For the Bates family, College Hill is more than history -- it's home.
A former home of George Walton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the expansive white clapboard house on the 2100 block of Wrightsboro Road was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. But it's the homey atmosphere -- heightened by rich colors and cozily arranged furniture in family areas -- that means the most to Dr. William and Rhonda Bates and their three children.
"The way we feel about is, it's a 200-year-old house, but we live in it," Mrs. Bates said. "It's our home, and that's why we love it. It's so comfortable and it doesn't feel large to me at all."
There's more than enough history behind the brick walls that fence off College Hill's three acres from the surrounding commercial district. From the granite foundations of the house -- Mr. Walton owned a granite quarry -- to the clay patch in the yard that marks the site of Augusta's first tennis club to the scrapbook of documents collected by the Bates family, the home is steeped in history.
On the renovated third floor, where raw wood walls have been left exposed, chalked messages from the young men and women who made up the tennis club bear names such as Walton and Carroll and Eve -- names of families who left a mark on other parts of Augusta. Some of the scribblings date from the 1880s, and the Bateses have covered one section with Plexiglas to save the chalk from being smudged.
There's history in other details. The banisters and shutters are original, and a series of arches on the upstairs veranda are made from cunningly bent solid wood blocks. Exposed beams in a third-floor playroom -- which will eventually become a bedroom for the Bates' daughters, 9-year-old Emily and 8-year-old Elaina -- bear the marks of a pit saw, a device used in home construction until about 1798. The Bateses are unsure of the exact age of the home.
Throughout the house, plush carpets cover natural heart-pine floors. The wood is 2 inches thick in most places, Mrs. Bates said. In a bar room behind the main foyer, the walls are covered by original clapboard.
"Whatever was here, we tried to leave it and use it," she said.
The house is "mirror" image, with the left and right sides reflecting each other from a central hallway. Each of the large front rooms -- formal living and dining rooms downstairs, bedrooms upstairs -- has a fireplace visible through the doorways from the central hallway areas. Wide double doors lead out to an expansive porch on each level.
"When the kids were little, they would play out here like it was some big playpen while I sat out here and read," Mrs. Bates said, standing on the upper level.
Richly colored walls in the house -- slate gray in the foyer, warm maize in the formal living room, dark green in a small study -- are set off by carved and detailed white trim and molding. Rugs and furniture echo the deep tones, with Burgundies, greens and blues. The study, located behind the formal living room, is accented by built-in white shelves and leather wingback chairs.
The room immediately "felt" like a library when they bought the house 11 years ago. They only later learned it had actually served as a library before being turned into a downstairs bedroom, Mrs. Bates said.
From the study, it's a step down into the casual family room, which was created from a sun room and remains walled with high, wide windows that let in plenty of light. The slight ridge of uneven flooring between the front and back sections of the house is one of the charming foibles of the home.
"There's not a level room in this house," Mrs. Bates said. "I don't think there's a room that's squared off. If you put a marble or a ball or other child's toy on the floor, it's going to roll downhill. And there's a place in the dining room where the wall bows out."
Upstairs, the front bedrooms lead back into bathrooms, and 4-year-old William's bedroom stretches across the back, over part of the great room and the kitchen.
The kitchen, added 3' years ago, is Mrs. Bates' favorite part of the house. A central island is surrounded by a broad steel stove, refrigerator and freezer. Cupboards are built of beaded wood, painted with "milk paint," which lends a distressed, weathered look.
At the other end of the large room, a fireplace dominates the family dining area. The room is floored with hexagonal, handmade brick tiles from Charleston, S.C.
Even though the room is new, it was important to retain an authentic feel to match the rest of the house, Mrs. Bates said.
"I hand-drew the kitchen design on a legal pad -- drew everything to scale, just the way I wanted it."
Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223 .
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