By Clellie Allen
YOUNGSVILLE — Driving through Franklin County is often like taking a step back in time with the rolling fields, old farms and antique buildings.
Youngsville, in particular, is rich with historic infrastructure that greets you from every angle when you drive through town.
Some of it is still gleaming from careful attention paid through the decades. Other edifices show their age and it takes special people to look past the years of wear and see the life left in them. Matthew Winslow and Tim Gray are two such people, and their love of history and historic architecture are bringing back to life a landmark — the Boondocks building. A ribbon cutting, set for Monday, will showcase their hard work.
Boondocks is the old brick building sitting right in the center of town, at the corner of Main and Cross Streets. It will turn 100 years old next year.
For decades, it has stood empty, a 7,200-square foot shell. In a former life, it was livery stables and had a store to one side. Then, according to local historians, it was a dealership for Model A & T cars. In the 1950s, it housed the town’s fire station. In the 1980s, the last time the building was really put to use, it was the Boondocks Auction House — from which its current name is drawn.
It was built to withstand time with 16-inch thick brick walls. But the last time any serious upgrade took place was in 1965, according to tax records. It wasn’t exactly a turn-key structure.
When Tim and his wife, Teri, first saw it some 13 years ago after moving to the area so Tim could attend Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, something in the old place called to them.
“I fell in love with the building, right off the bat. But we got busy with life and it was a little bit of out-of-sight, out-of-mind,” Tim said.
After a number of years, however, the building was back up for sale, and Tim wondered if the time was right to take a another look. He needed a second opinion on whether the building could be rehabilitated, and he gave his friend Matthew, a custom home builder, a call.
“Tim called and said to come look at a building with him. I came, looked around, and then asked if he needed a partner,” Matthew said.
The two initially thought to turn the building into office and warehouse space for their businesses — Matthew’s Winslow Custom Homes and Tim’s FrigiTemp Temperature Solutions. They planned on renovating it to include 15 offices, bathrooms and storage. They went as far as applying for state grants and seeking Youngsville’s town board’s approval. But then the unexpected happened. The wives got involved.
As Matthew and Tim tell it, their spouses took one look at the space and saw a totally different picture, one that included receptions, weddings, dances and more.
“We just had to rethink what we were doing,” Tim said. “What the possibilities were for this space. And here we are.”
The project was a challenging one. Matthew reached out to other builders who’d done similar work. Tim designed a unique, high-efficiency heating and cooling system for the place.
“The building was a total shell. So there was less demolition work needed. But we had to do things like dig new footings for the inside walls,” Matthew said.
For Tim, he had the challenge of figuring out how to insulate a building with a simple tin roof.
“I got to try out a lot of fun things,” Tim said. He ended up foaming the top of the roof, which was then painted white to reflect the heat. “It’s very efficient,” he said.
Matthew and Tim had to remove some support structures to create a giant open space, but to do that, they had to re-engineer the load bearing.
They were able to get ahold of massive 10-inch by 15-inch beams from the Henderson Cotton Mill, which was demolished last year, and repurposed them for ceiling supports. The longest is 23 feet high. The shortest is 18 feet. The result is an area that can seat up to 250.
“It was a little nerve-wracking. We had to bring heavy machinery inside, all the while hoping the ceiling wouldn’t cave in until we got the supports in,” Matthew said.
The heart-of-pine floors also came from the cotton mill and have a shine of their own from years of soaking up the linseed oil of the mill. They’ve only had to apply a matte finish, with no need for stain at all.
They left much of the cosmetics as they found them. There are splashes of old paint on the walls that have been left intact. Even the brick work has been made to look like the original, although for that, they didn’t have a choice.
“We learned a lot — in particular, we had to create our own mortar,” Matthew said. They learned there were only two companies in the country that customize mortar for historic renovations. “The bricks of that time were much softer than they are today. If we used modern mortar, eventually, it would have torn apart the old bricks.”
The result is astounding. The floors gleam with an internal richness. The exposed posts and beams create a sense of rugged strength. And the brick, with all the imperfections of time, tell stories and reveal character that can’t be recreated.
But it’s not just the great room with the extra touches.
The bathroom mirror frames and vanity trim are also from wood out of the cotton mill. The doors are made of knotty alder.
There’s a catering kitchen, with ovens, refrigerator and commercial ice maker. An antique French cart is perfect for a registration or gift table or perhaps to serve drinks from.
And there’s a dressing room with all antique finishes, just waiting for a bridal party.
The west side of the building, the part that more than half a century ago housed a store, is being reworked into office space, pulling back in some of the original vision. Matthew and Tim are keeping as many of the existing features as possible, including an old, coal fireplace.
Already, even before an official opening, The Boondocks has been the site for a wedding rehearsal and reception, baby showers and a corporate team-building event in which a line dancing instructor was hired to teach everyone to dance.
“The acoustics of this place are phenomenal,” Matthew said.
Partnering with family and friends to tackle a project like The Boondocks can be a disaster. But Tim and Matthew say their relationship has only grown through the process.
“We’ve changed our minds like 14 times over various things. But our best decisions were actually the ones we ‘fought’ over the most,” Matthew said.
“We’ve definitely grown closer,” Tim agreed.
The company will remain a family business. Tim’s wife, Teri, and their third partner, Cory Thornton’s wife, Erin, are the event managers. Erin worked for three years at North Greenville University as an event planner before moving back to her hometown of Youngsville.
“There have been times during this process we’ve thought, ‘What have we done?’ ” Matthew said.
“We are just really excited about this place,” Tim added. “Excited about partnering together and bringing a part of downtown Youngsville back to life.”