Alexa Doiron Contributing writer
The Preston House has been a long-standing fixture in Salem since its original construction in 1788.
While the home has stood vacant for the past few years, the house is now being redone to welcome the new owner, Kim Arney. Arney owns the popular White Oak Tea Tavern and has decided to open a new location in Salem at the Preston House.
“Preston Place is the perfect partner for White Oak Tea Tavern,” said Arney at the Salem Museum on Monday. “We needed to grow because we had a small space but hadn’t even considered moving until we found Salem.”
The taven’s current location is in Troutville, where the owner rents a quaint cabin to set up the restaurant. However, the area they are currently operating in cannot hold what is needed with the tavern’s growing popularity. While this is a good problem for a business to have, it is one that the owners have been working hard to solve.
Not only does Arney own the tavern, she and her husband, Curtis, also own two other businesses including a gift shop and a tea label where they sell their tea to various locations. Often, it is difficult to find parking at the current location and by moving to the Preston Place, Arney hopes to have twice as much seating and at least 19 parking spots.
“I have space now to do new things,” said Aryen. “I’ve had lots of new ideas and there’s just so many possibilities of what we can do now because we have the room.”
The tavern is a popular love for residents of the area and even members from outside the community. At the Salem Museum on Monday, community members spoke about their love of the tavern.
“I had a friend from Chicago who found the tea tavern on tea.com and came to visit,” said one guest. “She tried the tea and loved it so much that she comes down every year now.”
Getting the location to meet code for the restaurant was a difficult task, however, especially since it is a historic location. It was in March of 2006 that Dr. Brown, the last owner, signed the document to make the Preston House a historic easement with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR). The home not only has a history spanning centuries with a well known family in the community, but it also represents a historic architecture native to the Roanoke Valley.
“The house is an interesting example of Roanoke Valley I-form architecture,” said executive director Fran Ferguson. “This means that it has four rooms on the top and bottom floors to make it have an ‘I’ shape.”
Some of the best parts of the house show the historic aspects that the historic easement maintains. This past summer recent graduate of the University of Mary Washington, Tessa Foley, worked on identifying historic aspects that needed to be maintained.
Foley noted the vitrified bricks, also known as clinker brick, all along the house which appear white and have a smooth, glass-like feel to them. These bricks are different than others because they are burned at a higher temperature in the kiln, making their appearance on the house stand out.
On the inside of the house there are rooms where wainscoting covers all four walls. This one piece of wood was specially crafted for the room and is part of the original design of the house, Foley told the audience. However, the wood was found to have minor termite damage and this was one of the aspects that had to be fixed and preserved for the house to be turned into a restaurant.
When the house was originally built, it wasn’t the style to have the kitchens in the home. It wasn’t until around the 1860’s that the first kitchen was built and the 1940’s that a second was put in place. All of these additions were ones that were necessary to creating a residential space, but will be converted in order to transform the house from a residence to a commercial location.
However, the Preston Place Committee, headed by Jimmy Savage, has been devoted to maintaining the historic features on the house. Keeping those while changing for the tavern has involved a great deal of challenges from adding handicap accessible ramps, to figuring out how to have the space of 70 feet for a fire engine to turn around.
Ferguson noted some of the most charitable donors in these efforts, Luke Waldrip and Bill and Ellen Arnold. Waldrip was the first major donor to the project which allowed it to get its start. The Arnolds, however, were essential in the project as well as they made large donations to the site after an appeal was put out in December for more funds.
“We appreciate the generous dedication of the community in this project,” said Ferguson. All three donors will be recognized for their generosity at the grand opening.
Among other guests at the event was the wife of Peter Brown, who is one of the relatives of the family home. The Preston House began its journey in 1820 after being rebuilt from a structure that had previously been on the location. The original owner was John Love until he sold it to John Cole for a mere five shillings. Cole then turned that around to sell the property and house to a John Johnson in 1821 for $10,000. After Johnson’s death, the property was divided between his heirs and his widow Lucy Johnson. It was in 1879 that Charles Isaac Preston purchased the house from Mrs. Johnson and kept the property in his family until recent years.
At the time, Preston was married to a woman named Mary (or “Mollie”) and the couple raised their children in the home. Preston was the town sheriff during a time when Roanoke County included Big Lick, the courthouse was in Salem, and there were 18 post offices.
When Preston died in 1894, the house was left to two of his children, Claude and Matilda. The two lived in the house until 1946 and then the property was left to the heir, Mary Clark. Mary Clark then passed the property onto Esther Clark Brown in 1974 and the Brown family resided in the home until recent years.
There are many stories that surround the home which the community fondly remembers. Not only were the Brown’s popular members of the community, the home also has various random history involving the king of France, Louis Philippe I, who dined at the original house in 1797.
With the new White Oak Tea Tavern opening in the home, the property can expect a new burst of life. The tavern is expected to open in the beginning of March, but is already booked until April. However, Aryen hopes to host the Brown Family Reunion in the Tavern so that they can be the first to be served.