Preservation in mind for owner of historic home turned wedding venue | Welcome Home

Kim J. Clark

Winridge Manor, tucked in rural Madison Heights, transformed into a bed and breakfast and a wedding venue since its initial construction as a private home — and its service-minded owner has visions for preserving its history and soul while expanding the property’s offerings.

The Southern Greek Revival manor was completed in 1910, said owner Racine Ghiz. Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, just outside of Lynchburg in Madison Heights, the property originally spanned about 100 acres and was first known as Winesap.

Wallace Taylor had the home built, said Ghiz and a previous owner-turned-neighbor, LoisAnn Pfister. Taylor is credited with the Piedmont Automobile endeavor. While Henry Ford was operating his pioneering automobile enterprise in Michigan, Taylor had attempted to create a car manufacturing hub in Virginia, but the venture ultimately did not meet with the success of Ford.

In a nod to Taylor and his Piedmont car, the groom’s room — a sort of parlor space to the right of the main foyer — displays model cars and old photos from around the Edwardian era — a period from roughly 1900-1910 — including one of Taylor himself.

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The property originally boasted orchards, a hog farm, and other agricultural endeavors, Ghiz said. Now the home retains just three acres, but has magnificent Blue Ridge Mountain views and pastureland adjacent.

In addition to functioning as a private home, the manor has a longstanding tradition of hospitality. It was made into a bed and breakfast, and later offered itself as a wedding venue.

Ghiz bought the home and moved in just three months ago, but she said she has had one or two weddings booked every weekend in the short time she has been operating. She hit the ground running, but has loved every minute of being the historic home’s new steward.

Ghiz said she found herself having to start over in life. With a background in psychology and seemingly innate organizational and management skills, she realized this challenge was an opportunity to chase her dream of owning a bed and breakfast.

She chose Winridge Manor after looking at eight potential homes in Virginia, plus others in different states. Ghiz fell in love with the historic Madison Heights property, however, and that was that.

The manor had passed through two other owners between Pfister’s time raising her family and operating the bed and breakfast there, and Ghiz’s purchase of the place. Pfister said Ghiz has been a wonderful fit for the manor; the two have become fast friends.

Four columns of three-inch Redwood grace the impressive front porch of the house, holding up a “haint-blue” ceiling, a color traditional to many old Southern homes.

When Pfister bought the house in 1989, she said the original columns were held together with rope and wires. Most of the renovations needed were cosmetic, such as re-painting and minor siding replacements; the place was structurally sound except for the iconic columns, so Pfister commissioned replacements to be constructed by a company based in Atlanta. The replicas cost thousands of dollars, she said, but were worth it.

Inside, Ghiz remained true to the home’s original era and history throughout her restorations and touch-ups, as well as décor choices.

The house still has its original chestnut wood flooring throughout, as well as four fireplaces. In the dining room, hidden under an area rug, the old servant’s bell also remains. The device allowed the mistress or master of the house to ring for a servant during dinner, Ghiz explained.

No additions have been constructed on the original house over the many years and owners. Everything there today is original. A few of the rooms have been switched from their original functions, though: the current kitchen was converted from the original butler’s pantry, Ghiz said, with the original kitchen space and back porch now serving as linen and storage area for wedding supplies.

The paint colors inside have been kept as the original shades: richly pigmented reds, greens, shades of blue, mint green, gold, and a shade of brown in one room pay homage to the traditional hues of the era.

Furniture and décor has been carefully curated to include pieces consistent with the 1910s era. Ghiz said she shopped almost exclusively local, combing antique stores and the like to create the look while supporting local businesses.

“I like to do business local. The furthest away I went was an antiques store in Charlottesville,” she said.

Upstairs are four suites that can be booked by guests as part of the B&B. A private suit area of the house is reserved for Ghiz and her family’s living quarters.

The B&B rooms can be booked for any visitors on any occasion, but they often host members of a wedding party over weekends, allowing everyone to conveniently stay on-site and cut down on stress throughout the festivities.

Guests enjoy a spacious upstairs back balcony overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. The balcony is especially conducive to watch the splendid sunsets over the mountains or catch the morning breeze, Ghiz said. There is a Juliet-esque balcony on the front of the house as well, overlooking a koi pond with a fountain, a gazebo, and gardens. The front balcony is a favorite photo spot for the wedding parties, Ghiz said.

Historic homes almost inevitably have some lore attached to them, and Winridge Manor is no exception.

Winridge Manor, it is whispered, is home to what feels like a “feminine” spirit, according to Ghiz and Pfister. Both women attested to sensing what they described as a feminine presence, which they attributed to numerous instances of windows opening on their own without explanation. They emphasized this presence was not malevolent, and therefore gave no reason to be fearful.

A variety of flowers and shrubbery grace the landscape, including an indigenous breed of rose that Ghiz said a gardener warned her not to get rid of, as it is rare. Ghiz still is learning about the different plants around the property while making some flora additions of her own.

For wedding morning breakfasts, Ghiz harvests fresh spearmint from the garden and honey made by the honeybees kept next door on Pfister’s property to include in her recipes.

Among the team of independent contractors that work with Winridge Manor on weddings is a gardener who maintains the landscape.

Couples have several options for a ceremony set-up on site, including a gazebo; a Greek arbor; a backyard area backdropped by the Blue Ridge; and a faux churchfront backdrop. Trellises over walkways have climbing vines woven about them, adding to a whimsical look. The property also has a barn and a handful of sheds from its former days more than 100 years ago. An expansive covered reception pavilion is situated in one corner of the yard beside the house.

Ghiz has a few upgrades planned for the pavilion: she wants to sand down the pavilion floors to uncover the original, and add wooden tables, as well as put French doors on one location in the main house. In the meantime, however, she is not unpleased with the pavilion’s current state.

Pfister said she was thrilled Ghiz is the manor’s new owner. With a genuine love for the preservation of its history, she knows the beloved house is in good hands.

“I’m glad someone’s here that really appreciates this house, and taking good care of her,” Pfister said.

Ghiz has a vision to expand Winridge Manor’s offerings as an events venue, and bed and breakfast.

She said she would like to eventually host other events at the site, like conferences and retreats, and is planning to open the house as a respite site for mothers of children with special needs: a quiet, relaxing place where these moms can regroup, taking much-needed restorative time for themselves. Ghiz, who has a special needs child of her own, learned of the need for more maternal respite sites through an organization she has worked with.

“They need respite without anyone else,” Ghiz said. “They each get their own room. If they want to talk with each other, that’s great. If they want to just hang out in their room, if they want to come down I serve them a beautiful breakfast… I’m very excited to do that, too. I hope that becomes a Winridge tradition.”

The future looks promising for Ghiz’s tenure at Winridge Manor and her focus on service.

“I just love everything about Winridge Manor. I am just thrilled to be here, thrilled to be her steward now,” Ghiz said.

PHOTOS: Preservation in mind for owner of historic home turned wedding venue

Winridge Manor, tucked in rural Madison Heights, transformed into a bed and breakfast and a wedding venue since its initial construction as a private home — and its service-minded owner has visions for preserving its history and soul while expanding the property’s offerings.

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