New Buyer to Bring 'Bulrushes' Back to Life

Cousins Edward Kidder Graham and Frank Porter Graham both lived in a house, by the northeast corner of the campus, that faced demolition in September.

Many people would not purchase a house battered with holes, filled with old beehives in the basement and damaged walls due to termites and water, but the 102-year-old structure finally has found a new owner.

The Preservation Society of Chapel Hill and Preservation North Carolina teamed up to save the house. Its new owner, Dr. Molly Froelich ’79, who also received her medical degree from UNC in 1988, purchased the house in October for $875,000.

Both preservation societies spent three years searching for a new owner to save the house, and they courted 15 possible buyers.

“I have lived, on and off, around Chapel Hill for the last 20 years and am planning on living in the house after restoring it,” Froelich said. “There’s a group in Greensboro that will restore the windows to how they were.  I plan on keeping the same floor plan inside and not adding to the outside.”

“She had seen the house many times over the years and thought it was just an amazing site,” said Cathleen Turner, regional director of Preservation N.C. “It was just meant to be, and we’re so excited for the house.”

The house was built in 1908 by Edward Kidder Graham (of the class of 1898) who taught the University’s first journalism course and later became UNC president. Along with his cousin Frank Porter Graham (class of 1909), housemates included Charlie Tillett and Kemp Battle, both from the class of 1909, and Frank Winslow (class of 1904) — all three of whom later were UNC trustees.

In 1945, the University rented it as a sorority house for Alpha Gamma Delta. A fire in 1948 caused the University to sell the house. In 1968, the attic was used for a scene in the film Three in the Attic.

The Graham House is a two-story building with an attic and basement built in a classic Craftsman style with hints of Colonial Revivalism. Located on 0.62 of an acre at 115 Battle Lane near the Forest Theatre, the house hides behind a yard filled with trees, bushes and bulrush bamboo. Hence its nickname, “Bulrushes.”

“Renovations are expected to be finished in around two years and cost just as much as the house price, so the total expense could be around $1.5 million,” said Ernest Dollar, executive director of the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill. Designated a historic property by Preservation N.C., the house must be accurately restored to its original aesthetic design instead of rebuilt.

While walking through the house, Dollar discovered artifacts within walls, underneath stairs and other locations. Pages from a 1936 high school English book by Henry Seidel Canby were found underneath the stairs, and a photograph of a baby, thought to be from the 1920s or ’30s, was discovered behind the mantel of a fireplace.

“It’s a miracle,” Dollar said. “The house came through all trials, and we hope that the miracle sale and salvation of the house will be a great inspiration to Chapel Hill.”

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