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project:HOMES Transforms a Grandmother's Childhood Home

Bernardine Goode Miles, a retired school principal and grandmother of three, loved growing up in a beautiful, two-story historic cottage in the Southern Barton Heights neighborhood of Richmond. Her father and mother bought the Queen Anne style home for $5,000 in the 1960s. It was the perfect location for the tight-knit family because their relatives were nearby. Bernardine’s grandparents and her aunt lived within six blocks of the new house. Her parents also liked how close the home was to public transportation, offering easy access to downtown and a quick work commute for her mother, who was a waitress and later worked as a receptionist in a doctor’s office.

Recently, project:HOMES gave Bernardine and her husband Lawrence a tour of her childhood home. In partnership with Historic Richmond, project:HOMES spent the last two years transforming the historic cottage into an affordable home.

It was originally built in the 1890s and fell into disrepair after Bernardine's mother moved out in 1989. By the time project:HOMES and Historic Richmond bought the property in 2019, it had sat vacant for years and showed many signs of neglect, including an overgrown lawn, a dilapidated roof, rotten boards, broken doors and busted windows.

“My husband can tell you how depressed I was at seeing the condition of the house before you renovated it,” said Bernardine, who was thrilled to see the transformation. As she walked through the front door, she exclaimed, “Wow! This is nice. Really nice!”

During the tour she shared her recollections about the unusual features of the historic cottage, such as the unique layout and a triangular closet in the dining room, which was the only closet in the house.

The project:HOMES revitalization team was excited to discover a basement in the house during their initial walk-through. It contained some odd features as well, such as an extremely narrow staircase leading into the basement from outside of the kitchen and a furnace located in the middle of the floor.

Bernardine enjoyed seeing how project:HOMES created more space in the home. “Closing off the outside entrance to the basement and the kitchen addition was amazing. I would not have believed a second bath and closets were possible,” said Bernardine. “project:HOMES did an awesome job! The house is simply beautiful.”

Stepping into each room, she was flooded with memories. She could picture all the boxes of her father's trains sitting in the spare bedroom, the exact placement of her mother's furniture in the master bedroom and the spot where they placed the Christmas tree for the holidays in the living room.

“This is amazing,” said Bernardine, as she toured the renovated home with her husband. “Thank you for bringing the home back to life.”

As she walked into her childhood bedroom, she told project:HOMES staff how excited she was when her parents bought her a queen sized bed, and how she treasured the little TV she was allowed to have in her room. “Back then you had to get up and turn the TV off and on,” she said.

As a child, she knew she was fortunate to have her own bedroom and enough space on each floor to play and run around with her beloved dog, Lucky, a collie her father bought at the SPCA for $5. “I was the only child, so we had this whole house," said Bernardine. “We did enjoy this home.”

She adored the porches. “I really liked the porch outside the bedroom windows. During the summer, the breeze from the side windows and the front windows was refreshing. Lucky loved sleeping out there and watching the traffic go by. I also loved the wraparound porch. It was a quick way to get from the front to the back of the house, or vice versa! During the summer, my dog and I spent lots of time on the porches.”

Like many historic homes, there were a few problems, especially in the winter. It was drafty and the older, inefficient heating system didn’t always work well. Bernardine recalled many winters when her mother was scared the basement would flood or the oil would freeze. “We would have to get insulation and heaters, especially if we knew it was going to snow or going down in the 20s," she said. But, if they ever needed help, they always knew they had neighbors they could depend on.

Bernardine loved the neighborhood. "When I lived here, we knew all the neighbors. Everyone knew everybody, everyone knew who I was – the only child, living at 1611. My aunt lived two blocks away, so it was nothing for me to walk from here to there, no concerns," she said. As a young child, she spent many afternoons exploring side streets, riding her bike around the neighborhood and petting the neighbors’ dogs. Every Sunday, her family attended First African Baptist Church, a special place for Bernardine, where she is still a member today.

She credits the wonderful neighborhood, her strong family upbringing and an excellent education from Richmond Public Schools for helping her succeed in life. Prior to retirement, she worked in school administration for 27 years for Spotsylvania County Schools. She earned a Doctorate in Education in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Virginia Tech. She completed her undergraduate and graduate work in teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University and taught for five years in Goochland County. She left Richmond in 1985 to take a teaching job in Fredericksburg.

After her mother sold the home in 1989, Bernardine hoped the new owners would appreciate it and love the home as much as she did. Most of all, she hoped the new family would take care of it.

Even though she lives an hour away, she always made time to drive by her childhood home when she visited Richmond. She enjoyed telling her husband stories about the house and sharing memories about family dinners, celebrations and milestones, such as her mother taking her high school graduation photos in the front yard.

“I would drive by 1611 to see what improvements the new owners had made. It was depressing to see the condition of deterioration. When I lived there, everyone took care of their homes and took pride in the neighborhood appearance,” said Bernardine. “At one point, I told my husband that I wish the city would condemn and tear the house down. It was an eyesore to the neighborhood. When I saw the project:HOMES sign on the property, I was excited. Finally, a renovation that would bring 1611 back to life!”

Once the work began, Bernardine and Lawrence enjoyed walking around the property to see the construction, phase by phase. As retirees, they had time to watch the progress and visit Richmond often.

As the house was near completion, she reached out to project:HOMES to see if she could tour the home. project:HOMES revitalization team members and Historic Richmond staff were honored to show her the renovations.

“project:HOMES did an excellent job. They turned a dilapidated mess into a beautiful palace,” said Bernardine. “I am proud of the home’s appearance - inside and out! I wish I could have bought it.”

Bernardine’s childhood home is one of three historic properties in Southern Barton Heights project:HOMES and Historic Richmond collaborated on to transform into affordable homes. All three houses will provide affordable homeownership opportunities for first time homebuyers who qualify with low or moderate incomes.

With our partner The Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, the homes can be sold at an even lower price because the land will be kept in a trust. The houses are considered to be community assets. The homeowner purchases just the house while leasing the land, making the price cheaper than if they were to purchase both the house and land. They agree to certain resale restrictions to help keep the home affordable for the next family. Bernardine’s childhood home sold last month to a local family for $190,000.

“The house has many wonderful memories for me, and I hope the new family will have just as many,” said Bernardine.

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