the hand-carved spindles on the wraparound porch. Adjacent to the property is an ancient cemetery and a church. During construction of The Partridge Nest in 2003, the little chapel allowed workers to park there and walk through the woods to the building site. Later, Jean says, “we found out that the workmen had pooled together to make a contribution to the church as a thank-you.”
The cabin is hemmed in by laurel and rhododendron. One of Charles’s many interior projects — he painted walls and installed floorboards and tile — was building a dramatic stair railing out of rhododendron branches. Finding 170 branches that were the right thickness and relatively straight, and aligning them to code — four inches apart — was maddening. “I have nightmares about them every night,” he jokes.
The Nest may be a new chapter in Partridge Hill’s story, but the farmhouse will always draw Wolfe fans and literary romantics. Years ago, Charles struck up a friendship with a fellow Citadel alumnus, novelist Pat Conroy, who’d come up to Cashiers to write for much the same reason that Basso holed up in Brevard. “I told Pat about our house, and wanted him to come over and sit on the porch where Basso and Wolfe used to talk,” Charles says.
Conroy, who was a great admirer of both writers, sent Charles three first-edition Basso novels, including his most acclaimed one, The View from Pompey’s Head. The note, though short, spoke volumes: “Here are the Basso books. I’m sending them home to the place they were born.”