Bulrushes, House with a History, Falls Deep Into Disrepair

In mid-August, Carolina could lose an important part of its history – unless someone buys it first. The ramshackle house at 115 Battle Lane, in the Franklin-Rosemary historic district and at the northeast corner of UNC’s campus, has been condemned by the town of Chapel Hill after being damaged in a storm early this year.

The house is more than just another expensive property. It once was home to several influential North Carolinians. The structure was built in 1908 by Edward Kidder Graham, an 1894 graduate who became an English professor in 1907 and later served as UNC’s president. His cousin, Frank Porter Graham (class of 1909), also lived in the house for a time.

The 3,200-square-foot house sits on more than half an acre of land. Built in the Colonial Revival style, it has bay windows, wood shingle siding, mantels, a graceful stairway and wood floors.

However, the house and surrounding land need work estimated at up to $1 million. The house requires a complete rehabilitation, and an uncontrolled growth of bamboo on the property has been a problem since the house was built. Edward Kidder Graham called it “Bulrushes” because the undergrowth reminded him of the biblical story in which Moses’ mother placed him in bulrushes beside the Nile River.

Preservation North Carolina, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting historic properties, has teamed with the house’s owners to find an appropriate buyer. The organization helps owners who no longer need or want property to identify new owners who will rehabilitate and maintain the historic character of a site.

Cathleen Turner, regional director for Preservation North Carolina, said she is optimistic. Despite the recent economic downturn, she said there has been interest in the house.

Bulrushes at different times housed a sorority and a poet laureate of England. A 1968 movie, Three in the Attic, was filmed in the house. Mary de Berniere Graves, a famous painter of the 1920s and ’30s, also lived in the house for a time.

Perry Morrison ’84, who lived in the house his senior year, wrote in the Carolina Alumni Review that year that the Grahams had been in fast company at Bulrushes. Roommates Charlie Tillett and Kemp Battle, both from the class of 1909, and Frank Winslow of the class of 1904 were elected president of the N.C. Bar Association and all later were UNC trustees.

The property is expected to be demolished if a buyer is not found by August.

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