The Homestead: Historic Treasure

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A Cave Spring, Ga., couple’s Civil War-era home is rich with history and full of their vast collections of art and antiques.

story and photos by BRETT JAILLET

When Dianna and Eric Haney purchased their Civil War-era home in Cave Spring, Ga., they knew they had found a place ripe with stories from the past – a perfect match for these self-proclaimed history lovers and art and antique collectors.

But uncovering the tales of the 146-year-old Gothic Revival home would take research and an intensive, six-month renovation. Today, the house not only serves as a tribute to its time, the man who built it and those who have resided in it over the years, but it is also a home for the Haneys’ vast collections of treasures.

Both Eric and Dianna have roots in Georgia, but when they began their house search, they were living in California. They wanted to return home to be close to family. They also wanted a house with high ceilings and a bit of land.

“We looked in Marietta, where my family lived,” Dianna says. “Historic Marietta homes are fabulous, but there’s the land issue. Since Eric is from nearby, and we’d visited Cave Spring during our friendship days, we looked here.”

In fact, Eric recalls going past their would-be home several times over the years while driving through the town, which is full of character and community. “I thought, ‘That would be a wonderful place to own one day,’” he says. When they started house hunting, it was on the market.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

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“It was love,” Dianna says. “The moment I rested my palm on the rounded head of that stone baluster descending the front porch, I was a goner. We looked at other places, but we knew where our heart was.”

The house was in need of an overhaul when they purchased it in 2007, so they started by reinforcing the century-and-a-half-old foundation, which meant creating a deep pit underneath the house. That led to the discovery of several treasures, like a bottle of an 1894 Cave Spring wine. The couple had it restored by a friend, and it is now displayed in the home.

As they continued with the renovation by rewiring the home and tackling the plumbing, they started to learn more about the man who built it – Wesley Olin Connor, Civil War volunteer soldier and prisoner of war, mineralist and botanist and one of the early leaders of the Georgia School for the Deaf (he served as principal for nearly 50 years), located just down the road from the house.

“The more I learned about Connor, the closer I felt to him,” Dianna says.

“He built the home from simple yet beautiful materials. He finished it with great attention to detail.”

The Haneys paid tribute to his painstaking efforts by honoring them throughout the home. The most historically notable room, Dianna says, is the dining room.

The German-style fireplace serves as a centerpiece for the room and needed minimal restoration – they simply had to learn how to care for brick that old and porous.

“The bricks were made from the red, raw earth of the land on which the house stands,” she says. “There are 22 different shapes of brick in that fireplace, most of them dictated, if not fashioned, by Connor himself. I have crawled the space under the house and seen the earth those bricks were made from. It looks and smells different from the earth we farm today. The color is vermillion; the smell pungent as overripe fruit. For that little patch of earth, time stood still.”

As Connor was a gatherer of minerals and plants, the couple pay homage to his pasions by displaying a natural collection of their own on the mantel next to his portrait.

Another testament to passed time is in what appears to be an impressionist painting in the dining room, but is actually a peek into the colors that once adorned the walls. Dianna says they discovered that most rooms in the house, including the dining room, had multiple layers of wallpaper. The top layers required softening with liquid products before gentle scraping began.

As they went down through time, they used steam to loosen the paper.

“As the last layer of paper in the dining room peeled away, we were astounded to see bright pigments beneath it,” she said. “The wall was like a fresco swirled in thick, almost metallic colors. If the whole room had looked like that one wall, I would have left it as it was and sealed the surface. Sadly, only that one wall captured those brilliant earth tones. I taped it off during all the chaos and protected it with plastic.”

Dianna sprayed a clear varnish sealant over it and finished it with an ornate frame. She used the revealed colors as a palette for the room. The Gothic-Revival style, as Eric put it, is “a love affair between nature and architecture.”

There are trademarks in the architecture: steep gables, pitched roofs, wrap-around porches and a trio of gothic windows. Those windows are visible from the front of the house, and light pours through them into the second story. Each window in the house offers a spectacular view of the surrounding nature, and the couple says sunlight filters into the home perfectly no matter the time of day or year.

The home sits on just under 12 acres of land right outside of town, and Connor’s attention to detail  spreads throughout the grounds. Dianna says that as a naturalist and botanist, Connor experimented with placing different shrubs and plants around the property to attract a variety of birds. Today, two tall trees anchor the property: a Hemlock sits at the front, and a Catalpa is a focal point behind the home. The couple plans to continue growing and caring for the gardens and trees Connor planted.

The home is an ideal backdrop for the couple’s collections – from vast art selections to trinket boxes, trunks, books, figurines, typewriters and dolls. Dianna says her love of collecting started when she was young.

“I bought a silver box for my mother when I was 15 that I only recently found out was quite valuable,” she says. “But I’ve bought many boxes since that day. And then I moved on to trunks, which I realized were only bigger boxes. I love linens, silver plate, china, textiles, rocks, moss, feathers, photography,
old books, old books that were made into films, cookbooks, tiger oak, old guns – I have to stop myself.”

She also displays medals and honors from Eric’s military career – he’s a retired command sergeant major who served as a combat infantryman, a ranger and a founding member of the Army’s counter-terrorist arm, Delta Force. He wrote “Inside Delta Force: The Story of America’s Elite Counterterrorist
Unit,” which inspired the CBS television drama “The Unit,” which he co-produces.

Dianna is also a writer – having authored four books and worked in journalism and advertising – and she also has served as the president of the Cave Spring Historical Society. The two quickly became part of the historical organization when they moved to the area. They were among a group that discovered a nearly 200-year-old, Cherokee-built log cabin encased in newer construction in downtown Cave Spring.

From the Civil War trenches outside the home to the copy of Connor’s diary sitting in the library, the house and property are testaments to their time. The copy of the diary was a gift from the couple’s friend Margaret Hollingsworth, Connor’s great-great-great grandniece.

“She’s donated many things to this house, which we will return to her if and when we ever move,” Dianna says. She says she has pored through the diary, wanting to know Connor better.

“As rich as any one life is, there are thousands and thousands of life stories available for us to share just by picking up a book,” she says. “Or owning a piece of old jewelry. Or an old house.”

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