The Waddell/Whitlatch Home Revival
Light, love and good taste in Glencoe Village
By Cynthia Adams
Photographs by Amy Freeman
Glencoe Mill Village in Alamance County, home to new residents Molly and Jonathan Whitlatch, is among the most intact mill villages in the country. The 95-acre community affords a rare look at something once commonplace, built along the Piedmont’s rivers and streams, when mill owners created housing to attract laborers, often employing entire families, including children.
Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a Burlington historic district, the private restoration of surviving Glencoe homes, found three miles north of Burlington along the Haw River, began after 1999.
The newly restored Whitlatch home had its own story to tell.
Just two weeks before last Thanksgiving, Molly and Jonathan Whitlatch finally moved into their two-story clapboard historic home on Glencoe Street. They were both elated and exhausted. House proud, they still shucked off shoes at the door, not daring to scar newly refinished, hand-planed, wide-board floors, which already bore the marks of nearly a century and a half of use.
Almost immediately, the couple opened their home as part of Glencoe’s annual tour of homes, a fundraising effort Molly had helped initiate in 2017. The fundraiser helps support grants for restoration projects like their own.
For the homeowners, the tour was a time for celebration — a once neglected, derelict house was successfully revived. From the street, it appeared largely unchanged; in actuality, that was far from true. It had required a deft restoration that demanded much more than cosmetics. Much of the house, left unoccupied after a remodel that was begun and abandoned more than 20 years ago, was essentially a shell, lacking heat or air conditioning, plumbing, or even electricity. It required, admits Molly, “a lot.”
Tour-goers were treated to a viewing of what had been achieved.
Molly, Jonathan and Molly’s father, George Orndorff, acted as docents, telling the story of the 1880 “Waddell” house. Among the original 45 rental houses for Glencoe mill employees, James Waddell, manager of the company store, lived there with his wife, Lou Ada Councilman Waddell, known as Lou, and their children from 1916–40.
The nearby store he once managed houses today’s Textiles Heritage Museum. From that vantage point, museum volunteer Nancy Earl, a retiree who previously worked at a textile museum in Oregon, had a bird’s eye view to observe the Waddell home’s rehabilitation.
She admired both the restoration and the owners’ enthusiasm.
As did fellow volunteer and long-time preservationist Katherine Rowe, now an interior designer. “The couple had just barely gotten a COA (Certificate of Appropriateness) for the home, days before being featured on the home tour,” she says.
Entering from the front porch, the restored living room’s velvety chairs, colorful heirloom rugs, and vintage furnishings and artwork warm the rustic interiors. The couple doggedly worked to retain the original and rough-hewn shiplap walls and bead-board ceilings, but softened it with accenting trim and quiet touches such as luxurious textiles.
Thanks to the Whitlatches’ passion for preservation and good guidance from the governing bodies overseeing Glencoe, the home’s past wasn’t erased, but integrated. The former Waddell house bears the artful evidence of a sleight of hand that had made the historic home ready for a new era.
Just days after moving in, the new owners celebrated their first holiday meal on Thanksgiving.
The couple dined in an enclosed space pressed into service as a dining room on a friend’s loaned table as they still searched for the perfect one to fit the space.
“A hallway filled with windows and a chunky farm table in front of them,” admires Rowe, who saw the home furnished for the open house event. Light shimmers through the porch’s five windows.
The Waddell family wouldn’t have recognized it. For Rowe, it is among her favorite spots in the house. Rowe met the Whitlatches when, as a founder of Preservation Burlington, Molly sought out help from Rowe, who volunteers for Preservation Greensboro.
“They are charming and have filled the home with light, life and a lot of good taste!” she says, praising the Whitlatches. And equally energetic.
The certificate legally allowing occupancy only arrived on Halloween.
How did the Whitlatch couple wind up restoring the 1880s home?
In part, because they had friends who lived there and the opportunity arose. In July of 2022, they were vacationing when they learned that a Glencoe house they had long watched had caught the interest of a flipper.
They couldn’t allow that to happen.
Plus, they had begun contemplating leaving their home in Burlington for a rural property. Glencoe offered some of what they were seeking — the lots had ample room for a garden.
“We were living in the historic district in Burlington,” explains Molly. “We really wanted chickens, and the City of Burlington decided not to allow chickens downtown. So, we decided we wanted to buy some property.”
But they had friends in Glencoe and already loved the location. “One of my best friends lives right across the street.” Long before buying it, Molly had often come over and peeked through the windows while visiting her friend.
The incomplete and debris-filled Waddell house wasn’t quite what they had envisioned. It was only a few miles from Burlington’s city limits, but the village rose above the banks of the meandering Haw River and was just down the street from a county park.
It wasn’t even an architectural gem, but it could be made remarkable, they decided. The history buff in Molly was taken with the idea of taking on such a project. “We had to make a snap decision.”
Up the hill live two more friends, Tom and Lynn Cowan, preservation experts.
“He’s a carpenter, and she is a designer,” Molly explains. “They said, ‘If you do it, we’ll help you.’ I was in transition with a job. It was one of those things, where . . .” she pauses. “We made a somewhat impulsive decision.”
Did they want chickens that badly?
“We really wanted chickens, but, we really wanted to save the house,” Molly answers with a wry laugh. “Kind of like Preservation Burlington, we didn’t know what we didn’t know.” (As cofounder, Molly points out how that leap of faith also had a happy outcome.)
“So, we walked through it and said, ‘We’ll buy it.’”
Their decision was quickly made; however, the hard work of making the shell of a house into a home would consume another 14 long months.
They tackled trash removal and plotted a renovation that began in earnest in August 2022.
The renovation demanded nights and weekends of manual labor — cleaning, scraping, patching and painting while working their day jobs.
“My dad and stepmother, Becki Orndorff, helped us work on the house many weekends as well,” says Molly.
The transformation was furthered by good friends, neighbors and advisors from the preservation community; it had literally taken a village to complete.
Preservation requirements dictated that the home’s original architectural features — all walls, wood, doors, floors, mantles, detailing and ceilings — ought to be preserved wherever possible.
Well-versed in the restrictions and requirements, she knew the ropes and how to navigate legal covenants and restrictions dictating a historic district.
“We actually did it as an N.C. preservation tax credit project,” explains Molly. While softening the financial impact of a full-on restoration project, it meant adhering to strict guidelines.
“My husband’s very handy and had done a little bit of work on our previous house, but nothing like this.”
Molly jokes, “I’m a lawyer, so I don’t have any skills.” YouTube tutorials helped. “Jonathan’s now a self-taught handyman,” she adds with pride.
The DIYers had to hire professionals, given that there was “no plumbing, electricity, nor heating or air conditioning. “It was just a shell,” she says, noting that there had once been “some primitive electricity.” (Many Glencoe homes were built in an era before it was common.)
While brewing a cup of tea on a spanking-new professional range, she points out where that primitive electricity existed. The kitchen, by definition, is always a huge budgetary item, especially when there is scant wiring. What existed was installed at the dawn of electrification.
“You can see two small holes in the kitchen wall, where knob and tube wiring came into the house to a light bulb. The mill would turn the electricity on in the morning and off at 9 p.m.”
The kitchen design was influenced by British country style. “I draw inspiration from English magazines.” Custom cabinets of Shaker style design were built by Alcorn, a Reidsville company that had built a friend’s cabinetry. (“A father-and-daughter business.” The cabinets are maximum height for extra storage. “We ran them to the ceiling.”)
“The room we’re using as the kitchen was originally added to most of the houses around 1900,” explains Molly, standing at a center island featuring white, honed Danby marble from Vermont. “The original portion [of the house] dates to 1880, when the mill was built.”
Molly, who “cooks from scratch,” required a functional kitchen. A porcelain farm sink is another nod to European style.
A shallow pewter cabinet hugs the kitchen wall, found at a Mebane auction. “It’s one of the only things we bought for the house.” She filled it with vintage blue Mason jars that store pantry basics.
The kitchen ceiling height is 10–11 feet, Molly approximates.
“Every room is a little different. Even where there are dropped ceilings, it is still higher than usual,” she says.
She appreciates the sense of space the soaring heights lend the smaller rooms. Village homes were modestly sized with two rooms upstairs and two rooms down.
Helped by their friends, the couple undertook much of the carpentry work, salvaging wood to patch gaps and resolve rot. They innovated, appropriating beaded board, where it would be concealed behind the new kitchen cabinets, for use elsewhere.
They retained as much of the original finishes and architecture as possible, right down to teal blue initially covering most interior surfaces. However, they toned it down, integrating it with contrasting color or neutrals, adding in rough-luxe touches to soften the primitive authenticity. Now, it is an accent, given in the original rooms all surfaces were wood.
State and local preservationists were helpful in maintaining the home’s original character. “Everything they asked us to do I was later grateful for; it ended up being better than I would have done,” acknowledges Molly.
Even what was originally an exterior window was retained in the kitchen. It opens into an enclosed entrance/mudroom. Rather than being an oddity, it elevates the kitchen’s charm quotient.
An outside building, married to the rear of the house by the previous owner, expanded the downstairs footprint. But it had long languished, abandoned. “It was open framing when we came here,” says Molly.
This became a main bedroom and bath suite, complete with porch (that will eventually be screened), opening to the rear of the property.
“Anywhere there’s drywall, it’s where the previous owner had worked on the new construction/addition,” Molly explains. “There’s a small mudroom. And he attached the detached summer kitchen to the house.” Those alterations (pre-historic designation) proved invaluable, even if unfinished. For example, the addition created what most Glencoe homes lack, storage and some closets.
But when they first saw the expansion, it was joltingly Barbiecore.
“It was bright pink,” Molly frowns. Hardly historic.
They added door frames and doors, using a bedroom door found under the house. Over the doorway leading into the main suite are original “rafter tails,” or rafter ends that overhang the eaves.
Overhead, the exposed beams from the former kitchen wore accumulated layers of grime and soot. “Three or four of us spent six hours one day scrubbing them,” Molly groans.
The room’s original fireplace was restored, featuring a salvaged mantle bearing original paint from another Glencoe home. Nothing was wasted.
With the help of friends, they painstakingly pulled up the wooden flooring where the prior owner had married the addition to the house, revealing beautiful wide boards beneath. Both subfloor and floor boards were carefully removed, cleaned and refinished for reuse. As Molly explains, “Free flooring!”
Variations of flooring, walls and ceilings added patina and interest, thanks to an artful interior redesign.
Inside a downstairs ensuite bathroom is a favorite compromise occurring when they created a bath for their main bedroom.
“They didn’t want us to cut into the (detached kitchen) wall, which was original,” she says, “so I asked, what if we didn’t remove it, but cut into it and created a door?” Now a jib door is among their favorite features.
Facing their main bedroom doorway, a stretch of hallway extends to the front of the house, offering a long sight line.
“It reminds me of the shotgun homes of New Orleans,” Molly says. “I like how this rambles.” With the physical work resolved, they could turn to gilding the lily: finding that perfect table, for example, and other furnishings and treasures.
The living room, which opens to the front porch, is also a favorite of their friend, Rowe, who describes the Whitlatch living room as an artful fusion of styles and collected artwork.
Art by Jonathan’s grandmother hangs opposite a piece by the front door painted by Molly’s grandmother.
Upstairs, a steep stairway to the second floor has a railing created from old wine barrels. “A nod to my husband’s work,” says Molly. The vintage light fixture in the stairwell was another fortunate salvage find.
On the second floor, they’ve created a comfortable room with a daybed and another full bath, which was stacked over the downstairs guest bath when they were creating needed bathrooms. Hewing closely to simple fixtures and trim, they used a vintage sink and tub, both architectural salvages. The tub was too massive to get upstairs via the narrow stairway, forcing them to remove an upstairs window to hoist it from outside. “That was exciting,” says Molly.
She used linen towels with a café rod and rings for the bathroom’s window treatment.
The upstairs features a third bedroom and the home’s third fireplace. Again, moving in furniture to the second floor was not simple.
They used bungee ratchet straps to bend the mattress, folding it in half, in order to navigate the stairs. A double bed was the largest they could manage.
Molly’s desk and office share the guest room space.
The wide-plank upstairs floors are in fine condition, like the ones in their main bedroom downstairs.
“And these wood walls,” says Molly. “Someone hand scraped these walls.” She runs her hand appreciatively over the wall, pausing a moment.
“I think this is a cool feature,” she says, pointing to a craftsman’s mark on the bedroom’s handmade door, “when he took a knife and marked where to put the nails.”
Her favorite thing, however, isn’t merely about the aesthetics of historic architecture. It is “old school” hospitality and neighborliness. It’s the village.
Throughout the renovation, neighbors commiserated over the trials and tribulations, pitched in and arrived bearing freshly baked pies and casseroles. Even the kayak business behind their home, grandfathered into Glencoe’s commercial district, was helpful. They allowed the Whitlatches to use their restroom whenever they were working on the house.
Thus far, Molly would change nothing. True, it was a long process, she admits, and they underestimated how long it would take, plus how hard to find contractors willing to work on old houses.
“I just have a feeling about houses, not even necessarily tied to a specific thing,” says the contented owner of a renewed old house.
“It feels cozy.”
As one who lives in a century-old home, I pose a final question: Has Molly ever sensed the Waddell’s presence there?
Molly immediately texts in answer. Neighbors had reported seeing a lady in the upstairs window when the house was still sitting vacant.
“Anytime we heard weird noises or things were not going as planned, we would say it was the lady in the red dress.”
She forwards a grainy, silent video of the Waddell family circa 1940 “standing in front of our house.”
“You can see a lady in a red dress,” she writes, “so that could be her.” OH
About Glencoe Mills and the Village
According to the historic inventory when Glencoe village was acquired for preservation in 1979, the homes were “typical of North Carolina rural housing of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”
Glencoe Mills, which closed in 1954, was founded in the late 1880s by James H. and William Holt, sons of Edwin M. Holt. Edwin was a textile “pioneer,” developing Alamance County’s textile industry.
Holt family descendants still live in the Triad.
Glencoe comprised a 95-acre village, with a main mill complex, church, school, Sunday school building and barbershop, general store, post office, men’s lodge, hydroelectric plant, plus 45 rental properties reserved for mill workers. The mill, dam and some of the defunct power system still remain, along with 29 houses on Glencoe Street and Hodges Road.
At the mill’s closing in 1954, some former workers continued to rent homes there. Eventually, the homes were left abandoned. In 1979, Glencoe was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Preservation North Carolina acquired the property in the late 1990s, giving rise to private ownership and restoration.
The Textile Heritage Museum occupies the former Glencoe Mill offices and company store. Today, it contains historic information about Glencoe Mills and the socioeconomics of textiles, lending a clear picture of mill life in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In 1890, Glencoe employed 133 workers in the manufacturing of plaid fabric. The mill recruited labor by creating housing (rent was anywhere from $1.40–2.00 a month) and extending employment to entire families. Demographically, women and children comprised 70 percent of its workforce.
According to online N.C. educational archives, “as soon as the cotton mill industry began booming in the 1880s, critics began speaking out against child labor.” Circa 1907–08, 90 percent of all spinners working in Southern textile mills were below age 21. By 1924, two children remained as Glencoe employees.
Social reform photographer Lewis Hine photographed children working in cotton mills throughout the South, then publishing and showing his work, raising awareness about the issue.
In 1933, North Carolina enacted a law prohibiting child labor, as new technologies had already begun lessening the need for large numbers of workers.
Glencoe, however, had the distinction of being the first mill in North Carolina stipulating that its child laborers receive some schooling.
The village offered “three basic house configurations.”
Most featured “brick pier foundations, tin roofs and simple, functional design. Few houses, with the exception of the mill superintendent’s house, have indoor plumbing. Some houses, particularly on Hodges Road, may never have had electricity.”
Houses ranged from three to six rooms, averaging 16 by 16 feet. Most of the rental homes were four-room, two stories with a front porch.
Because they were a fire hazard, detached kitchens, 12 by 12 feet in size, constructed of board and batten, were built at the rear. “Later, kitchens were attached at the back of the north end of the main block, forming an ell.” By 1910, attached kitchens had replaced most of the detached ones.
Others were one-story, with two rooms and a front porch. A few were duplexes. The third Glencoe design was a one-and-a-half story with a side gable house and a central chimney.
By the late 1970s when the architectural survey was completed, Glencoe’s surviving homes were deteriorating — a few beyond saving. Rotting sills, missing porches and water damage were common. Yet preservationists felt certain: The majority of homes could be restored.
About the Salvage Shop at Glencoe Village
In one neatly contained package, you can not only visit the textile museum for a closer look at work life in the late 1800s, but also buy a piece of Glencoe history.
Housed in a World War II-era Quonset hut, the Salvage Shop contains architectural salvage and is managed by Preservation Burlington.
Once used for mill storage, most likely cotton, the hut contains tidily organized salvage artifacts. “It’s all volunteer staffed,” says Molly. “We open to the public one Saturday a month.” Proceeds fund various grants and projects in the Glencoe historic district.
It began in October 2016, when Molly and three other women met for coffee, agreeing they needed a nonprofit similar to Preservation Greensboro. They also looked to Greensboro to style Preservation Burlington’s eventual architectural salvage program.
“Three [of the women] are still on the board,” she explains.
“We started our first fundraiser in 2017, a Christmas tour of homes. People were still full of concern about the costs of historic homes.” The tour of homes became their largest revenue source, but was halted by the pandemic in 2020.
They pivoted towards the salvage operation, which had also begun in 2017. “We’ve been successful because we didn’t know we couldn’t do it.”
Molly heads the salvage work portion, “even though I have no construction experience. I organize electricians and carpenters.”
She met Greensboro preservationist Katherine Rowe, who occasionally volunteers, through Martha Canipe (a board member of Preservation Forsyth). “Old house people getting together,” explains Molly.