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Holding on to Ritchie Hill

Holding on to Ritchie Hill

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CONCORD, N.C. -- Walking through his family’s 100-year-old Victorian-style house on South Union Street, Heath Ritchie seems to peer through time, his gaze focused on the past.

“Dad would get on a cookie sheet and ride down those stairs,” he said. “Our kids would ride down on pillows and we’d hear the thump, thump, thump as they went down.”

Outside, Ritchie recalls his sister’s wedding reception with about 100 guests dining on the family’s huge 1,700-square-foot wrap-around porch, the same place they had ridden bikes and roller skated on rainy days as children.

“It would be nice to keep the property in the family,” Ritchie said. “We had resigned ourselves to that not being possible. But it would be nice to be able to keep it in the family for another 100 years.”

Ritchie and his three siblings, Robert Ritchie, Doug Ritchie and Beth Alm, jointly own the 3,791-square-foot house at 391 Union St. S. in Concord. In 2008, they placed the house on the market for $900,000, but it didn’t sell. The market for large, historic homes is not strong.

“It’s hard to find people new to it who want to take it over,” he said, adding that it takes a lot of work to maintain an old historic home.

Now the family has a new plan that they hope the Concord City Council will approve. They want to turn Ritchie Hill, as it’s known, into a venue for weddings and other events.

The home on Ritchie Hill was built in the first decade of the 1900s. Multiple generations of the Ritchie family have lived in the house since Ritchie’s grandfather, C.F. Ritchie, and his wife Lily bought it from another family in about 1906. C.F. Ritchie owned Ritchie Hardware.

The house was a working farm with chickens and cows, Heath Ritchie said. It was originally outside of town, but Concord’s trolley line ended near the house.

“My father was born in this house,” Ritchie said. “We all grew up here.”

Ritchie’s Aunt Margaret Ritchie, a well-known local teacher who never married, inherited the house from her parents and lived there with her brother Lee Ritchie and her sister-in-law Mary Elizabeth “Buff” Ritchie, and her niece and nephews for several years. Margaret Ritchie left the house to her nieces and nephews in her will.

Heath Ritchie, his wife Carolyn, and their children Elizabeth and Ben were the last Ritchies to live in the house, moving there in 1997 to care for Heath’s mother. They stayed after she passed away, but last year moved to a smaller house that is less expensive to heat, cool and maintain. Elizabeth is grown. Ben is a senior at Concord High School and lives at home.

In November, Ritchie, former president of Concord’s Historic Preservation Commission, asked the city’s planning and zoning commission to research and draft an amendment to permit banquet homes in residential districts so they could start booking weddings and other events there this year.

Banquet homes are large, historic homes used for weddings, parties, corporate retreats and other events. They have gained popularity as a type of land use throughout North Carolina, giving families like the Ritchies a way to make the homes self-sustaining and to generate funds to help keep the homes in good repair.

Concord City Council members said they wanted more clarification about parking and other details before they made a final decision. The change the Ritchies proposed would allow banquet homes in single-family residential zoning districts by issue of a special-use permit with additional regulations regarding lot size, maintaining residential character and separation from surrounding homes.

The proposed standards for the banquet homes would be similar to the regulations for bed-and-breakfast inns, but with additional regulations, according to city officials. Similar venues include the Orchard House on Hamby Branch Road in the county. There’s also Saratoga Springs in Mount Pleasant and the VanLandingham Estate Inn and Conference Center in Charlotte.

Concord City Council members are expected to continue a public hearing on the proposed amendment at their regular meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Municipal Building, 26 Union St S.

For now, the Ritchie’s house sits vacant on its hill, looking a little lonely with no one living there. It needs a fresh coat of paint, and the landscaping could use some sprucing, but it’s easy to see why the Ritchies love the house and have a vision for its future.

Huge camellia bushes planted by Lily Ritchie in the 1930s seem to hint at the life that once filled the estate and possibilities for its future, blooming with deep red flowers against the white paint even in winter.

“If we do this, our intention is to give people a chance of having an old-fashioned Southern wedding,” Heath Ritchie said.

But maybe more importantly, it gives the Ritchies a chance to hold on to a piece of their history, their legacy, their home.

Contact reporter Karen Cimino Wilson: 704-789-9141.


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