The story below is an excerpt from our May/June 2015 issue. For the full story download our FREE iOS app or view our digital edition for FREE today!
The cherished Mill Mountain home offers more than spectacular views. Rockledge has a rich history now in the careful, conscientious hands of Drs. Nancy and Kevin Dye.
As children we read about the “old house in Paris that was covered in vines,” which served as the setting for countless tales of mischief, whimsy and friendship. From the outset, the old, vine-covered house is only the tip of the iceberg. The same can be said of many homes in the Roanoke Valley, but one home in particular ignites our curiosity.
Situated on the side of Mill Mountain high above the city, Rockledge is a local landmark enrobed in history and elegance. The house was built in 1929 by William Henritze, an entrepreneur who moved to Roanoke from West Virginia with his mother, sisters and brother in the early 1900s. “The Magic City,” as it was called at the time, was one of the fastest-growing cities on the East Coast and boasted a prosperous location – halfway between New York and Atlanta – and a progressive railway system.
Henritze, who purchased the entirety of Mill Mountain and owned the Roanoke Theatre, took it upon himself to develop the area and open it up to the public, first by paving the Old Switchback Road and constructing the “Loop-the-Loop” bridge for automobiles and pedestrians. It was 1924; the project cost Henritze and his brother, John, $90,000. That is equivalent to $1.2 million today. For 25 cents per vehicle, 12 1/2 cents per passenger and 15 cents per pedestrian, locals and tourists alike could quickly and safely travel up the mountain and take in the views of the valley.
Today, Rockledge is home to Drs. Nancy and Kevin Dye, who purchased the home in 2005 from former Roanoke Mayor Ralph Smith. The Dyes are only the fourth owners of Rockledge. Following Henritze’s death in 1957, his daughters took charge of the home’s upkeep until selling it in 1988. But unlike Rockledge’s previous owners, Kevin and Nancy did not move in right away. Instead, they began a laborious renovation that lasted three years.
“We knew we wanted to respect the original structure and its integrity,” Nancy says. “We also wanted to be sensitive to the mountainside setting.”
The fruits of their labor? A glorious and beautifully preserved piece of history to call home.
Upon entering the foyer, you are embraced by the original Mississippi gum wood paneling, inlaid wood floors, and banana wood sconces. The staircase is solid, and curves invitingly towards the top two levels of the house. A 19th-century statue of a China girl offers you a cup of tea as you walk through the foyer and into the library, which houses, among other treasures, a letter to Charles Lindbergh from his sister commemorating his arrival in Paris, and an Indian Tomahawk arrowhead. Just off the library is the radio room, named for an original radio antenna discovered in the paneling during the renovation that, when connected to a 1931 radio, still has reception.
Every room in the house – from the small powder room to the Dyes’ daughter’s room upstairs – tells a story. Actually, stories. In the living room, the original doors and windows with beveled glass offer the view of the valley that Henritze and his family saw every day. The pietra dura panel over the radio room fireplace is the same panel that surveyed Henritze’s daughters as they huddled around the radio during World War II blackouts. The Western Electric Interphone on the wall in an upstairs bedroom is the same phone with which Henritze’s mother probably called down for tea.
More than restoring it to its original glory, the Dyes endeavored to preserve a piece of history by furnishing the home with antiques acquired from cities all over the country, including New Orleans, Chicago and St. Louis. A 19th-century French bronze d’or Baccarat crystal chandelier in the foyer; a pair of “tot cribs” circa 1912, originally owned by famed husband and wife dance team Irene and Vernon Castle, in the upstairs den; an English sideboard circa 1800 with original brass splashback in the dining room.
“The craftsmanship is extraordinary, and Mr. Henritze incorporated features that reflected his travels,” Nancy says. “We carefully chose lighting fixtures et cetera to be in accordance with the style of the house and the spirit of the day.”
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And for more information about the works of art the Dyes have collected throughout their home, click here.