Rose Terrace Revival

How an art director transformed a 1780s Buckingham Courthouse Historic District property to its Federal-era grandeur.

Tyler Darden

View of front door, hall in orginal structure. 1780s home in Buckingham Co, Virginia, Owned by Kenny Sink

(Photos by Tyler Darden)

When Kenny Sink was a boy growing up in Roanoke, a friend of his father gave him a Civil War bullet. “He was a relic hunter, and that’s really when it all started,” says Sink, now a retired advertising art director.

What started was a lifelong hunt for the past. From boyhood days digging in the dirt for shards of Colonial pottery to antiquing along the back roads of the Blue Ridge, Sink’s been doing his own relic hunting for nearly 50 years now. But it wasn’t until 2012 that he took on his greatest historic project yet: Rose Terrace, a 1780s Buckingham home in need of restoration and an owner with a lot of time and patience.


A COTTAGE RECOVERED

Rose Terrace—originally known as Rose Cottage—is believed to have been built four years after America declared its independence. A two-story, single-pile, side-hall house built atop an English basement, “it was like a 1700s condo,” says Sink.

Wealthy landowner Dr. William Perkins Moseley (1794–1863) purchased the property from the Patteson family, the original owners, in 1820. For Dr. Moseley, whose primary residence was the 600-acre Wheatland plantation nearby, Rose Terrace became a convenient home away from home.

There, he could see patients and conduct business just across the street at the County Courthouse, which was designed by Thomas Jeffer- son. But when Moseley’s family began to grow, he expanded the Federal-style home with an addition to the left flank, resulting in an eight-room house with a three-room basement.

Tyler Darden

Behind the main house. 1780s home in Buckingham Co, Virginia, Owned by Kenny Sink

Like many homes of its era, Rose Terrace also had outbuildings: a summer kitchen, a servants’ quarters, a well house, and, naturally, a doctor’s office. And that’s what sparked Sink’s curiosity, this village within a village in his new backyard. But by the time Sink pulled into the driveway nearly 200 years after Moseley’s remodel, the house, well, let’s just say it was in need of a little love.

“When I first bought the house, there were paint chips hanging down from the ceiling. There was an exterior wood stove sitting in the parlor, and my insurance company immediately said, ‘You’ve got to get rid of that,’” says Sink. The walls were what you might generously describe as dishwater grey, and the original wood floor had evidence of a coating of polyurethane only in the corners.

It was dark and depressing, says Sink. But the bones, the bones were so good. As he set about bringing the home back to life, Sink began doing a little historical digging to learn more about the history of his new brick home.


CONSTRUCTING A TIMELINE

The reason 1780 is just a guess of when Rose Terrace was built is that an 1869 fire in the courthouse sent any records of Rose Terrace’s original deed and plats up in smoke.

Without court records, Sink had to look elsewhere. Luckily, he met retired Navy commander Rowlett “Moose” Bruce, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Rowlett H. Bruce who bought Rose Terrace in 1939, when Bruce pulled into Sink’s driveway on Christmas Eve of 2012.

“Moose’s parents are actually the ones who changed the name to Rose Terrace,” says Sink. When the Bruce family moved into the house, they quickly realized there was another Rose Cottage, just south of Highway 60. This other Rose Cottage belonged to the United Daughters of the Confederacy due to its historical significance as the site where Gen. Robert E. Lee camped after Appomattox on his way to Richmond. To avoid confusion, the Bruces changed the name of their new home to Rose Terrace.

Uncovering this detail led to others once Sink got to know Bruce. He and his sister Betty spent their 1940s childhood at Rose Terrace, and the siblings helped Sink reveal the home’s secrets, including what happened to the porch.

Once a two-story open-air affair looking out on the back garden, the porch was enclosed with glass when Sink moved in. Bruce explained that the next owner, who bought Rose Terrace from his family around 1980, made the change. But, for his family, the porch had been a favorite family space.

Nearly all of the restoration on Rose Terrace has been done by Kenny Sink’s own hands, most impressively in the outbuildings.

Tyler Darden

Back of home. 1780s home in Buckingham Co, Virginia, Owned by Kenny Sink

“Right after we moved in, my mom put a big metal barrel under the downspout on the back porch, which was a slate roof from Buckingham Slate,” recalls Bruce. “She used the fresh rainwater to wash her hair.” This makeshift shower system worked for a time, but it was clear the home needed to be brought into the 20th century. “We had to put in water and electricity,” says Bruce. In the 1940s his parents also added new bathrooms on the second floor of the original building, as well as another in the basement and off of Moose’s bedroom in the 1820s addition. The family also modernized the home with a basement kitchen, which Sink uses to this day. Although that needed some fixing up as well.

“The previous owner had seven dogs,” says Sink. Their presence was still very much evident in the early aughts. The kitchen’s tile floors, once white, were a dull red thanks to years of paws tracking in the yard’s clay dirt. Carpet runners along the staircase also exhibited a loveworn look only a pack of canines could produce. Sink scrubbed the tile until it shined and ripped the carpet out by hand, sanding the floors and stairway himself to restore its original Colonial patina.

“I’m not a construction guy, says Sink. “I went to art school.” But he didn’t let a lack of formal training stop him. Using a library’s worth of books on historic homes and frequent visits to Appomattox and Monticello for inspiration, the DIY enthusiast dug in. Which is to say, nearly all of the restoration on Rose Terrace has been done by Sink’s own hands, most impressively in the outbuildings.


Tyler Darden

Back porch. 1780s home in Buckingham Co, Virginia, Owned by Kenny Sink

OUTSIDE IN

“What sets this house apart are the four original outbuildings,” says Sink. “I restored them inside to look like what they were. I’ve had people tell me that the kitchen out there looks more like a Williamsburg kitchen than they do in Williamsburg.”

Tyler Darden

Kenny Sink, homeowner. 1780s home in Buckingham Co, Virginia, Owned by Kenny Sink

He’s not wrong. Sink has transformed what were once dilapidated, nearly condemnable buildings and made them movie set ready. A brick path Sink uncovered by digging up topsoil and grass—thanks again to a tip and vintage photographs from Moose—leads to the kitchen and servants’ quarters both painted a clean off-white. But it’s inside that really catches your breath.

“The chimney on the kitchen was already missing,” says Sink of the kitchen house. Where it once stood, Sink found a wall covered in sheet rock. He ripped that off and replaced it with wood, a project that also resulted in him nearly losing use of his hand when a circular saw hit a square nail and sliced through his nerves, tendon, and artery. Once he’d recovered he says, “I was not going to go to the expense for no reason of rebuilding a chimney, but I did go out there and built a fake fireplace inside, just for the look.”

Exit the back screened in porch and you’re transported to what feels like Williamsburg 2.0.

Tyler Darden

Kitchen outbuilding behind the hmain house. 1780s home in Buckingham Co, Virginia, Owned by Kenny Sink

Using his natural artistic abilities, Sink recreated an 18th-century kitchen hearth. Dangling inside it are copper pots, a vintage tea kettle, and the makings of a fire ready to be stoked. Above that, he’s hung antique weights and cast iron skillets; a nearby table is set with surprisingly realistic fake food.

Next door, Sink outfitted the servants’ quarters with a small bed and, thanks to his scavenging, a chair used in the recent drama miniseries The Good Lord Bird about abolitionist John Brown and starring Ethan Hawke.

Across the yard is the original well house covered in lattice. Sink refinished its original iron door hinges as well. But the real proof of his commitment to restoring Rose Terrace is in the simple one-room building that he believes was once Dr. Moseley’s clinic. There, Sink repaired all of the plasterwork that once lay in chunks on the floor and re-created an Era of Good Feelings clinic with glass medicine bottles, a candlelight fixture, and a chamber pot. It’s a commitment to authenticity he knows some might find difficult to understand. But for this amateur historian, that’s beside the point.


A DREAM REALIZED

Historic preservation is no easy task. And homeowner Kenny Sink will be the first to tell you that restoring Rose Terrace hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. In addition to his hand injury, Sink nearly suffocated when he suffered an allergic reaction to a bee sting while painting the home’s exterior. He’s had to carve holes in his ceiling to fix slate shingles and deal with wacky wiring. Still, he’d do it all again. 

“I loved every minute of it,” says Sink. “Most people dream of living on the beach or playing golf every day. This was my dream. It’s ridiculous, but I can honestly say that I pursued and kind of pulled off my dream. It sounds kind of corny, but it’s true.”


5 TIPS FOR DIY HISTORIC RENOVATION

Tyler Darden

Behind the main house. 1780s home in Buckingham Co, Virginia, Owned by Kenny Sink

Use your stubbornness in a positive way. “If it wasn’t for stubbornness, I could have never done this every time somebody said I couldn’t do it.”

Take your time. “You have to think not in terms of weeks or months, but in years,” says Sink. “Patience is vital. I always planned out the night ahead what I would get done the next day.”

Visit historic sites. Much of the inspiration for Rose Terrace comes from visits Sink makes to other historic properties. “I base a lot of the things I do, especially the outbuildings, on what they’ve done at Appomattox,” says Sink. And those visits, he adds, have been invaluable to his work.

Search the archives. You can learn a lot about an old house from historic archives. For instance, the National Archive of Historic places, old house sale records, and county deed information can pull back the curtain on a property. Local historic preservation organizations can also be a great resource.

Seek out previous owners. Speaking to former owners can unveil all kinds of unexpected details, as Sink learned upon meeting Rowlett “Moose” Bruce.


This article originally appeared in the August 2021 issue.

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