Yancey Mills Cabin Gets New Lease on Life
A small cabin home in Yancey Mills that is believed to date to the Revolutionary War era has a new lease on life now that historic house restorer Matt Lucas has taken possession of it.
Lucas is in the midst of restoring what is reputed to be the first true frame house in Crozet, a building that has been moved twice—once on the south side of the tracks and later over the tracks, probably around 1850—and now rests at 1278 Crozet Avenue roughly opposite the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad station. The project is the admiration of Crozet not just for the daring in taking it on, but for the splendid authenticity of its renovation—for instance Lucas had its original windows refurbished—and its dazzling stone chimneys.
The cabin was in the way of a new office that Froehling & Robertson, F&R, an engineering firm, is building for itself on Rt. 250 next to its present building, not far from the Interstate 64 interchange. F&R’s shift is making way for an expansion of Pro Re Nata brewery.
One likely fate for the cabin, which has the distinction of being featured on the Virginia Department of Historic Resources webpage as an archetype of Virginia cabins, was demolition. That’s what happened to a nearby twin structure used as a small engine repair shop that was demolished not long ago in the construction of Restore’N Station.
“Ann Mallek knows me from my house in Free Union,” explained Lucas, who earned his Ph.D. in computer science from U.Va. and now is in the telecommunications software business. “I also own a house in Freetown [next to the cabin’s original location]. Ann asked if I’d be interested in the Yancey cabin. I went and looked at it and I said OK. F&R wants their new building where the cabin was. They gave it to me, but there was a lot of work in moving it.”
The cabin is roughly 25 feet by 20 feet, made entirely of pine logs, and has two rooms on its lower floor and one on its second floor, which is accessed by a narrow, steep staircase. Lucas salvaged everything from it, including windows and flooring.
“The cabin was in worse shape than I thought. It was teetering. I found another one whose beams match it perfectly, so I can rebuild it. We took it apart and tagged everything. The adze-work on the logs shows. The sill beams were shot but the upper half was solid.”
He also took down the stone chimney and he’s been scavenging additional rock for a new foundation and to contribute to rebuilding the chimney.
Lucas’s plan is to rebuild the cabin in the rear of the one-acre lot his main house sits on. “So now both houses were moved. It’s like it was meant to be. It could be incredibly charming.”
Allen Frazier, the contractor working on the main house, moved the cabin with help from Peter Hunter, a cabin expert based in Batesville.
Rebuilding the cabin as a residence will require a zoning waiver from the county. The parcel also sits beside a cut that carries occasional drainage, which the county has decreed is a creek, and no structures can be placed within 50 feet of it.
Lucas has also bought an old smokehouse made of chestnut logs he found in Madison County, which he wants to move to become a kitchen building for the cabin. He’s unsure how he will connect them.
“It will be beautiful. It is so beautifully situated.”
At 1278, Lucas added on to the rear, creating a new kitchen and baths. Exposed beams in the original part of the house reveal the house’s original flooring and he has one mantle piece that belongs to the house. He bought two other period mantelpieces to complete the house’s fireplaces.
He bought the main house with his son in mind, a special needs student who will graduate from Western Albemarle this year and who needs a residence within walking distance of services. Lucas does not intend to live in it himself.
“I’m holding it open for him. He can walk to everything from here. I have no commercial interest for the property. I live in Free Union and I’m happy there.” He also restored the 1800s house he lives in.
“I love old farmhouses. I really do. It’s financially insane to restore something the way it should be. But the result is so cool and it’s something for the generations.
“I love Crozet, too. Everybody here exudes character. And everybody is kind and generous. All my  kids went to Western. I can’t say enough about Crozet. It’s a gem.”
The timeline for fixing the main house takes a year and a half. He hopes to have all the exterior work done by the end of summer. “We hit a spring when we dug the basement. The hole filled rapidly with three feet of water. It’s got special fixes. The house has great bones now. It’s not going anywhere. I’ve hired engineers and architects and I’ve hired country ingenuity.” In that last, he was referring to Frazier.
“I’m 100 percent excited about the cabin.” He intends to put a copper roof on it and leave the logs exposed. “As soon as I work it out with zoning, I’m going to jump on it. I want to put it back right. I’d like to reach out to local historians. The scope of the project is really not that intense, not like the house. But there’s always the unexpected.”