This Old House…Oxford: The Villa
When someone mentions the word “villa,” what comes to mind? Do you think of a large country residence, or a private luxury vacation get-away? When you say “The Villa” in Oxford, many people may immediately think of the distinctive house at 208 College Street, also known as the Hundley-White House.
There are many beautiful and distinctive homes in Oxford, but surely “The Villa” is one that really stands out. Built in 1889 by George Hundley, the architecture is an example of the French Second Empire style. Indeed, the house embraces many of the common features of the style, including not only the steeply pitched, flat topped mansard roof, but also the large dormer windows and the thin, square porch posts decorated with ornamental brackets. The house is also distinctive because it is built of brick, making it one of the few Nineteenth-century brick residences still standing in Oxford.
The Hundley family lived in the house until around 1900 when it was sold to James F. White Jr. White was a very prominent Oxford businessman who owned White Roller Mills, Oxford Milling, a wholesale grocery business, and who was also a partner in a furniture company. White lived in the house until his death at the home in 1934. After his death his second wife, Maggie Burnett White, ran the house as a tourist home until her death in 1955. It was during that period that the name “White Villa Tourist House” appeared. The house remained in the White family until 1966 and became referred to as the Hundley-White House as well as “The Villa.”
Over the years ownership of the house changed several times. In 1987 the house was purchased by Peter Tocci and Ricky Dixon. Because the house was split into four apartments, they set out to return the house to a single-family dwelling. Care was taken to retain the original interior and exterior, and to reconstruct the porch and restore the house to what it had been. Some years later a new owner purchased “The Villa,” and thought that a new color would be a good change for the exterior of the house. As a result it was painted pink, which is the color of the house to this day.
Bonnie Dudman, the current owner of “The Villa” has shared some interesting stories about the house. Among them:
- A newel post for another Second Empire building (that is now the Second Empire Restaurant in Raleigh), was made somewhere in the northeast and shipped by train to North Carolina. Somehow, it was mixed-up with the post that was made for “The Villa,” and was installed at 208 College Street by mistake. The newel post has carvings of a trendy 1880’s thing: hot air balloons! The newel post intended for “The Villa” was installed at the Raleigh property by mistake as well, but was stolen during the period that the building was abandoned.
- Apparently, a woman bootlegger lived in “The Villa.” This information was shared directly by a person who told Ms. Dudman that her home is where he used to get his "hooch." In fact, evidence of a liquor still was evident in the house: the floorboards in one parlor had been cut evidently to lower the boiler into the basement, and bars had been installed over the basement windows of the room where the still sat. Small world that it is, it also turns out that the bootlegger's family was related to Ms. Dudman’s former mother-in-law!
- A 90-year old woman from Durham has said that she had been born in “The Villa,” and that she was one of 13 children who grew up in the house. She shared also that at Christmas, she and her siblings hung up their stockings on the dining room mantle, where the nail holes can still be seen.
- Before painting the current exterior colors, all the first floor and basement windows were stripped down to bare wood. It was evident that the house had always been painted, and the original colors were barn red with baby blue trim. It also seems to have originally been built with a home office, that is still in use today!
- A while back an elderly couple knocked on the door. They said they had been married in “The Villa” and had spent their wedding night there, at the time when it was a rooming house. They asked if they could return three months hence to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in the house. And so they did, and even brought their dog along.
Today as you drive in either direction on College Street, “The Villa” surely stands out. It is a testament to the original owner that wanted to bring a new style house to Oxford and to later owners who have cared for it and maintained it, preserving its 1889 appearance and its wonderful stories. And like the other buildings in Oxford’s Historic Districts, what stories it has to tell!
For now, that’s the story of this old house, for “This Old House…Oxford.”